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Got a new Glock 43? Looking for holsters and maybe sights??

Photo courtesy of Richard Johnson/Guns, Holsters & Gear

The 9mm Glock 43 may be new on the market, but it’s already getting a lot of attention from both shooters and accessory makers. Here's how to find out what's available for this new "mini-9"!


What were the best things I saw at the NRA Show? Tables and foam!

Photo courtesy of Secret Compartment Furniture

As you may have heard, I attended the annual NRA Show & Meetings this last weekend (frankly, I only go for the show; the internal machinations of the NRA interest me not in the least) and I did see a couple of things that were pretty darned neat.

The marketplace determines what's best on its terms, not ours.

What makes one firearm design more successful than another? Probably not what you think.

Do you collect any particular guns? How about these?

Photo Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company.

Believe it or not, I’m not a collector. There are times, however, that I’m sorely tempted!

The unifying power of the shooting sports. Pass it on.

Wikimedia Commons

Maybe if we paid more attention to what we have in common and less to what separates us we’d be better off. Especially in the shooting world.

Here's a quiz: what guns do the police seize most often?

Wikimedia Commons

Police evidence lockers are full of guns that have been seized; either they’ve been used in a crime or they were recovered as part of a related crime investigation. What are the most common guns found in these lockers?


Flying with guns: some tips to make it a little less stressful

Wikimedia Commons

Yes, you can fly with guns — but it can be an intimidating experience. Here’s how to make it a little smoother.

New Years news from Ruger, Glock, and more!

I hope everyone had a good holiday season (and don’t have too much weight to work off!) Let's start the year off right and dive into some of the news in the shooting world!

How did the 1911 come to be? Watch and learn!

Contrary to popular belief, the 1911 pistol did not spring forth fully formed from the mind of John Moses Browning. It was the result of more than a decade worth of work on his part, not to mention the input of Colt and the U.S. government. Here's a look at how we got to where we are today!

Gun makers plus consolidation equals history!

How many U.S. gun makers can you name? I'll bet there are quite a few that you've either forgotten about, or never even knew existed — but their legacy lives on, even today!

How safe is your safe? You might be surprised at how safe it's not!

Owning guns is a great responsibility, and one of those is keeping them out of the wrong hands. A safe is one way to do that, but how to you choose from the hundreds of models available?

Forgotten Weapons takes on the Colt All American 2000!


Breaking news: we actually have video of a Colt All American 2000 firing five rounds in a row without a malfunction!

Can you ever truly know how a bullet is going to work? Probably not, but if you're very careful you can get close.

By Nathan Boor & Kurt Groover of Aimed Research (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Someone sent me an article on a gelatin test of some ammunition; I replied that I don't put much stock in such things when done by amateurs. Why might that be?

Review: InRange TV - a new gun show!


Ian McCollum at Forgotten Weapons has a new project — a TV show devoted to intelligent talk about guns!

Say what you mean!

ASL family.jpg
Wikimedia photo by David Fulmer

All fields of interest have their own "in-group" language, but maybe we should tone ours down just a bit.

Do you like BIG guns? Here's an auction like you've never seen!

I'm busy finishing up several different projects this week, but I just had to share an auction listing I found a few days ago!

Are you into rare and unusual European handguns? Here's your chance to grab some gems!

If you listened to The Gun Nation a week or so, you might remember that I talked a little about a fantastic pistol collection I'd had the privilege to see. Well, that collection is going up for auction!

Kids are the future of the Second Amendment, but not if we treat their parents like pariahs.

I was teaching a Home Defense Handgun Skills class yesterday, and during the last hour or so of range time a fellow and his two teenage kids drove in and set up on the range next to us to shoot a very well-accessorized AR-15.

The NRA Annual Meeting is this week! Are YOU going?


Are you going to the NRA Show this weekend? I am, and I've got a surprise for you!

The younger generation is here, and it's about time we started treating them like fellow shooters.

Photo courtesy of Personal Defense Network

Believe it or not, this guy is one of the most die-hard Second Amendment fans you are likely to find. He even owns
a company that makes AR-15 rifles and parts, and is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Yet there are a whole lot of people who probably wouldn't give him the time of day at a shooting range. That's ignorant, and I'll tell you why.

Do Glocks break? Occasionally. Here's how to fix them.

Despite their well deserved reputation for reliability, on occasion a Glock will break. The good news is that they're easy to repair!

You know what grinds my gears? YouTube videos where women suffer shooting big guns.

There’s a genre of YouTube videos consisting of women shooting guns with heavy recoil for which they’ve not been properly prepared. Those vids disgust me.

The semi-automatic submachine gun: a fun oxymoron!

Some years ago a local company was producing very nice semi-auto reproductions of the British Sterling submachine gun, like the one in the picture. I didn’t buy one, and I’ve kicked myself ever since. But why?

Wouldn't you love to have this fully-loaded sidecar rig in your garage?

The other day Ed Harris sent me some pictures he made on a trip to Italy a few years ago. I looked at them and thought “wow, what a great museum restoration that is!”

Then he explained that it wasn’t in a museum.

Those crazy Belgian gun designers!

Know what this is?

(Photo courtesy of Ian McCollum)

Let’s just say that it’s for one of the oddest pseudo-machine guns the French army ever bought. And *that* is saying something.

Colt needs a modern pistol design to compete. Believe it or not, they may have one.

If Colt is going to compete in the 21st Century civilian market, they’re going to need a modern striker fired gun. Believe it or not, they have one; they just don’t know it yet.


Head shots and ricochets.

Can you count on your bullets always penetrating? You’d be surprised how little it takes to send them someplace other than where you intended!

Colt disappoints, but there's a reason for it.

Some expected Colt to have a big announcement at SHOT. Here’s why I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t.

Tonight on The Gun Nation LIVE: SHOT Show talk!

Be sure to join me tonight on The Gun Nation LIVE (starring Doc Wesson)! We’ll be talking about SHOT Show, and we have a special guest scheduled to appear from sunny Las Vegas: Paul Carlson from
Safety Solutions Academy, who is going to fill us in on what’s happening at SHOT. Don’t miss this show, 6:pm Pacific, 9:pm Eastern!


Hammer fired vs. striker fired: what are the tradeoffs?

The New Remington R-51 is a hammer-fired 9mm pistol. Why, in this age of striker fired designs did Remington choose to go the opposite direction? Possibly because there are advantages we’ve overlooked.

remington_r51_cutaway

It's SHOT Show time - and they have a new sponsor!

Today marks the start of SHOT Show, the annual Shooting, Hunting & Outdoor Trade Show. It’s the biggest gathering of gun people in this country, and it seems that everyone is there.

Except me, of course. I decided to stay home this year and get some work done, but I do have spies there who will be feeding me information throughout the week.

What about the .380? My new article at PDN!

I’ve got a new article up at the Personal Defense Network!

With the introduction of the new Glock 42 in .380, many people are asking “why”? Well, there are circumstances in which the .380 may actually be preferable to a 9mm; this article explores what they are, and more importantly explains

Personal Defense Network: “When Does a .380 Beat A 9mm?”

Read the article, then let me know what you think in the comments below.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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.


Some last-minute holiday blogging: be safe at Christmas!

I know that everyone is probably more interested in getting their shopping done than reading a blog this week, so I’m not going to lay anything heavy on you today. (I’m also not going to bother writing a blog on Wednesday, when I suspect most people are opening presents, attending services, or visiting relatives.)

A lot of you might be giving the gift of a firearm this year. (If you’re considering doing so, but haven’t yet made the trek to your local gun emporium,
read this great article on Massad Ayoob’s blog.) If there’s going to be a gun under your tree, make sure that everyone around — some of whom may not be gun folk but might be inclined to handle the new “toy” — heed the rules of gun safety:

  • Always keep the gun pointed in a generally safe direction (one in which, should it happen to fire, no one will be injured.)
  • Always keep your finger outside of the trigger guard (preferably on the frame above the trigger.)
  • Always remember you’re handling a tool that, if used negligently, has the capability of killing you or someone else.

These are especially important if there are children around! Adults who handle guns with abandon teach the kids in the vicinity that it’s acceptable for them to handle them just as cavalierly. Make sure that your gun handing this Christmas is impeccable, and accept no less from your family and all guests.

Finally, remember: when the alcohol gets poured, the guns get
locked away. Have a good and safe Christmas, and we’ll see you back here on Friday for the last Surprise of the year!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some talk about belts for CCW.


Ron Larimer over at the When The Balloon Goes Up blog wrote
a pretty good article about why you want a good belt for concealed carry. Such an article has actually been on my “to do” list for a while, but I was always stymied by the necessary explanatory artwork. It must be said that Ron’s illustrations won’t win any art awards, but they’re an order of magnitude better than I could ever do! I heartily recommend that you read his article.

Now that you understand why you need a stiff belt (not that kind, the other kind) let’s talk about what you should buy.

For range use the webbing belts that he recommends are just fine. When out and about in polite company, however, that sort of thing is often out of place. Leather is still the discreet preference, and especially so for those who aren’t into the Special Forces look.

Like Larimer I’ve found that the double-thickness belts often sold for carry are too thick to fit through the loops of casual or dress pants (and look horribly out of place with the latter.) A reinforced belt can be made thinner, as the reinforcing material carries the weight. Many makers today are using a plastic material (usually polyethylene, which is flexible yet stiff) stitched between two layers of leather. This construction works quite well and should be sought out for its combination of effectiveness and decent appearance. I have several from various makers and have been generally happy with all of them.
Aker Leather makes such a belt at a decent price point with good quality.

If you spend time in an environment where better dress is the norm,
the very best belt I’ve seen (and I’ve looked at a lot of them) is the “CBT Combat Belt” from Ken Null. Despite the rough-sounding name it is perhaps the most stylish belt ever produced by a holster maker. From the top-quality leather to the custom buckle to the elegantly feathered edges, the CBT (pictured at top) screams quality. Naturally it isn’t cheap, but it will last you for years. I’ve had one since the late ‘90s, and while it’s been beaten up pretty thoroughly over its life it is still more rigid than some brand-new belts I’ve handled.

Whatever belt you buy, make sure that the width of the belt matches those of the slots or loops on your holster!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Streetsweeper shotgun: gone and unlamentedly so.

A couple of decades back there was a shotgun (and I use the term loosely) called the Streetsweeper. It was basically a giant single action revolver chambered in 12 gauge, and it was the AR-15 of the times: politicians paraded it around decrying its deadly intent and capacity (not to mention its chilling name) and calling for its ban.

In 1994 the ATF finally classed it as a destructive device requiring registration and a tax stamp to transfer, like any other NFA weapon. The politicians got their wish, the Streetsweeper effectively disappeared, and today the more impressionable members of our community have elevated its capabilities to almost mythical proportions. It seems that what you can’t have you want more, and what you don’t have becomes better in the reminiscing than it ever was in real life.

I remember the Streetsweeper as being less terrifying than amusing. How so? Well, when it actually worked (they weren’t known for reliability, and that’s being charitable) it was quite unpleasant to shoot — to the point that you just didn’t want to. Yes, it had capacity — but its rate of fire was easily eclipsed by even the most carbon-fouled Remington 1100. It was, truly, the gun you hoped your opponent would be using. It was the last thing you’d want to use for self defense or to protect your home.

It was an absolutely awful firearm, and though I would have preferred that the free operation of the marketplace be responsible for its demise rather than the government I can’t really say I’m sad it’s gone. Most of those who ever had the displeasure of shooting one would probably tell you the same thing; it’s only those who’ve never used it who think it’s a great idea!

For those who’ve never had the opportunity,
Ian at Forgotten Weapons took one to the range recently and videoed his experience. From my perspective, his range session was better than average — and as nice a guy as he is, even Ian can’t come up with much good to say about the Streetsweeper. Be sure to go to the site and read his additional commentary!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Keeping the AR-15 (and M4 carbine) gas system running.

I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who believe that the gas impingement system of the AR-15 rifle and M4 carbine is somehow a liability. So strong is this belief that there is today a growing subset of the industry making good money by adding parts to the original Stoner design in a misguided attempt to “fix” the “problems”.

Over the years (and many tens of thousands of rounds) I’ve not found the gas system of the AR pattern rifles to be of any kind of issue.
Mike Pannone recently wrote a good article about the misconceptions surrounding the gas impingement system, and his long term test to prove them wrong, over at Defense Review. I recommend that you read the article, as his observations generally mirror mine (with the exception that I’ve not found it necessary to modify my Colt Carbine, which has proven completely reliable in the nearly 20 years I’ve owned it.)

Many complaints about the gas system concern the reputed tendency of the gas tube to clog, which I don’t doubt has occasionally happened. The way to avoid that is to never clean the gas tube!

Lots of shooters will put bore cleaner down the gas tube and swab with one of the gas tube brushes available. This is the start of the problem, as you can never completely swab out the cleaner. As soon as hot gases are introduced during the firing cycle the remaining petroleum turns to carbon and adheres to the walls of the gas tube. Repeated cleanings simply add to the deposits.

When I get a new rifle I take a gas tube brush and use acetone or denatured alcohol (acetone works better) to clean out any oils from the gas tube, then I never touch it again! You can run a brush down the tubes on my rifles and it will come out clean. The gas tube is designed to be self cleaning, and as long as you don’t soil it yourself it will do its job.

At the other end of the tube, where the gas contacts the bolt carrier to drive it during recoil, is the other source of misplaced concern: that the gas system fouls the bolt and causes stoppages (“it defecates where it eats” is the nonsensical refrain, usually stated a bit more colorfully than I have.) I’ve never found this to be a problem either, and again it comes down to proper maintenance.

Many people are of the impression that the gas relief holes in the bolt carrier are for oiling the bolt. Resist that temptation! Oil down those holes gets into the gas rings and onto the back side of the bolt, where the hot gases quickly turn the oil into carbonized sludge.

I prefer to lubricate the bolt head in front of the gas rings, on the little ridge that runs around the bolt head and serves as a contact point in the bolt carrier. I prefer to use a light, non-tackified grease (food grade NLGI #0, such as Lubriplate SFL) on just that ring as well as on the locking lugs themselves. There’s no need to lube the rings or any surface on the back end of the bolt.

A little of that same grease on the contact rails of the bolt carrier and you’re done. The AR-15 bolt assembly needs lubrication to function, but doesn’t need to be dripping wet.

How reliable are my rifles with this regimen? A couple of years ago I spent several dry, dusty days at a range in Fernley, NV. The earth from which the range was carved was not sandy; it was very much like talcum powder. The dust got into everything (including the pores of the green plastic furniture on one of my guns, which to this day I’ve not been able to thoroughly remove.) During that time several of the guns malfunctioned, including a SIG 550 (or is it a 556? I can never remember their nomenclature.)

Both of my rifles ran without any attention, to the point that several other participants preferred to borrow my guns rather than trust theirs when time for the end-of-course shooting contest came around.

The direct impingement gas system is as reliable as any other when understood and maintained appropriately. I’ve not found it necessary to be anal retentive in doing so, either; I don’t spend a lot of time cleaning them, because most of the parts are self-cleaning by design unless you do something to mess them up. Learn how the system works, understand where the contact points are and make sure they’re lubricated, and your AR-15 will likely work as well as mine do.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Giving a gun as a gift? Read this first!

Sorry to be a little scarce last week, but pressing family issues kept me busy (and frankly not particularly motivated!) There’s certainly no lack of things to talk about, however!

Today I’d like to share some information on a topic that’s quite timely, and one about which I’ve already been asked (twice) in the last couple of weeks: what are the legalities of giving someone a firearm as a gift?

It used to be so simple: Dad could order an M1 Carbine from the Sears Christmas Catalog (no, really!) and stick it under the tree to surprise Junior on Christmas morning. That changed in 1968 when mailorder gun sales were prohibited, and over the years the restrictions on who can own what and under which circumstances have only increased. Today the gift giver must be very clear on what is and isn’t allowed under federal, state, and sometimes local laws.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) recently offered some tip on how to deal with all of the complexities and red tape surrounding gifting guns. Head over to and read it before you buy!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Did you miss The Gun Nation on Wednesday? Listen now!

The recording of this week's episode of The Gun Nation is up for your listening pleasure! This week we had a special guest: Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons, and the discussion with him was terrific! We talk about designs, designers, how he manages to come up with all of the rare and obscure information he does, and how he got started on the road to collecting the oddities he does. It was a lot of fun and very informative.

In the second hour of the show, Average Joe reviews the Mossberg 464 SPX "Tactical" lever action, we talk about the Dick Metcalf / Guns & Ammo debacle (which changed dramatically while we were recording the show), and a whole lot more. It was a great show; have a listen and join us live next time!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Join me on The Gun Nation tonight - we have a special guest!

Tonight is another LIVE episode of The Gun Nation Podcast! I’ll be joining Doc Wesson and Average Joe to talk about guns, shooting, and everything related.

This episode we’re going to have a special guest:
Ian McCollum, the brains behind the Forgotten Weapons blog. If you’ve never been to his site, you’re not much of a gun nut! Ian looks at rare, unusual, and downright fascinating guns and goes into detail you won’t find anywhere else. We’ve got a lot of questions for him, and I predict this is going to be a SUPERB show!

Tune in tonight at 6:pm Pacific, 9:pm Eastern. (If you can’t make it for the live show, don’t worry - Doc will have a recording of the show available, probably by tomorrow morning.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: If there’s anything you’d like me to ask Ian, let me know!

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 ]=-

It's Wednesday, and tonight is The Gun Nation LIVE podcast!

As usual, I'm scheduled to be on The Gun Nation LIVE with Doc Wesson and Average Joe tonight! Join us for lively and entertaining discussions about guns, the shooting industry, self defense, training, and all sorts of other great firearms-related topics. We start around 6:pm Pacific/9:pm Eastern.

You can listen LIVE at this link. If you can't tune in tonight, you can catch the recording of the podcast (usually posted the next day) on the front page of The Gun Nation.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ithaca Gun Company is expanding to South Carolina!

I’ve made little secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of Ithaca shotguns. The venerable Model 37 is my favorite shotgun of all time; the light, smooth action is just a joy to use, and I’ve said many times that it’s the cure for chronic short-stroking. Hand an Ithaca to someone who’s having trouble cycling their Mossberg and the problem almost always disappears.

Because I’m a fan I tend to follow the company fairly closely. It hasn’t always been fun; Ithaca went through some tough times (and a couple of owners) a number of years back, but they’ve recovered and are planning to double their production capacity by
building a new factory near Myrtle Beach, SC!

The company isn’t talking about why they’ve forsaken their current Ohio home in their expansion plans, but South Carolina (and the county in which they’ve chosen to locate) has been very aggressive in courting gun manufacturers. It’s paid off: Ithaca alone is going to spend $6.7 million and ultimately hire 120 people. The jobs they’re bringing to town include engineers, gunsmiths, and machinists — skilled workers that make family wages. No wonder the press in SC has been overwhelmingly positive!

Horry County, where Ithaca is locating, has already attracted another gun company — PTR Industries is moving there and Stag Arms is rumored to be interested in moving — and has built a large
business park with plans for an adjacent shooting range. Part of Ithaca’s decision was apparently the nearby presence of Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology, which educates the skilled workers needed by companies like Ithaca and PTR. Turns out that technical and vocational education is a competitive advantage! (This is, sadly, something my own state has yet to figure out.)

That’s not the end of the good news for the area, however. The fellow who owns Ithaca, David Dlubak, is also the CEO of a major glass recycling company and
plans to expand those operations in the same area. There’s a lesson in this for the other 49 states: being friendly to the firearms industry pays off in many, sometimes unexpected, ways!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Beretta Model 92: why is this an inefficient defensive handgun?

Someone sent me a kind email the other day asking about something I’d mentioned on The Gun Nation podcast last week: why did I single out the Beretta 92 (his gun) as being ‘inefficient’, and what do I mean by an ‘efficient’ gun? It wasn’t because I dislike the Beretta specifically; there are a lot of similar guns out there which are inefficient too. The Beretta was just the first one that popped into my mind!

What makes an efficient handgun? It’s one which requires the least amount of handling to employ, the least amount of training time to become proficient, and imposes as little on the shooter as possible. Some guns are worse at this than others!

When you need to use your handgun, it should ideally come out of the holster in a ready-to-fire condition without you needing to do anything extra before pulling the trigger. An external thumb operated safety, for instance, is one more thing that you need to do (or can forget to do) before you can put rounds on target. The further the safety is from the fingers of your primary hand when it’s in a firing grip, the less efficient it is.

In the case of the Beretta mentioned the safety is way up on the slide, which is difficult (and functionally impossible for most people) to reach from a firing grip. Beretta isn’t alone in that placement, however; the older S&W autos have the same arrangement, as do some of the guns from Magnum Research/IWI (amongst others.)

Of course the shooter has to remember to decock the gun before holstering, just as a single action shooter using something like a 1911 must remember to apply the safety. The problem is the decocker on the Beretta serves two functions: to lower the hammer, and to keep the trigger from operating (a safety.) If the gun is decocked and the lever left in the decock position, it has to be moved before the trigger will work again. As I mentioned above, it’s difficult to do from a firing grip.

Some Beretta shooters, like some owners of the older S&W autos, choose to carry the Model 92 in the “off safe” position; after decocking, the lever is moved back to the firing position before reholstering. This adds yet another manipulation that the shooter has to remember to do! If he/she forgets (or the lever is inadvertently moved before the gun is brought on target), the shooter often pulls at a non-functioning trigger several times before figuring out that the safety is on. That process of figuring out what’s wrong and fixing it takes precious time!

(There was once a variant of the Model 92 where the decocker didn’t have a safe position, operating only to drop the hammer; it is not common and is no longer made.)

Aside from control inefficiency, the double action/single action (DA/SA) trigger system is in itself inefficient. It forces the shooter to spend valuable training time learning to transition from the long, heavy DA trigger to the shorter, lighter SA between the first two shots. Even then, without constant practice the shooter will usually pull his/her initial shots low, which often results in a round that impacts outside of the area of precision the target has dictated. Missed shots are the ultimate inefficiency, and those using DA/SA guns such as the Beretta have more of them. (Of course there are a lot of guns using this system; aside from Beretta, SIG/Sauer, CZ, some Walthers, and some HK pistols are of the DA/SA variety. They’re all inefficient as well.)

More specifically to the Beretta, their control arrangement often forces the shooter into a compromised grasp that results in lessened recoil control. A good thumbs-forward grip is difficult to do on the Model 92 without either a) actuating the slide lock lever and locking the slide open on a full magazine, or b) keeping it from being actuated when the magazine is empty. Both result in needless manipulation and time wasted.

Finally, the Model 92 is a huge gun that in my experience fits only a small percentage of hands well. This seems to be a Beretta trait; even the “compact” Beretta Cougar has a very long trigger reach and are difficult for anyone of average or smaller glove size to use well.

All DA/SA guns by their nature are inefficient, so Beretta is hardly alone in that regard. The Model 92, however, adds several design elements that make them among the least efficient personal defense guns one could choose.

What guns are efficient, and what does handgun efficiency mean in the context of defensive shooting? Check back on Monday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

What's a SnagMag, you ask?

Hope everyone enjoyed their Labor Day holiday! I labored all weekend, but did take off part of Monday to attend the Oregon State Fair. Not sure it was worth it, however!

Today I'm bringing you a review of a product for autoloaders. Why? Because I occasionally carry an auto, I'm sure most of you do as well, and I'm always looking for ways to make doing so a little easier. I think I've found such a product, one which I didn't even know existed until a couple of months ago.

You may remember that I was recently up at the Firearms Academy of Seattle co-teaching the Advanced Pistol Handling course with Rob Pincus. While there I was introduced to a fellow who makes a very interesting product: the SnagMag, which is a magazine carrier for the pocket. (Disclosure: he gave me a SnagMag to review.)

To be more precise, he handed me a Glock 19 SnagMag. When I got home, however, my wife saw it, grabbed it out of my hands, and I haven’t seen the thing since. Instead of a first-person review, you’ll have to settle for the interview I did with her. That’s actually good, because a) she’s worn the thing every day since she got it, and b) she is a former holster maker who really understands concealment and holster design.

As she points out, it’s actually harder to conceal a spare magazine than the gun itself, because almost no magazine carriers hold their cargo as close to the body as does the gun’s holster. If they do they’re incredibly uncomfortable. She’s made hundreds of magazine carriers over the years, for herself and others, but almost always defaults to carrying her spare magazine in her pocket. As she admits, it’s just easier that way.

Carrying in the pocket, though, means that the magazine wallows around and collects a lot of debris. It’s not always in the same orientation and it’s not always easy to retrieve. The SnagMag is an attempt to address those problems.

The SnagMag is a thermoformed plastic magazine carrier that has a belt clip on the side, much like you’d see on a folding knife. That clip allows the SnagMag to hold a spare magazine suspended in the pocket for both concealment and easy access. The magazine butt ends up right about the level of the pocket so that it’s not easily visible and is held with very light friction.

Photo courtesy of SnagMag

The carrier has a hooked protrusion designed to catch on the inside lip of the pocket, holding the carrier in while allowing the magazine to be drawn out. This takes just a bit of practice, as the magazine needs to be pressed backwards slightly as it’s lifted out of the pocket. I found that it took only a few practice draws to get the movement down; my wife said the same thing. It’s a fairly natural motion that isn’t at all hard to do.

My wife works in an office, and she said that no one — not even a couple of co-workers who are also shooters — has recognized that she’s carrying a spare magazine in plain sight. It looks like she’s carrying a knife in her pocket, which is part of the SnagMag’s appeal. Only another user will look at it and see it for what it is; most people are simply going to think that you have a knife or multitool in there.

This is especially true if you have a single-stack magazine, which I’ve observed just disappears in the pocket. A double stack magazine, like that for her Glock 19, is a little more visible but still not identifiable to the uninitiated. On this score, the SnagMag is a success.

Comfort is a mixed bag. My wife reported that some of the exposed edges are rather sharp, which caused some discomfort and chafing. This is largely due to the width of the double-stack Glock magazine she carries, and partially because women’s pants generally fit tighter than do men’s. In a pair of baggy slacks, she says, you wouldn’t notice it as much, and possibly not at all. In a pair of more fitted pants, and especially with the wider magazines, it definitely becomes an issue.

A few strokes from some medium-grit sandpaper cured the worst of the pain, but the edges are still sharper than they need to be. At the price point for which these sell, I feel the edges should be rounded and burnished. She was a little more charitable, but we both agree that the folks at SnagMag should address the issue.

She also pointed out that with jeans, the longer magazines tended to poke into her thigh when sitting. A shorter magazine, like those for the Glock 26, would be more comfortable (as would a single stack.) With slacks, whose pockets are cut at a slant and where the magazine rides more to the side than the front, the size wasn’t as much an issue.

Photo courtesy of SnagMag

Bottom line: the SnagMag garners her qualified recommendation as a practical, concealable, and useful accessory. The comfort issues can be addressed with careful wardrobe selection and judicious use of some sandpaper, though we both would prefer that the manufacturer pay more attention to the finishing of those edges. Overall, she thinks it’s a great idea and indicates a willingness to buy more models to fit her other magazines.

The SnagMag is available from

-=[ Grant ]=-

Let's talk antique guns!

Just the other day,
Forgotten Weapons put up a story by Peter Rasmussen about the Husqvarna M 40 pistol (sometimes referred to as a Lahti, for its designer Eimo Lathi.) Rasmussen goes into some detail regarding the pistol and its history in Sweden, including the reasons for it eventual demise.

This was particularly interesting to me as I once owned an M 40. I found it at a local gun show, pristine and complete with holster, two magazines, loading tool, and cleaning rod. There had been a fair number of them imported some years earlier, and this was one of those guns.

The fellow who was selling it was surprised that I knew what it was, and I didn't blow that impression by telling him I'd read an article on the gun just a few months earlier. Most people, he told me, picked it up thinking that it was a Luger. With the steep grip angle and exposed barrel, I can imagine that happening - then again, I wonder if people do the same when encountering a Ruger Standard?

That exposed barrel makes the M 40 look like it should be light as a feather. It's not! The pictures in the article don't do justice to the size of the gun; it's quite large, and made from lots of steel. That equals mass, and as a result the M 40 is no lightweight. The consequence of all that heft is relatively mild recoil, though the rearward weight bias leads to more muzzle flip than the recoil impulse might suggest. Accuracy was fairly good given the tiny rear sight aperture, and the trigger was actually darned nice; this seems to be a hit-or-miss condition, as I've handled others which were much worse.

In the end I sold it because of the well-known durability issues. Still, it was a fun gun while it lasted!

Another piece of news from Forgotten Weapons:
Ian's other blog, GunLab, will finally get some new articles. GunLab was intended to be the place where he'd discuss gun design, prototyping and manufacturing, but of late has been a little sparse on content. It's coming back with a very interesting project - the re-creation of a very rare rifle, the Gustoff Volkssturmgewehr (better known as the VG1-5.) This was a last-ditch product of wartime Germany, shooting the 7.92 Kurz cartridge issued for the StG 44. I did not know how valuable they were; the article mentions $35k to $54k!

The series of articles will detail the process of recreating this rare piece as it happens, starting at the design stage. Should be very interesting! I wonder if it will go into limited production and be available for sale?

(Some time ago I said that I wasn’t really a gun nerd. No matter how much I try not to be, it appears I am one after all!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Why do pistols look the way they do?

It's normal to assume that the products we have today - from toasters to autoloading pistols - have the form (design) they do because somehow that form has been shown to be the 'best'. It's a Darwinian notion, or rather a perversion of Darwinian thought. In reality, it’s always a combination of factors that may have more to do with relative, rather than absolute, advantage.

What we have today may not necessarily be the best, but simply the collection of attributes that are, collectively, sufficient for the task at hand at a particular cost. It's quite possible to design a handgun to meet a particular need and have it excel at that particular task, but fail against all other criteria. The study of those failures is fascinating, and we may learn something from them.

Take, for instance, the Chiappa Arms Rhino revolver: it excels at recoil reduction (it has to be shot to be appreciated), but the complicated linkage and unique production demands make it a difficult gun to produce economically and still maintain reliability, trigger quality, and durability. Until those things can be successfully addressed, the market is likely to ignore its positive traits.

On the other hand, it’s often economic factors which doomed many great designs. If a competing design is of sufficient (even if not necessarily equal) performance and cheaper to manufacture, it will often win in the marketplace. The venerable 1911 pistol is a good illustration: it's sufficient, but not necessarily superior, at doing a lot of things. What makes it a winner, though, is that it's sufficient as well as being a relatively inexpensive pistol to manufacture when you factor in engineering costs. Since the design long ago went into the public domain, and dimensioned drawings are readily available for the cost of postage, it's the easiest way for a company to enter into handgun production. That means many companies making the design, which gives it the air of invincible superiority -- when it's really just expediency at work.

What brings this to mind?
A video that Ian at Forgotten Weapons posted recently. It's of a .45ACP pistol designed by one George Wilson specifically for the sport of bullseye shooting. There are lots of features which are peculiar to the needs of that activity, but the one which stands out is the low bore axis.

The lower the bore axis, the less leverage the rearward recoil has on muzzle flip (and perceived force.) Simply put, the higher the bore axis the more the gun seems to recoil, and the more muzzle flip there will be. Bring that bore down, into the hand, and you can reduce both to a surprising degree. Wilson's design attempts to bring the bore as low as possible in the hand to minimize the effects of recoil, and most of the rest of the design decisions support that goal. From all accounts, the design achieved its goal and should have been a very successful competition pistol. Why, then, don't we see it on the market today?

It could be that the design failed in other aspects: it may have been unreliable, or difficult to clean, or of limited durability, or (as is often the case) too expensive to manufacture.
Wilson's design is intriguing, and I'd like to know more about it. More than that, I'd like to shoot it! Even more than that, I'd like to see if some talented engineer could adapt Wilson's concepts for a modern incarnation.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Would you use a .22 for self defense?

One of the interesting things to come out of Greg Ellifritz's study of ammunition effectiveness was how well the .22 Long Rifle worked - or, at least, appeared to work. By some measures, it performed better than the vaunted .45 ACP! There is a small but dedicated group of people out there who seized upon this data as proof that the .22 is in fact the most deadly cartridge ever made by man. After all, they insist, the figures don’t lie!

This is what's known as anomalous data: data which doesn't fit the expected distribution. How, then, do we explain it?

Ellifritz took this on in a recent blog post, and it's worth reading to understand all of the variables which go into something as complex as bullet performance - and why single numbers, as preferred by some researchers, are never enough to tell the whole story. Be sure to read the comments as well, as there are some very intelligent analyses being done by his readers too.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some people should stick to Glocks.

In the September issue of SWAT Magazine is a review of the Wiley Clapp special edition Ruger GP100. I've mentioned this gun previously; it's a mix of some good things, some mediocre things, and a surprising omission or two. Overall it's a nice treatment of the old warhorse, and I'm glad to see attention being paid to something other than hunting revolvers at Ruger.

It's this article that I find a little odd. Written by Todd Burgreen, it's your typical gun review: fawning and laden with both hyperbole and misinformation. It's the latter which is most concerning, because Mr. Burgreen (who, from statements in the review, doesn’t seem to be all that familiar with revolvers and even appears to hold them in some contempt) perpetuates a circa-1960 dictum: don't shoot a revolver in double action, because you can't shoot accurately that way!

According to Mr. Burgreen, double action should be reserved for "CQB encounters and ranges measured in feet." He doesn't stop there; according to him, "single action fire should be the primary mode used with double action revolvers." No, really, he said that. In print. In 2013.

Let's make this perfectly clear: he's wrong. Cocking a revolver to single action in the midst of a defensive encounter is foolish. You're asking trembling hands to perform a very complex set of movements and then presenting them with a very light and easily manipulated trigger, neither being conducive to proper control under those conditions.

Cocking the hammer requires one hand, either shooting or support, to break full and firm contact with the gun; you're given the choice to either take the time to regain a proper grasp, or shoot with a compromised position to save time. It's simply more efficient to stroke the trigger properly in double action, and you don't have to give up any practical accuracy to do so.

It takes very little practice for anyone to hit small targets at extended distances with a double action revolver, and I've proven it with students again and again. It's simply a matter of trigger control, which I covered in my book "
Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver". What's more, as just about any trainer worth his or her salt will tell you (even if they don't really know why), learning how to shoot a double action revolver will improve your shooting with the lighter, shorter triggers in your autoloaders.

Take, for instance, this group: fired specifically for the Book Of The Revolver, it shows six (yes, all six are there) rounds of 158gn +P ammo that I fired from double action from a Ruger GP100, standing at 25 feet. Not bad for an old guy who can't see his sights!


The notion that a double action revolver can't be fired accurately in double action is easily dispelled by going to just about any shooting match where speed and precision are co-components. It's not like this information is a state secret, either!

Want to know how to shoot a double action revolver well? Seek out a good instructor with extensive revolver knowledge -- someone like the incomparable Claude Werner (or, if I may be so bold, yours truly.) Learn how to manipulate the double action trigger properly and you'll probably find, as I did some time ago, that you rarely (if ever) need to use the single action capability of your gun.

Mr. Burgreen may be incapable of shooting a double action revolver past a few feet, but that doesn't mean everyone is. Don’t limit yourself to cold-war-era notions of what a revolver can and can’t do.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is appendix carry for you?

I received an email last week, to which I've finally managed to reply, asking my opinion regarding appendix carry. For those who don't follow this stuff, the appendix carry has become quite popular over the last few years, being touted by many trainers/schools and serving as something of a trademark for some of them.

The carry method usually employs an in-the-waistband (IWB) holster positioned on the front of the body, between the hipbone and the navel. The holster is usually of the zero cant (straight up and down) variety, though some people prefer it to be canted slightly to the rear. The method gets its name because the gun is placed approximately over the appendix.

The appendix carry has much to recommend it: it's quite fast to access; the gun can be easily brought into play even if the defender has been knocked to the ground; the weapon is readily available to either hand; and there is a certain psychological resistance to looking at people's nether regions, thus possibly enhancing concealment. The holster’s position makes it particularly appealing to people who must bend and stoop around other people; one person I know who carries in the appendix position works in IT, and is constantly crawling under desks and around cubicles to work on computers. Doing so with a typical hip holster worn at the 3:00 or 4:00 position would result in the gun printing and the loss of his job -- his employer is what we euphemistically refer to as a “non-permissive environment.”

Of course there are downsides. The biggest one is usually comfort: people who have, shall we say, extended girth usually don't find appendix carry terribly appealing. The options for covering garments are a bit limited; either the shirt has to remain untucked, or an overgarment of some sort must be worn and kept buttoned/zipped. (It's possible to use one of the tuckable holsters in this position, potentially allowing carry in a button-down shirt and tie, but the shirt must be of the currently-out-of-fashion straight cut type.) Finally, many people worry about the safety of such carry in the event of an unintentional discharge; the gun is usually pointed at the femoral artery in the leg, making for a life-threatening wound if the gun should be triggered either while drawing or re-holstering.

I've experimented with appendix carry a bit, and found that with my body shape (short and stocky) it just isn't comfortable. I'm short enough that when sitting my thighs push the gun butt into my stomach, with painful results. If I'm standing it's not an issue, but who stands while driving their car? I've noticed that the people most comfortable with appendix carry tend to have long torsos and very little body fat, though there are exceptions. As it happens, I'm not one of them! If I could make it more comfortable I’d probably carry in that position as my default. (I’m continuing to experiment.)

Regarding safety: I'll admit that while I wouldn't hesitate to carry a revolver in that position, I'd have to think twice about sticking a Glock there. While I believe I'm well trained enough to avoid an accident, there is still a nagging worry that I'll slip up and trigger a round into my leg. That's never happened to me before, but increased consequences of an accident tend to magnify the perceived danger. It definitely weighs on my mind, in the same way that traveling in an airplane does (even though the most dangerous part of any flight is the ride to the airport.)

If you do elect this carry method, you'll need to practice extensively to ensure that your finger doesn't enter the triggerguard at all during the draw or when reholstering, and that your offhand is used to keep any garments clear of the holster when putting the gun back. Practice slowly in front of a mirror, with an unloaded gun, to make sure that nothing touches the trigger when it shouldn't. As a consequence, holsters for appendix carry should never be made out of nylon or thin, floppy leather. Hard plastic (Kydex or its equivalent) or appropriately reinforced stiff leather holsters are the only types to consider for the appendix position.

Consider the pros and cons carefully, as you should with any carry method. Given the unique risks of appendix carry, I think it's safe to say that it is absolutely NOT for the novice gun carrier!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Are all gunwriters idiots?

That's a loaded question. (Sorry, but I just couldn't resist the pun.)

That's a question I ask every time I read yet another ridiculous article. Convoluted (or completely absent) logic, factual errors, reliance on outdated or inappropriately applied data are all issues with far too many writers. The "old days" weren't much better, either; I can find articles from some of the past luminaries in the gunwriting game which aren't exactly paragons of research or fact. They were, however, far more entertaining and generally better written.

Greg Ellifritz, however, answered the question better than I ever could (or perhaps would.) That's mainly because he's less reticent about calling a spade a spade than I am.
Go read his article about an article he read - and what he thought of it (and its author.)

My reaction to the article was much like his. Now don't get me wrong; this is not to say that I'm always right (nor that Ellifritz is either.) What I hope, with every article or book, is that I've done my research properly, that I've analyzed my own experiences from as neutral a perspective as possible, and that I'm open to the possibility that I may not know everything. The author of the article Ellifritz dissects appears to have done none of that, and thus perpetuates hoary myths that should have been put down years ago.

Go read his article; it's worth your time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

"A hit with a .22 is better than a miss from a .45" - how true is that?

An interesting confluence occurred last week: I got an email from a fellow asking about the .380ACP as a defensive cartridge, and
this rather myopic article on the .22 Magnum rimfire came out in American Rifleman.

As a teacher of defensive shooting it's my job to make my students as efficient as I possibly can. Part of that job is helping them to pick a gun/cartridge which allows them to make the bad guy go away using the least amount of their resources (time, energy, ammunition, space.) However, there are sometimes external factors to consider: the student's physical limitations, if any, and perhaps even their lifestyle.

The article referenced is typical of those in the gun world: the .22WMR isn't as powerful as something bigger (we already know that) and it won't be as effective as a larger caliber (we already know that too). Sometimes, though, it's the right choice for certain people. Not frequently, and alternatives should always be explored before settling on it, but it's always a better choice than a rape whistle and hoping the cops show up in time. Think about the student, not the damn ballistics chart!

There are those people out there who simply cannot handle the recoil of 'service-grade' cartridges and guns. They're few and far between, such limitations often proving to be more psychological than physiological, but there are those few who do need much reduced recoil. A .22WMR, in the hands of a resolute defender who has proven to him/herself that they can wield it effectively, is far preferable to the .45ACP or .357 Magnum that they're afraid of and can't handle well (and won't practice with because it's too painful.)

Many people carry a .380ACP because it's available in small and easily concealable guns. Yes, I know (and I preach) that if someone can conceal a .380 then he or she can, with only minor adjustments in their wardrobe, conceal a slightly larger 9mm. The problem with that point of view? Not everyone is an enthusiast, as you and I are. I'd venture to say that just about everyone reading this blog is willing to make, and has made, changes in their lifestyle in order to be able to carry an efficient firearm. We're the exception!

There are a lot of people out there who simply want to make it possible to survive a deadly attack, recognize the rather rare nature of such incidents, and have concluded that a very small gun which they'll actually carry is better than a larger gun - even though it's not a whole lot larger - that will be left at home. While one can argue about their hardware pick, at least they've made the correct lifestyle choice: to actually carry!

The usual rejoinder is that there are now 9mm guns the size of .380ACP pistols, and they would "obviously" be the better choice and still fit into their wardrobe and activities. There's a huge issue with that assumption, however: the micro 9mm guns are brutally difficult to shoot! At least one of them I tested is simply uncontrollable in anything resembling a realistic string of defensive fire, and that's with a shooter (me) who's used to heavy recoiling handguns. For someone who's a novice and is unlikely to practice regularly no matter how much we preach to them? A dangerous, silly choice. For them, the .380 is a better compromise.

"Friends don't let friends shoot mouseguns" is a phrase I've heard bandied about for many years, and while it makes for a macho sound bite it simply doesn't fit everyone's reality. Would I prefer that people carry a gun in a caliber that is more likely to result in rapid incapacitation?
Yes. Am I so blinded/deluded as to believe that everyone can? No. Will I teach them about their choice, and why they might want to put in the time and effort to be able to choose something more effective? Yes. Will I refuse to teach them because I disagree with their choice? Hell no!

I'd rather focus on what I can do to make them more efficient in the context of defending their lives than bitch and moan because they picked a caliber which I disdain. Along the way I hope that I can convince them to at least consider more effective and efficient options, but I certainly wouldn't deprive them of the vital information and skill building they can use right now.

-=[ Grant ]=-

There are talented designers all over the world.

In my book
"The Shooter's Guide To Handguns" is a short chapter on famous (and some not-so-famous) handguns and their designers. Once you get beyond Colt and Browning, most people’s knowledge ends, and that’s a shame; there’s more to life than just those two!

As Americans we tend to believe that all of the great gun inventors were American, but that's simply not true. From the earliest firearms history to today, there are great - and important - designers who were born and did their business well away from the United States. Some of them even worked for "the other side".

While my knowledge base is a little larger than most, I still don't claim to be an authority on gun designers. I may know a few more of them than the average person, but there are many even I've never heard of. Take, for instance, Arkady Shipunov. He was the chief designer at Russia's Tula arsenal for decades, and apparently produced a very wide range of firearm designs. My interest in him is because of a rather intriguing polymer pistol called the GSh-18.

If there's one guy I can point you to who knows about obscure designers, it would be Ian at Forgotten Weapons.
He knows all about Shipunov, of course, and has a good article on this unusual pistol. It's one I'd like to see in person!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The home made gun isn’t a new thing, despite what you hear on the news.

There’s been a lot of angst amongst the gun prohibitionists this week, and the latest comes from the revelation that
the first firearm made entirely with a 3D printer was successfully test fired just a few days ago.

The reaction from the gun-grabbers was hardly surprising: they’re moving to make 3D printed guns illegal. Of course we all understand how meaningless such a law would be, but they have to do something, by golly!

You may not be aware of this, but making guns easily in a garage has been the goal of many gun designers over the years.
Ian at Forgotten Weapons recently featured one such rare and obscure arm: the Croatian Šokac submachine gun from the 1990s.

It is not an anomaly; building a gun using primitive machine tools is often the norm in places where armed resistance is a necessity, arms are scarce, and there is no factory to supply the need.

The Šokac can be made in a garage using not much more than a medium-sized lathe and milling machine; any reasonably skilled gunsmith could construct one with the normal tools of the trade, as could many automobile mechanics or one of the tens of thousands of metalworking hobbyists who have a machine shop in their home. A high school metal shop could turn them out en masse.

The only real difference between the Šokac and the Defense Distributed “Liberator” pistol is the skill level needed to build one. When you compare the cost of the minimal hardware necessary to make a steel gun and a plastic one, the numbers are very similar - it’s the skills necessary to do so which differentiate the two. The Liberator can be made by anyone with a decent computer and the funds to acquire a 3d printer. (Wait until the machinists and the 3D printer owners get together…)

In other words, this story isn’t really news. People have been surreptitiously building firearms since the dawn of the gun, and that hasn’t changed. It’s just gotten to the point where one doesn’t get grime under their fingernails doing so.

It also underscores the futility of trying to outlaw firearms altogether, which is the overt goal of many anti-Second Amendment zealots. People will find a way to make them, right under the noses of the people who say they can’t.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Rob Pincus enrages America. And England. Is France next?

In case you missed it, the biggest news event to come out of the NRA Annual Meeting and convention this last weekend came from an unlikely source: a seminar on home defense concepts by Rob Pincus. (Those who know Rob may say it isn’t all that surprising he'd make headlines, but with the election of a new and indiscriminately vocal NRA president intent on reliving the 1990s it was surprising the press would focus on Pincus instead. Probably just as well that they did.)

It all started when the Think Progress blog, which has a decidedly anti-Second Amendment position, snuck a stowaway into Rob's seminar and videoed a couple of minutes which they put on YouTube. The video is part of his discussion on keeping a spare gun - should you have one - in a quick-access safe in your kid's room. The idea is that, in the case of a home invasion, it's very likely that you'll head to protect your kids first - and wouldn't it be a good idea to have a defensive tool there in case you hadn't yet made it to your safe room and retrieved its armament?

Here's the clip they posted:

Of course the key here is that the gun is kept in a safe, the same as it would be in your own bedroom. As Rob took care to explain, the safe in the kid's room is no more dangerous than the safe in your room. If the kids know there's a safe anywhere (and any conscientious parent will admit that you can't hide anything from kids - they will find it), they'll play with it. The fact that it's in their parent's bedroom makes it no less immune to their tampering than if it were on the coffee table in the living room. Kids, as I'm told, will be kids.

That's why the gun is in a quality, tamper-proof safe that's securely bolted down. The gun is no more dangerous than it would be in a safe anywhere else in the house, but it is accessible in an area where it is plausible that it would be needed. Logical, no?

The story was quickly picked up by any number of knee-jerk blogs and websites, including the Huffington Post (whose editorial board is a staunch supporter of the Bill Of Rights, except the parts they find icky - like the Second.) The response amongst the prohibitionists was immediate, predictable and nearly unvarying: "Gun Expert Urges People To Keep Guns In Children's Bedrooms!"

Once there, the story-that-really-isn’t-a-story made its way into some a few of the more mainstream media outlets with similar results. It got even bigger play across the Atlantic, where both the Guardian and the Daily Mail expressed their dismay over the perceived craziness in the Colonies. (If Piers Morgan hasn't hopped on this story yet, he soon will.)

The story may get a bigger boost today: Rush Limbaugh's website featured the story this morning, and as I write this his live show hasn't yet started but I expect him to talk about it. (I don't often listen to Limbaugh, as I personally can't stand demagogues on any side of any issue, but I might make an exception today.)

What do you think: does keeping a gun in a safe in the kid's room make sense to you? (Feel free to post links to any mainstream news site which features this story!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

How to de-Cosmoline a gun.

I'd actually had something else planned for today's blog, but it was pretty lame compared to this!

Over at
Forgotten Weapons, Ian posted this video about how to remove Cosmoline: that sticky, nasty, smelly but highly effective rust prevention grease so commonly used on military arms.

Some people really get addicted to the stuff; me, I hate it. I admit that it does its job remarkably well, however, and even though I generally admire things which work well I still can't work up much enthusiasm for this!

Everyone has their own little tricks and techniques for dealing with Cosmoline, but the hot water bath method is the easiest and quickest way I know to get rid of the petroleum goo. If you've never had the pleasure, here's your introduction!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: Reactions to recent blog posts.

While you can see some of the interactions here in the comments to posts, some folks prefer to send emails expressing their thoughts. Some of them are interesting enough to talk about.

On the recent topic of not carrying all the time (which I should have called "everyone does, but very few will admit to it"), I got quite a few emails thanking me for expressing a non-macho point of view. Glad to do it, though it's not so much anti-macho as it is pro-intellectually-honest-with-myself (and therefore my students and readers.)

Those posts actually precipitated a somewhat heated exchange between two prominent industry members on Facebook, one of whom took the Marie Antoinette approach (so named because he was of the opinion that you didn't need to restrict you life at all to carry. Seems that he travels in Europe extensively, and has contacts there who supply him with guns and certain paperwork to be able to do so quasi-legally. Yeah, sure, like the rest of us can do that!)

The reason this is so important is because of the integrity topic of which I’ve commented from time to time. As an industry we tend to believe (and thus teach) that everyone can do what we do: carry a full-sized autoloader in an OWB holster all day long and don a “concealment” vest for those times we run into the grocery store. This leads us to ignore certain realities, like the fact that a lot of people carry in pockets and bellybands because that’s the only way they can conceal a gun in their workaday world.


My prediction about being ostracized by the more absolutist crowd in this business has apparently come true, as I got an email indicating that some folks on the more "warrior" side of the matter have decided I'm not really one of them. (Apparently they aren't regular readers, as I think I've made it clear that I don't think of myself as a superninjawarrioroperatortacticalguru. I don't even own a thigh holster or a plate carrier!)


On the subject of the formation of the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors (ADSI), I’m proud to report that it is growing faster than we expected. We're on the cusp of having 200 members already, and the feedback from members has been terrific. The defensive shooting fraternity has needed something like this for a very long time and there are a lot of instructors out there who see that need. I'm proud to have been invited to take part in the launch of this organization, especially considering the big names who are involved. I must say it's a little humbling!


Finally, you still have time to sign up for my courses this spring. I’ve reduced the ammunition requirements for all of my classes, making it easier to train during this time of ammunition shortages. There has never been a better (or more important) time to get in some relevant training, so click on the Training tab in the menu and check my schedule for a class near you!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On not being armed: the discussion continues.

Monday's post precipitated a number of comments; here, on Facebook, and in my email box. Some of them were complimentary, some weren't, while others were in the middle somewhere.

Many, I think, missed the point of the discussion. Allow me to illustrate with a question.

If there is a place where you cannot have your gun (because the law says you can't), do you avoid that place altogether? I'm not talking out of principle - that's another discussion entirely - but simply because you feel you can't protect yourself if not allowed to carry your gun.

If your answer is yes, does that mean that you're never going to Hawaii? Does it mean you'll never travel out of the country? In neither of those cases (with less than a handful of exceptions, none of them common or popular) can you be armed at your destination. Do you forego the pleasure of visiting new places just because you can’t carry your sidearm?

I hope the answer to that question would be "no". It shouldn’t be a matter of whether you'll go, but simply how you're going to protect yourself while there. Remember I said it's not so much about efficacy, it's about efficiency; you can be safe without the gun, but only if you understand that the gun is not the only tool you have - it’s simply the most efficient one for a very small percentage of cases.

The point is that there is more than one way to stay safe and they all start with an assessment of the dangers you face, the risks to you from those dangers, and alternative ways to reduce those risks. That statement would require a whole book to explore, but I hope you get the idea that it starts with thought.

Until now we've considered two rather discrete situations: those where you can have your gun and those where you can't. What about the stuff in the middle - the situations where you could carry a gun, but doing so entails a great deal of effort or risk on your part?

For instance, let's say you're taking a flight to a place where your concealed carry license is recognized through reciprocity. Do you go through the trouble of packing your gun up, going through the security theater, dealing with the poorly trained airline and TSA agents, take the very real risk of having your gun stolen from your luggage (it happens, probably more frequently than your needing it to defend yourself), and then take the risk that the police officer on the other end doesn't understand that his state recognizes your funny-looking carry license? (I haven't even touched on the possibility of being re-routed through a city where your gun is illegal and getting arrested for having it there. It's happened.)

At what point do the problems/risks outweigh the perceived benefits? If you take the absolutist view, you'll put up with any and all problems and risks to have your gun with you even if the chance of needing it is extremely small. That's a valid choice, in the sense that you're well within your rights to make it.

But now factor responsibility into your answer: what if your gun is stolen out of your luggage and ends up on the street, where it's used against another innocent person? Letting a gun out of your hands is always risky, especially in an environment where possessions (including guns) are known to regularly come up missing. Does your desire to be armed outweigh that very real risk?

Now zoom out to a wider view. Let's say that where you're going is a four-hour flight or a sixteen-hour drive. You've decided that you'll drive because you can take your gun with you and be armed the entire way. That's fair, but if your overall goal is to keep yourself safe, have you made the right decision?

The reality is that you are far more likely to be killed on the highway than in the air. By choosing to be armed over every other consideration, and therefore driving, you've actually dramatically increased your net risk of death. The belief in the necessity of being armed to be safe caused you to pick a transport mode that increased your risk well beyond that of the murderous mugger. How is increasing your chances of dying a good safety choice?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply not very insightful. For my part, I make such decisions based on a realistic consideration of the need and all of the compensating risks. Most of the time that means I'm armed with a gun, but occasionally it's going to mean that I'm not. I'm comfortable in either case because I understand that the gun is just a tool; I comprehend its place in the panoply of self defense and don't allow it to unduly dictate my decisions.

As Greg Ellifritz said in response to Monday's article: "Preparedness is important, but so is avoiding paranoia." I think he hit the nail on the head.

-=[ Grant ]=-


Do you carry a gun all of the time? I don't.

Every so often I'll get together with other people who are in the business of defensive shooting training. Invariably they are shocked - sometimes to incredulity - when I tell them that no, I'm not carrying a gun right now and no, I don't carry 24/7.

From their reactions you'd think I'd violated some sacred oath, or was insanely irresponsible, for being an instructor and NOT having a heater (and a backup gat) strapped to my person. I'm quite sure that in some circles I'm no longer considered part of the imaginary brotherhood of armed citizens, excommunicated from the religion of omnipresent preparedness.

I'm okay with that.

If I believed that only my handgun would keep me safe, to the point that I absolutely insisted on carrying it everywhere and all the time, I'd be turning it into a talisman: a thing invested with the power to protect by its mere presence. If I allowed myself to feel unarmed or unsafe because I didn't have it, that would simply confirm a belief in the talisman.

To be sure, the handgun is the most efficient method of protection when lethal force is warranted; of that there can be no doubt. But being the most efficient is not the same as being the only choice! The handgun is an invaluable piece of rescue equipment, but it's not the only tool I have.

After many years I've come to be at ease with those times when I'm not carrying a gun. When I'm on an airplane, for instance, I can't have one. I also don't worry about it, because I'm capable of using things in my environment and those things I bring with me to protect myself. If I can get to the point that I'm comfortable on a flight with 200 other people, none of whom I know, why would I feel any less safe in the restaurant at my destination?

Enabling that comfort is a realistic assessment of the risks I face. Recently, for instance, I taught a class in another state, one which required that I fly. When the plane touched down I was met by a driver who had been vetted by my hosts; I went from the car directly into the lobby of the hotel, where I checked in and secured my room against entry. The next morning I was greeted in the lobby by my host, who I knew to be armed, and was transported in his vehicle to a range where I was surrounded by good people with guns. We went to dinner with some of them that evening, and then back to the hotel where I barricaded myself for the night. The next morning I was greeted by my driver, who took me to the front door of the airport.

My risk was very low the entire trip. Was I likely to need a gun at any time during that sojourn? No. Was there a plausible lethal threat at any time? Probably not. If there had been, the vast majority of the time I was around other people who had guns. During the times I wasn't, I was mostly prohibited from having one anyhow.

Don't get me wrong: I carry whenever I can, and in my state that means the vast majority of the time. What I'm saying is that I don't allow my life to be defined or controlled by carrying, nor do I allow myself to feel unsafe when I can't. I understand that what I'm giving up by not having the gun is defensive efficiency, not absolute efficacy.

I know too many people who won't go to neat places and do neat things because they can't have their gun with them. (I'm talking about legally prohibited, as opposed to being lawfully unwelcome.) Frankly, I'd rather live my life - to go to the neat places and do the neat things! By carefully assessing my risk and the plausibilities involved, and taking appropriate precautions, I know I can be reasonably safe even without a firearm.

And I don't lose any sleep over it.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some machine gun goodness.

Truth be told, I'm not really much of a fan of full auto weapons. It's not that they're not a whole heap o' fun, and it's not that I believe people shouldn't be allowed to own them. No, it's simply that I'm way too cheap to buy one!

Start with the insanely high prices, then add in the $200 tax stamp, and THEN factor in how much it would cost me to feed one (even with the cost savings of reloading), and it's just too much for my parsimonious nature. I’m glad that not everyone is as much of a cheapskate as I am, however!

That’s because I’m fascinated with their mechanical design and rarely miss a chance to look at how one operates (or even, if someone else is footing the bill, getting a little trigger time in myself!) This brings me, inevitably, to the Forgotten Weapons blog; Ian loves full autos, and goes to great lengths to unearth the very rare and unusual examples - usually complete with operational drawings.

This week he came up with a couple of fascinating articles. First is the story of a
WWII era Romanian submachine gun, the Orita. It was designed by Nicolae Sterca and Leopold Jaska, two engineers who I'd not heard of before this article. (Some day I'm going to take the time to write a piece on great firearms designers who didn't hail from the U.S. There are a lot of them.) I was particularly intrigued by the grip safety on the traditional wood stock!

Just prior to that he talked about an
upcoming auction of some very rare (and incredibly pristine) autos. If I had the money (and weren’t too cheap to spend it), I'd love to have the Swiss Maxim.

Why? Do you really need to ask a former watchmaker why he wants a Swiss

-=[ Grant ]=-

Where can you find news about the gun world?

There are an endless number of sites here in the intertubes where you can read about guns, shooting, self defense, and the politics which surround all of those. Most of what you'll find are from individual bloggers (like me!), full of opinion (again, like me) but usually a mixed bag for actual news about shooting and self defense. When I want news, here are some of the places I check.

The Gun Wire is sort of like the Drudge Report for the firearms world. They've got links to firearms stories from all over the world, updated constantly. It's a lot to wade through, but if it's about guns you'll probably find it there.

The Tactical Wire isn't what you might think; it's primarily a collection of press releases from all of the companies and organizations in the shooting world. If anyone puts out a press release, whether it's a new product announcement or match results, Tactical Wire will have it. (You might be surprised how many get published every day!) Absolutely a must-read if you're trying to keep up with the industry.

The Shooting Wire is similar to Tactical Wire; mostly industry news, but with more original content and commentary than you'll find on the Tactical Wire. They also report on articles of note from bloggers and magazines. Another must-read for industry watchers.

Gun Digest (whose parent company publishes my books) is one of the oldest sources of news in the shooting world. Their online edition and daily newsletters feature a mix of industry releases, original content, gun reviews, and opinion pieces. Probably the most well-rounded of all shooting news sites, they're also one of the most professional due to a large and experienced editorial staff. If you want solid news you can trust, Gun Digest is one of the first places to turn. In fact, if you could only read one shooting-related site a day, Gun Digest should probably be that one.

While it's something of a mixed bag,
The Truth About Guns will talk about breaking news other outlets haven't discovered yet (or simply won't touch.) I won't call TTAG unbiased - they make no pretense of being so - but they've been known to get news on the 'net before anyone else. I also like the fact that they're not afraid to stir the pot now and again, and they pull no punches just because a subject happens to be on their side. Opinionated and sometimes irreverent; if you've got delicate sensibilities, probably not a site you want to visit.

Finally, the
Personal Defense Network (for whom I occasionally pen an article) is my favorite source for self defense information. The information is timely, topical, and factual. There's not a lot of actual news, but you will find articles which look at current events through the lens of keeping you and your loved ones safe.

What news sites do you like? Sound off in the comments!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Special Tuesday Edition: Rumor busting.

The latest internet rumor, apparently from the proprietor of a gun store back east, is that U.S. Customs is holding up containers of imported smokeless powder on the orders of the White House. This, it's claimed, is the reason that powder - for both reloaders and ammunition manufacturers - is in such short supply.

Ed Harris, who many of you will recognize as one of the longstanding voices of sanity in the gun industry, has access to people the rest of us don't. When I call Hodgdon Powder Co., for instance, I get a Customer Service Rep. When Ed calls, he gets Chris Hodgdon - which is exactly what happened a few days ago, and this is what Ed related to me of their conversation:

“[Chris] says that the story [the gun shop] related about US Customs playing games with containers waiting to come into the country is nothing but an Internet rumor. 
He says that since the President was re-elected that demand for powder has exceeded anything they have ever seen.  They are importing more powder than they ever have, and shipping over 100,000 lbs. a month but the market is absorbing it instantly.  Their supply is the greatest it has ever been and it is still not enough. The market has gone crazy since Obama’s re-election.
Hodgdon asks dealers and consumers to be patient. Panic buying is driving the current shortage. It is likely to continue until the administration is required to move onto some other, serious world crisis probably unrelated to gun control…… Then we will have something else to worry about."

There you have it, folks, straight from the horse's mouth. People are simply buying up everything that's being produced, even though it's being produced and shipped in record amounts.

As to the source of the rumor, my general rule of thumb is this: if you hear something from someone behind the counter in a gun store, it's probably false. Just like this rumor.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is the Caracal dead in the water?

I've been a little hesitant to talk about the woes of the Caracal pistol, largely because it's a gun I really like. Why? Well, for starters it’s just a nice gun to shoot! That’s largely due to the incredibly low bore axis and well designed grip.

How low is that bore? I’ll put it this way: it's the only gun since the HK P7 which gives me what I call the "Monitor feeling", in reference to the Civil war ship that carried its bulk below the waterline and left only a short turret with a gun poking above the surface. It seems like the barrel itself is sitting on top of my fingers with just the sights peeking up out of my hand. That low bore axis makes for reduced muzzle flip and perceived recoil, enabling one to shoot faster at any given level of precision.

More importantly to me, the Caracal’s grip is small enough and the trigger reach short enough that it fits my hands like the proverbial glove. I can actually get my stubby mitts around the gun and reach the trigger, which is something I can’t do even on a Glock 19. That’s a major advantage for me!

Shooting the Caracal was one of the more pleasant experiences I've had in recent years and its handling alone was enough to make me like the pistol. What clinched the deal for me was the apparent reliability: the one I shot had over 10,000 rounds through it since last being cleaned, with not one reported malfunction. (This was a gun that Rob Pincus was using in his classes one last year's PDN Spring Training Tour so I know for a fact it hadn't been cleaned. You could tell by the gritty feeling as the slide reciprocated!)

Unfortunately time has not been good to the folks at Caracal. First they recalled the pistols because of a potential for not being drop safe. Caracal USA promised fast repair or replacement of the affected guns, and
according to Robert Farago over at The Truth About Guns they've had his for over 160 days. That's not what I'd call fast turnaround, and there’s no end in sight.

That was bad enough, but now comes the news that one of their guns suffered a catastrophic failure of the slide, one which they admit resulted in injuries to the shooter. They've issued a second recall for this issue even though they haven't finished the first. Who knows how long this will take? Will Caracal owners ever get their guns back?

It's too bad, but because of these issues I've crossed the Caracal off my personal purchase list. You see, I'm in the market for a new compact autoloading pistol and the Caracal seemed perfect for my small hands. My second favorite gun, the Steyr S9-A1, is out of the running simply because they don't make full capacity magazines for the things - 10 rounds is the limit, in a gun that's exactly the same size as a Glock 19 and whose magazines are actually slightly bigger than the Glock.

I've looked at the XD and the M&P and frankly just can't get all that excited about either. I'm now seriously considering just picking up another Glock 19 (my wife carries one, and that would give us magazine and spare parts commonality) and doing a grip reduction on it.

Not myself, of course; can anyone out there seriously imagine me working on a plastic gun?? I'll send it to
someone who knows how to do the job properly, like Lou Biondo.

The Caracal, as much as I like it, now garners a "not recommended" from me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The rationale of "no sales to police".

There is a growing list of gun companies who are refusing to sell to any government agencies (police departments, etc.) in states where their products are not allowed to be owned by the general populace. I've applauded this practice, and have taken more than a little heat from both friends and enemies for my stance.

Their arguments against industry-government boycotts are generally based on efficacy: the "it won't matter, so why bother?" school of thought. I think that's short-sighted, and ignores the idea of foundational principles of which I've been writing lately.

Let's take the case of Magpul. As you may know, their home state of Colorado is banning what they refer to as "large" capacity magazines. Magpul, who built their business on the 30-round PMAG for the AR-15, has threatened (and appears to be following through on the threat) to leave the state and take their $85 million business and 250-odd direct jobs with them. I've applauded them for that action; good on them!

Unfortunately they turned around and publicly declared that they'd be more than happy to sell their PMAGs to any police officer or department in that state - despite the fact that the citizens of the state are now forbidden to buy those same items.**

Magpul, and some of the other companies which have issued public statements defending municipal sales in such areas, have said that they'll continue to sell their restricted products to the brave guys and gals who "need" them. This is also a common refrain amongst supporters of those companies, who defend the practices by invoking images of police whose operations would be severely hampered for want of a 30-round magazine.

I believe this indicates a lack of understanding of the issues involved, and one of them is an idea that we've been fighting tooth and toenail since last December: the mistaken belief that a Constitutionally protected right is subject to a test of need.

All over the country, in Congress and in the states and on the airwaves and in the forums, we've been fighting the argument that no one "needs" a "high" capacity magazine or an "assault weapon." Many of us, unfortunately, have fallen into that trap of debating "need" rather than pointing out that rights cannot be subjected to such tests. We haven't done a terribly good job of disabusing people of that notion.

The companies who enact or continue policies of selling specifically to police officers and agencies in ban areas directly support the argument of "need”, whether they recognize it or not. You see, by continuing to do business in those states which have established two legal classes, companies help to perpetuate the idea that some people do in fact "need" those "high" capacity feeding devices and some don't - the police agencies being the people who need them, and the general public the people who don't. Many of their statements, and the tepid defenses uttered by many of their supporters, say things to the effect that they don't want to deprive police officers in such states of the tools that they “need" to do their jobs.

Having a company in our industry publicly declare that they recognize need as a valid reason to sell to a specific part of the public is the next best thing to carving the concept on stone tablets and having a certain Senator from California carry them down the mount, loudly declaring "Thou Shalt NOT!"

Don't get me wrong; I understand that a Magpul boycott of a state's police agencies would be unlikely to have any effect on their lawmaker's votes. The police aren't going to lobby the Legislature for a repeal of the law because they have their exemption; there is no incentive for them to urge a repeal, and no boycott by the industry is likely to ever change that. I also recognize that a boycott won't do anything to forestall the burgeoning tiered society we're creating with such exemptions to these laws.

None of that matters. Efficacy is a poor argument; principle is not.

I don't care if a company's boycott against a state is successful. I do care about the lack of such a boycott cementing into the public's minds that some people need certain things and others don't, and that ownership of those items should be based on that need. Allowing these companies to enact, publicize, and defend policies which recognize the need argument -- or, at the very least, don’t voice any opposition to it -- lends credence to one of the prohibitionists’ main and most successful talking points.

If industry leaders like Magpul accept the argument of need in Colorado, it becomes much harder for people in Oregon and Oklahoma and Maine to counter their legislators who use need as a basis for new laws. Exercise of a fundamental right, any fundamental right, cannot be based on a requirement to show need. The companies who accept the status quo which is built on need make it harder for the rest of us to get that point across to the public.

When a business entity says that some specific group of people needs a particular thing while accepting a law that says no one else does (and is happy to profit from the situation), they've actively validated the prohibitionist position. The prohibitionists are greatly strengthened by such validation, and that's the real problem.

-=[ Grant ]=-

** - Magpul has since "clarified" their position, stating that they will sell to individual officers in ban states who will sign a promise that they won't enforce any unconstitutional laws. That alone is another discussion, but they've simply erected a minor hoop through which the people with the alleged need must now jump. Their slightly modified position has no fundamental effect on the underlying concepts.

I'm getting tired of politics. Not enough to give up, however.

Here in Oregon we're fighting a legislative battle again relentless prohibitionists. This situation will be familiar to those of you in places like California, Washington, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Colorado, and several more. What they can't get done in Congress they've decided to get done at the state level; they've had some success, which has emboldened them.

It's important that we keep our heads in the fight and not let them control the discussion. As you're seen by my recent posts, I'm a believer in the idea of arguing foundational principles and try not to get caught up silly arguments like justifying "need". Instead, I think it's best that we control the narrative by turning the situation back at our opponents by focusing on how their desires affect other fundamental human rights.

There was a
recent article over at The Truth About Guns site which discussed the argument of body counts - and, by extension, the mantra of "if it saves just one life…" - as a justification for the abrogation of Constitutional rights. It's a good read, and I recommend that you share it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How subjects in the UK get around their draconian laws

As you may know, the United Kingdom banned possession of handguns for the general populace some time back. This action was precipitated by a spree killing at a school in Scotland, and in an incredibly strong knee-jerk reaction the UK simply declared handguns to be illegal. Confiscation and destruction followed; the loss of many historical artifacts resulted.

The law exempts muzzle-loading handguns, however, and so some enterprising souls convert double-action revolvers into muzzleloaders.
The Firearms Blog has the story, along with pictures of the conversions.

Let's make sure we don't have to do the same thing here, OK?

-=[ Grant ]=-

A new source for old books - and a special discount to boot!

I love old shooting books. Not necessarily because the information is strictly correct or useful (many times it’s neither), but simply because they’re interesting. They give us a glimpse into how shooting technique and equipment have evolved, and more importantly they document the characters who brought us to where we are today.

For instance, I’d never recommend “No Second Place Winner” as a book on good defensive shooting technique. Even so it’s still worth reading to see how a great shooter - Bill Jordan - approached the topic. It remains one of my favorite shooting books even though I use almost nothing in it. It’s just fascinating to read.

Many of the classic books on shooting have been unavailable for years. While there are certainly used copies floating about, they can sometimes be hard to find - and often very expensive when you do find a copy.

Jeffrey Socher is a regular reader who likes old shooting books too, but he recognized how hard they can be to acquire. That prompted him to start a new business:
Sportsman's Vintage Press, which reprints those hard-to-find titles!

Jeffrey started with Elmer Keith's classic "Sixguns". Now that's a title which is not unheard of on the used market, but good copies are starting to get scarce and all are going up in price. You can get a fresh copy from Sportsman's Vintage Press for less than $20.

What about the rarer Keith books? Try finding "Sixgun Cartridges and Loads", "Shotguns by Keith", "Elmer Keith's Big Game Hunting", or "Big Game Rifles and Cartridges". They're not unheard of, but they're harder to locate than Sixguns and often more expensive as well. Jeffrey's got them all on his site.

It's his latest title, though, which has me excited: he's reprinted the very difficult to find
"Secrets of Double Action Shooting" by Bob Nichols. This is one of the true classics in the revolver world, and one which has been sadly missing from the marketplace for too long. When decent copies show up they're invariably north of $100 (sometimes WAY north!) Thanks to Jeffrey, it's available from Sportsman's Vintage Press right now for only $15.97. At that price every revolver enthusiast should have a copy!

I’ve saved the best part for last: Jeffrey is extending a special discount to readers of this blog! if you enter the coupon code WYUC36M7 at checkout, you'll get 15% off your entire order.

(Let's put than into perspective: you can get all of Keith's books, PLUS Secrets of Double Action Shooting, for less than you'd pay for a used copy of just the Nichols book. Now that's a deal.)

Head on over to his site and pick up a book - or two or three - and be sure to thank Jeffrey for the discount!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The concept of 'need'.

I'm a bit concerned about a trend in the gun community, one borne from defending against the prohibitionists who have gotten their second wind courtesy of the Newtown tragedy. That trend is arguing 'need'.

The prohibitionists (gun-grabbers, if you prefer) like to ask the question "why do you NEED" some specific gun or feature on a gun. Whether it's a "high capacity magazine" or a "military style rifle", the question puts the onus on us to justify our desire to have the item in question. I think that's misguided, and I think we're aiding and abetting our own entrapment.

Don't get me wrong; there have been a number of superb essays on the subject by people I know and respect. In virtually every case I agreed with all the points they made. I just don't think we should be wasting our time making them.

If a prohibitionist asks why we "need" something, he is presupposing that the exercise of a fundamental right is contingent upon showing good reason to exercise that right. The idea that humans have rights simply because they exist is completely bypassed, and the concept that rights are something a government confers upon subjects is cemented in the very structure of the question. By answering, in any form or manner, the question of need we tacitly accept their premise that rights do not exist beyond what someone else is willing to allow. Even entertaining the question plays into their trap.

We need to stop doing that.

When the question of need comes up, we (as a community, let alone as a nation) shouldn't acknowledge any legitimacy to the question. To do so signals our acceptance of their base premise. Instead, we should completely bypass the question and tell them that rights - ours and theirs - are not subject to tests of need or social utility. The correct attitude is not one of educating the questioner about firearms, but rather educating about inalienable rights.

I'm even in favor of turning the question back on the questioner: "who are you to determine what I do and do not need?
Who or what gives you the moral authority to force me to justify my desires to you?"

Perhaps we should ask them to lay their lives open to us for a similar examination: "why do you NEED a car that has 120 horsepower? Why do you NEED a television with a screen over 20 inches? Why do you NEED granite countertops? Why do you NEED a designer dress?"

I'll admit that this is a purist point of view, and purists are notoriously lacking in the pragmatism necessary to function efficiently in society. Still, I believe that we need to drive the discussion away from the minutiae of hardware design and back to the fundamentals of human freedom. If we keep answering their call for justification, we'll continue to battle on their terms.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A BIG revolver. Sorta.

As I mentioned in my SHOT Show 2013 recap, I ran into Ian from Forgotten Weapons at the show. We only talked for a very brief time, but
he mentioned that he was putting up a "revolver" video just for me - and then laughed.

No wonder! The video in question is him firing one of the Colt 1877 Bulldog Gatling Gun reproductions (which I covered in my SHOT Show 2012 report last year!) Neat video, neat gun, and I wish I could afford one.

He followed that up a few days later with
a great article on Gatling Gun feeding systems. I'm amazed at the number of different ways the Gatling could be fed, a testimony to its adaptability and design.

Thanks Ian!

-=[ Grant ]=-

I make an appearance on the Politics & Guns Podcast!

Lots of stuff that I need to disseminate this week, so look for multiple blog posts - some of them might appear on days I don't normally post!

First is this gem: when I was at SHOT Show I got together with Toby Lee from the Politics & Guns Podcast. We sat in the hallway outside the media center (which was the quietest place we could find) and had a chat about my new book,
The Gun Digest Shooter's Guide To Handguns. Our interview starts at 30:20. Enjoy!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Back from SHOT Show, Part Two: Gear.

I don't really go to SHOT to look at gear, but on Friday I had the whole day to get out and look at stuff. Prior to that I only saw gear on a "hit and miss" basis as I ran between appointments and meetings. Here’s what I managed to see:

- The first thing I have to report (and the most exciting for revolver enthusiasts) is that
Korth, the top-tier German revolver maker, is looking for a new importer to expand their presence in the U.S. They understand that they'll never sell a ton of guns here, but they also understand that they're a small company; any market share they get would probably double their sales! I got a chance to talk at length with their representatives and also got to play with one of their clear-sided demonstrators. As expected, the actions are superbly smooth and the workmanship is perfect. (The big news is that they're planning on making a left-hand version this year!)

Korth revolvers start around $4k, which sounds like a lot - and it is. Let's put that into perspective, however: when I discussed the possibility of reviving the Python with the head of Colt's Custom Shop, he indicated that to reproduce it to the quality of the "classic" Python would mean a price tag of five large. (For those of you under 40, that's five grand or "five kay" - $5,000.) That level of hand fitting costs, no matter where it's made, which puts the Korth in the same ballpark a modern Python would have to be. The Korth people believe that there is a market for a high end revolver in this country, and I agree with them; the only question is whether people will understand that ANY revolver of such a grade is going to cost that much. I’m sure some will complain that a Performance Center gun is 1/4 of that cost while ignoring the fact that they’re hardly in the same fit-and-finish ballpark.

- Speaking of high grade guns, I had a talk with Ray Rozic at
Cabot Guns. Cabot, you may remember, makes the Python of 1911s. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: if I were to ever buy another 1911, it would be a Cabot. They're put together like nothing else I've ever seen; the quality of workmanship rivals the very best hand-built customs and simply blows away any other production 1911. Cabot's first full year of production was 2012, and Brian Zins used one to win the 2012 NRA National Pistol Championship at Camp Perry! Not bad for the first time at bat, and speaks volumes about their quality.

Their position in the 1911 market is much like that of Korth in the revolver world, and the prices are even similar: starting just north of $4k. Again, that level of quality simply costs that much no matter who does it.

(Oh, I asked Ray if Cabot would ever consider making a similarly high-end revolver; he simply smiled. I'm keeping my eye on him!)

- One of the interesting products I saw was one that got a lot of attention last year: the
Flashbang Bra Holster. Not being a woman, I thought the product was a gimmick like every other bra holster that's been made over the last 40 years. Turns out I was dead wrong. This time I visited their booth with three women who are trainers and authors of shooting books and articles; all three of them told me that the Flashbang actually works and took the time to explain the ‘why’. My take? It works well because it was actually designed by a woman!

The woman is Lisa Looper, a sharp and inventive young lady whose enthusiasm is absolutely infectious. I spent some time taking pictures of her and her products for a new book being written by Gila Hayes, and later had a talk with her about her invention. She's a great example of the next generation of gun carriers and shooting industry entrepreneurs, and I felt a lot better about the future of our industry after meeting her. If you're a woman looking for a discreet and apparently comfortable way to carry a handgun, or know one who is, give the Flashbang serious consideration. The women who know tell me it's a top notch product.

- I also stopped in at the
Elzetta booth and talked with them about their world-class flashlights. They're coming out with a new light, one featuring an LED module of their own design and manufacture. It puts out an honest 500 lumens with a very nice beam pattern. I was impressed, and was assured that the module features the same type of robust construction we've come to love about the Malkoff modules they've been using. I'll probably need to own one!

- Speaking of flashlights, I dropped by the booth of the most well known tactical flashlight manufacturer. At one display of perhaps 8 or 10 lights the sales rep could not make two of them function properly due to bad switches. When I left he was desperately twisting and pushing, trying to make one work. That pretty much mirrors my own experience with their products, and is why I now use an Elzetta for my defensive illumination.

Remington was showing their AR-10 type rifle, available in .308, .243 and 7mm-08. What makes the R-25 a little unusual is that the controls are completely ambidextrous: magazine release, safety, and even the bolt catch. It’s well engineered and seemed to work very smoothly. Bonus: it takes DPMS type magazines, which are not exactly common but at least they're a little less proprietary.

Redfield has a neat new scope out, and in fact it is so new that their one display unit arrived via FedEx the day the show opened! It's a 2x-7x scope with a bullet drop compensator for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge (36gn hollowpoint at a nominal 1250 fps.) It should make for a dandy varmint hunting scope, and at $189 list price should sell easily. Optics were pretty good for a sub-$200 unit. I'll probably buy one for sage rat hunting.

- Speaking of varmints, Winchester showed off their new .17 caliber rimfire round - the
.17 Winchester Super Magnum. It spits out a 20 grain bullet at over 3,000 fps and has a fairly flat trajectory out to 300 yards. It's a better performer in every respect than the .17 HMR, and according to the Winchester rep I talked with is only about 20% more expensive than .22 WMR. While spendy, it's still cheaper than shooting centerfire! Initial chamberings are in an affordable Savage bolt action and one of the Browning single shots.

Gunsmith Todd Koonce, who was with me at SHOT, was so impressed that he immediately bought a chamber reamer for the new round. He has something up his sleeve, and I can't wait to find out what it is.

- While I'm on the subject of ammunition,
Federal has introduced a line of suppressor-ready centerfire ammunition in their American Eagle brand. It’s to be packaged in black boxes and labeled “American Eagle Suppressor”. We all know that suppressors are hot, hot, HOT right now, and it’s great that at least one of the major ammunition makers sees the potential in a product made to provide the best performance in a suppressed gun. I just hope they can produce enough of it!

Premier Optics, the rebirth of the former Premier Reticles, reportedly fell on hard times since last year's SHOT Show. That's too bad, because their scopes were among the best I've seen. Luckily a Canadian investor thought so too, and just before the show opened purchased the company. He told me that he felt their scopes had great potential and thought it a shame that they might be lost before they could really have a chance to prove themselves. I agree; their scopes are top drawer, and I'm glad they now have the backing they need to really cement their place in the market. If you're in the market for a high end scope, I suggest looking hard at Premier.

Springfield introduced their subcompact XD-s in 9mm. They told me it is exactly the same size as the .45 ACP version, but it sure feels smaller to me! No matter; it's a neat little gun and the 9mm cartridge is an eminently more sensible chambering for that tiny pistol. It will sell as easily as it shoots.

- One compact 9mm I've not paid any attention to is a cute little polymer gun from
Bersa, the Argentinian maker of "affordable" handguns. Make no mistake: the single stack BP-9cc appears to be of high quality construction, fits the tiniest hands easily, and has a superbly light and smooth trigger. It surprised me by being smooth to the hand, with no unfinished edges or seams. At under $400 MSRP, should it prove to be reliable I can see them selling every single one they can make. I'm hoping to get one for a long-term torture test and see just how well it handles the strain. I'm told by people who've shot them that they'll stand up to whatever I can dish out, so we shall see!

- Down in a little out-of-the-way booth in the basement sat a little Chinese company called
Op.Electronics, who is selling a neat electronic target gadget called TopGun. It consists of a laser module which goes into the barrel of your pistol and an electronic target pad which hooks to your PC. The target pad is magnetic, and a reduced size target of your choice is held on the pad with some tiny magnets. That target shows up on the software running on your computer! The target pad tracks muzzle movement before and after the "shot" is fired. The target shows a green track before the shot, a red dot where the shot would have landed, and a yellow track showing follow-through.

The cool thing is that targets can be scanned in and added to their selection, so it's theoretically possible to get any target of any configuration you want.

I'm not generally a fan of extensive dryfire practice for defensive shooting, but this has some intriguing possibilities for training if used intelligently. It's a big step beyond the laser "hit" targets which are on the market now, and though more expensive ($299) I think it’s a justifiable cost.

- Oh, I forgot: Korth was also showing their autopistol, a gun which has never intrigued me, in a heavily engraved edition with superb ivory grips. It was one of the most beautiful guns I saw in the entire show, even with the stupendous examples shown at the Perazzi booth. I did not ask the price; somehow, it just seemed gauche to do so.

- The Tavor bullpup from
Israeli Weapon Industries (IWI) will be imported this year - assuming the State and Commerce Departments don't come under contrary orders, of course. This is a rather exotic gun for us, as I never expected to see it on our shores. It's currently the issue rifle for the Israel Defense Forces and was purpose built for their unique needs. It's compact, like all bullpups, and can be easily converted from right-hand to left-hand operation (though not without partial disassembly.) Though it has the rotten trigger typical of bullpup designs it has tremendous practical accuracy potential, as Todd Koonce demonstrated on Range Day by rapidly landing shot after shot on a 100-meter steel silhouette target. Uses standard AR magazines, of course - the Israelis are very pragmatic about such things.

Merkel was showing a neat straight-pull bolt action rifle called the Helix, which features rapid caliber change. I thought it was really cool, even if the price was a little much for my wallet: starting "around" $5,000.

Caracal introduced their pistol caliber carbines, taking the same magazines as their pistols (of course.) The thumbhole stock, like that on the competitive Beretta carbines, seemed a little awkward to me but Todd found it usable.

- The rep at
Ithaca, my favorite shotgun company, tells me that they're selling all the guns they can make. That's good news, as it means this iteration of the company will be around for some time yet. Those sales include their "tactical" line of police and home defense shotguns. Oddly, though, he says their 20 gauge defensive shotgun barely sells. I'm a huge believer in the 20 as a defensive tool, and specifically the Ithaca 20 gauge - I'm surprised they don't sell more of them.

Not content to make just shotguns, Ithaca has returned to their roots and is once again making 1911 pistols. Ithaca was a major producer of those guns during World War II, making almost the same number as did Colt. As you all know I'm not a 1911 kind of guy, but the examples I saw were quite nicely done. They're also working on their AR-15 (which they showed in prototype form last year, but was conspicuously absent this time.) They say they'll have an announcement later in the year.

That exhausts my notes. This show was notable for not having a lot of exciting introductions; the truly new items, which were few and far between, were evolutionary rather than revolutionary (new people making 1911s and AR-15s just isn't all that exciting.) I got the impression that all of the companies are too occupied with their growing pile of backorders to put a lot of effort into new products. That isn't the case for everyone, of course, but sure appears to be so for the majority. I predict we'll see many more new products introduced at the next show than we did this time - assuming that this buying frenzy slows down a bit!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some thoughts on solidarity.

I was going to present Part Two of my SHOT Show adventures today, but I think this is more important. I'll post the SHOT Show stuff tomorrow, promise!

Since the election we've been bombarded with the notion that gun owners need to present a united front against the prohibitionists who wish to restrict the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. I agree with the sentiment, but I think the idea of solidarity can be taken to an illogical extreme, and in fact has been.

When someone in our camp - like the gun store owner in Arizona who publicly declares that he doesn't want Democrats in his establishment, or the trainer who states on video that he's ready to start killing people - does something stupid, it's our responsibility to make it clear that those views are not those of the majority of gun owners. If necessary, we need to cull them from our ranks so that they can't do any more harm to our cause. I've been calling this the "Shut The Hell Up" movement; regular readers will recall several instances of late where I've called for someone to just Shut The Hell Up.

Now I've been told (and had at least two volatile discussions at SHOT on the topic) that this lack of solidarity will "embolden our enemies." Folks, make no mistake: our enemies already hate us. The fact that gun owners exist at all is what drives them; they cannot be more emboldened than they already are. They do not derive their motivation from whatever discord exists in our ranks, because discord is always present in any group of more than three people. Their focus will always be on the stupid stuff which causes the discord, because it's the stupid stuff we do (or allow to be done in our name) which gives them a political advantage.

For instance: if someone were to go on YouTube and declare that he's ready to start shooting people if his rights are infringed another inch, and the rest of the community (properly) excommunicated him for being an idiot, which action do you think the prohibitionists would derive motivation from? Which do you think they'd focus on and issue press releases about - the crazy, radical statements of the nutcase or the sane, measured opinions of the people who no longer want anything to do with him? Right: they'll focus on the former, because that's where the real damage to our cause is done. The fact that others disagree with him gives them no advantage, and in fact weakens their contention that all gun owners are just a step away from becoming maniacal killers.

Discord is in fact an advantage to our side because it shows we are responsible. It's not something we should fear but rather something we should embrace because it makes our case stronger.

The idea that the need to present a united front requires we not criticize those in our corner who do stupid things is self-destructive. Continuing a relationship with people or ideas that have damaged our public image or our political positions does far more harm than the small amount of internal angst that is generated by their exorcism. The former lasts; the latter is quickly forgotten, if it's noticed at all.

Rob Pincus wrote a very good essay on this topic a few days ago, one which largely mirrors my opinion on the subject. I wholeheartedly encourage you to read it.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Back from SHOT Show, Part One: People.

I spent last week in Las Vegas at the annual SHOT Show convention. For those who don't know, it's the shooting industry's major business convention and darn near any company you can name is there. SHOT is where major new products are typically released, and it's where the "people of the gun" congregate.

I go there specifically to network, to see people. The hardware isn't terribly exciting to me; don't get me wrong, I enjoy seeing a new gun as much as anyone, but I also know that I could stay home and get the same information. It's the chance to talk to people in the industry which is valuable to me.

For this trip I was accompanied by
Todd Koonce, a talented local gunsmith about whom you’ll be reading more. Todd is “Mr. Vegas!”, well versed with the recreational opportunities that Vegas offers yet possessing a phenomenal self-restraint which keeps him from going too far. We hopped in a car, drove to Vegas, and started our adventures.

The first person I wanted to meet was my editor at Gun Digest books, Corrina Peterson. I would in fact have considered the trip a complete success if I'd met only her! I've worked with her on three books over a span of almost that long, exchanged numerous emails, but had never gotten to actually shake her hand. Unfortunately I neglected to get a picture with her, but I'll remedy that next time.

Many of the industry's top trainers go to SHOT, and I got to meet both Ken Murray and John Farnam. Ken is something of an "instructor's instructor": he's the acknowledged expert in scenario based training and the author of
Training at the Speed of Life (yes, I have a copy - if you're a defensive shooting instructor, you should too.)

John Farnam should not require much of an introduction, being one of the more well-known shooting instructors in the business. He's also surprisingly non-doctrinal, amusingly self-deprecating, and very open to new ideas and approaches.

I'll be working with both Ken and John (and some others you might recognize) on future projects, so watch this space!

I managed to cross paths, very briefly, with Ian from
Forgotten Weapons. He was running around with Oleg Volk, and I sadly had to turn down their invitation to join them for a coffee break (I was running to another appointment.) Next time, guys!

Kathy Jackson, whose
Cornered Cat website is one of my recommended sources for women who are interested in defensive shooting, sat down with me for a bit to discuss her new project: The Cornered Cat Training Company. This is good news for women who want to learn about guns and concealed carry, as Kathy is well versed in the subjects. I'm glad that she's finally getting the attention she deserves for her work (even if we do disagree from time to time!)

Speaking of women and guns, I spent all of Thursday helping out Gila Hayes with pictures for her new book on concealed carry for women. Gila is one of the industry's best trainers, and her last book
Personal Defense For Women has carried my highest recommendation since it was published a few years ago. This new one promises to be just as good!

One of the things which impressed me was the number of next-generation men and women getting involved in this industry. They're bringing new ideas and energy into shooting and self defense, and only a real curmudgeon would look askance at them. They're the future, and I believe they're capable of handling whatever gets thrown their way.

On a personal note, I've attended trade shows in several industries since I was 17 years old, and darned near every time I come back sick. This time I resolved to break that cycle; I carried hand sanitizer and used it every time I touched anything or shook hands with anyone, and every time I passed a bathroom I darted in and did a thorough hand washing. Despite all of that I still came back with a mild case of the flu! I'm thinking of going in a plastic bubble next time.

In Part Two I'll talk about some of the gear I saw.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Shot Show Report: Day One

Yesterday was the first day of SHOT Show (Monday was Media Day At The Range; the actual show opened on Tuesday.) I'll talk about the hardware on my Facebook page, so please hit the Facebook button to your right to see that stuff.

Today I'd like to talk about the general tone of the show. Yesterday, before the news about our President's impending press conference came out, I'd describe the show as upbeat. Ammunition makers didn't want to talk about supply issues, the AR-15 manufacturers would only smile if you asked them what the delivery times would be, and generally people were very happy with the state of the industry.

This morning, as we wait for the press conference, there is a feeling of unease in the air. There are people here who are genuinely concerned that they'll essentially be put out of business by executive fiat about 11:45 Eastern time. The new legislation in New York, and pending bills in Maryland and points west also have everyone worried - and for good reason.

We've made great strides in the past couple of decades, only to see the possibility of having our progress wiped out in a very short period of time. We haven't been helped by people in our own camp who insist on reinforcing every negative stereotype of the "dangerous gun nut", nor by politicians who stand on polling data rather than principle.

We have a lot of work to do now, and it's going to take everyone being on the same page. It's going to take some political activism, and to that end I'd ask you to go back and read
my piece about contacting your elected representatives (both local and national.) Join the NRA (if you haven't already.) Tell the idiots and grandstanders in our own fraternity to shut the hell up. Make sure that your local elected law enforcement (Sheriffs in most places, Chiefs of Police in a few) get the same message as your Congresscritter: that you will not accept any infringement on the rights protected by the Second Amendment.

If we don't do those things, in a few short years there may not be a whole lot of need for a SHOT Show.

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's SHOT Show time!

It’s the annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas! I’m hoping to bring you some news on the revolver front, and possibly even a neat announcement or two. Watch my Facebook and Twitter feeds, as I’ll update them as I hear anything new.

(I also happen to know that there will be a neat announcement or to come, so stay tuned!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

When is a 1911 not a 1911?

Why, when it's an Obregon!

Ian over at Forgotten Weapons has come up with another interesting video: a tear-down and a range test of an Obregon pistol. Made in Mexico (many people forget that Mexico had an inventive and thriving arms industry at one time) it's sort of a John Browning meets
Karl Krnka sort of affair. There are also a few surprises (like how the thumb safety is implemented.)

The gun is quite rare (there were, by most accounts, less than a thousand made circa 1930), and of course Ian not only gets the owner to let him tear it apart but also take it to the range and shoot it!

Check out the full story at Forgotten Weapons.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A video to make you think.

Words are powerful things. This is a fact with which I constantly struggle; I've learned, sometimes the hard way, that what I write - the words that I use - can have a marked effect on other people. This realization has been both empowering and chastening and has certainly changed how, and sometimes even what, I write.

Certain combinations of words carry more weight than others, and as I watch what passes for news I see that reality being used to bludgeon us over our exercise of our freedom. Sometimes the manipulation is obvious, sometimes it's subtle, but it's always there.

From Amidst The Noise comes this great video exploring how words are being used to divide us as a nation and even as Second Amendment advocates. Please watch it and share it with others.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ending 2012 on a bright note, or with a bang. Or both.

I was torn as to the topic of my final blog post of 2012. It needed to be topical, but I'm a little burnt out on the politics of gun control which currently dominate the shooting world. Not that it's unimportant, mind you, only that I've adopted a "wait and see" attitude: wait until Congress reconvenes and then see what it is we'll have to fight. I'm resigned to the fact that we will most certainly need to fight some kind of draconian gun control bill, but that's tomorrow.

Today, I want something a little lighter, something which illuminates some forgotten corner of firearms history. How about another one of those crazy gun combo things - you know, like the gun knife or the gun cane or the gun hat. How about a gun….flashlight!

From Gizmodo comes the story of the gun flashlight, a combination of a seven-shot .22 Short revolver and a battery operated torch (as Piers Morgan, the Brit ex-pat gun grabber we all love to hate, might call it.) (See how I worked current events into this seemingly unrelated story? That's the kind of scintillating writing that you can only find on my blog! Well, maybe a few others. OK, anybody could have done it. I'll just go sulk in the corner.)

Apologies for the digression. This circa 1920 contraption was supposedly made for security guards and night watchmen who presumably had need to illuminate things while simultaneously pointing a gun everywhere they looked. Today we recognize this for the very bad idea it was, but have we made any progress?

Only technologically. We have the same thing today, only the gun part is bigger and the flashlight part is a whole lot smaller. Think about this: if you were to attach a 'tactical illuminator' to the rail of your pistol, you’d have exactly same thing. More efficient, certainly, but the concept is the same. And, I dare say, just as silly for the majority of users.

(Don’t get me wrong - there is a place for the weapon-mounted light, but not on a handgun in the possession of someone who isn’t intimately familiar with both its application and its risks. In other words, it’s not a general purpose tool.)

On that note, I hope you enjoy your New Year's celebration this evening, and remember to do it safely! I'll see you on Wednesday with another exciting episode!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: Liberals, Cowards, and free stuff.

Some things that have crossed my path over the last few days:

- My publisher, Gun Digest, is having a Twelve Days Of Christmas Giveaway - a different prize every day! They're giving away a lot of neat stuff this week; on Friday is a drawing for a Gerstner pistol case! If you haven't seen one, they are gorgeous. Gerstner, of course, is the old-line wood tool chest manufacturer renowned for their quality. They're still in business, still making great stuff, including the aforementioned case. I'm not eligible to win, sadly, but you certainly are - go enter!
Here's the link the the Giveaway.

- James Yeager is a fairly well-known instructor who's also something of a bomb-thrower. He's been all over the net lately challenging people who call him 'coward' to do so to his face - and has issued threats about what would happen if someone did. Now I know people who've known him for a lot of years, and they insist he's really a nice guy and that this is just a publicity stunt for his school. Perhaps, but he's doing a great deal of harm to the image of gun owners and shooting instructors in a time when we really can't afford that kind of nonsense.
Please go read PDB's assessment, whose opinion in this case mirrors my own.

- I recently found
this piece by Terrell Prude Jr. Mr. Prude** is a self-professed liberal who is also a Second Amendment supporter and a member of the NRA. If you've been following the blog, Facebook, or any of the podcasts I've been on lately you know that this is a hot issue with me. I don't believe that someone needs to be of a certain political persuasion in order to be a gun rights advocate, and I certainly don't believe that just because someone voted for President Obama immediately means that he or she is my sworn enemy. Please read Mr. Prude's essay for the other side of gun ownership, one that we're far too eager to dismiss. Take the time to read it, especially if you’re not a ‘liberal’.

-=[ Grant ]=-

( ** - In the interest of full disclosure it should be noted that many years ago I did business - and a bit of socializing - with Mr. Prude's father, who he mentions in his essay. One might suggest that this would predispose me to agreeing with him, but given my public stance I think it's clear that I'd agree with him even if I didn't know his Dad.)

Someone actually thought this was a good idea.

Monday I brought you the sad tale of a silly article in the Shooting Times Personal Defense 2012 Annual. The silliness doesn't stop with the content, however - the way that the article was presented casts a blot not just on Shooting Times and the author of the article, but on the shooting community as a whole.

The pictures for the article were taken by the author, one J. Guthrie. All of them - several pages worth - were of a youngish bikini-clad woman displaying her wares, along with the guns, in suggestive poses. There was even something for the foot fetishists in the audience: six-inch stiletto shoes. Black, of course, to match the bikini.

Now understand that I'm hardly a prude. I rather enjoy looking at the female form, and have been known to peruse pictures of scantily clad women from time to time.* I’m also not what you’d call politically correct, as my wife will readily attest!

Even with my barely submerged neanderthal tendencies, my first reaction when I saw the article was one of disbelief. Surely, I thought, no one could be that out of touch in this day and age. I was wrong.

I'm sorry to break this to the misogynists out there, but an article on defensive shooting in a gun magazine is not the place for bikini babe pictures. Those kinds of images are a throwback to gun rags of the '70s and '80s, where no effort was made to appeal to (let alone understand) the female shooters in this world. Depictions of women as mere ornaments for the gun are what I'd thought the industry had gotten away from, but the author and his editors at Shooting Times are apparently stuck in a time warp and haven't yet figured out that the rest of the world has moved on.

Now you may be thinking that I'm over-reacting. I thought about that possibility, so I shared this with some people in the industry. They ranged from famous to barely known, male and female, but everyone had the same reaction I did: they thought it was disgusting.

In an age where the industry is finally getting a large cadre of confident and competent women who are both good shooters and terrific spokespeople (think Jessie Duff, Julie Golob, and Randi Rogers - and there are lots more where they came from) the article in question is simply inappropriate. It's particularly ironic that in a self defense magazine (which women should be reading), in an article on .380 pistols (which women do tend to purchase in disproportionate numbers to men and thus need the education), the author and editor would go out of their way to do something so patently offensive to them.

The message from J. Guthrie and Shooting Times is clear: women and guns are okay, as long as they're paired in a superficial and stereotypical manner that trivializes their relationship and doesn't threaten the egos of the male readers. It's sad that the article was written and illustrated the way it was, and even sadder that it was published.

-=[ Grant ]=-

( * - I will admit to becoming more selective as I get older; bleached hair, tattoos and excessive makeup are not particularly attractive to me, but I certainly do enjoy the, uh, other parts.)

Cyber Monday shooting and self defense deals!

It's Cyber Monday - the day when everyone shops from the comfort of their chair! There are some deals out there for shooters and those interested in personal defense, and here are just a few.

First off, a DVD that I've been recommending for some time is "Lessons From The Street" by Tom Givens. I consider it a must-have for any personal defense library, because Tom distills the lessons from the nearly 60 shootings his students have experienced. This DVD contains some really important information that counters a lot of the misinformation that's often encountered in the defensive training business.
It's available from the I.C.E. Store.

What's the deal? If you use the code "ICEXMAS" at checkout you'll get 20% off this DVD - in fact, any of the DVDs that you order from the I.C.E. Store will be 20% off! There are a lot of terrific titles available, so don't miss this opportunity to stock up!

Speaking of DVD deals, the Personal Defense Network is running a Cyber Monday special: sign up for a PDN Premium Membership and get 3 free DVDs - over 3 hours of training. The PDN Premium Membership is one of the best-kept secrets in the defensive training world; for the price of a typical DVD you get access to tons of streaming training videos, many of which are available only through PDN. The DVD offer is like icing on the cake!
Click here for the PDN Cbyer Monday DVD Deal.

Not to be outdone, the
Gun Digest Store is offering an additional 10% savings on top of their already-great holiday discounts. Take a look at the long list of titles, make your pick, and use the promo code "GDCYBER12" at checkout to get your additional 10% discount.

Do you know of any other shooting or self-defense Cyber Monday deals? Tell us about them in the comments!

-=[ Grant ]=-

My new PDN article: sight-seeing!

I've got another new article up at the Personal Defense Network, and those of you who are pushing 40 (or pulling 50) will be particularly interested. It's called
"I Can't See My Sights!"

It's the distillation of all the things I've learned over the past few years about how to adapt to vision changes, particularly those related to the march of time. If you have contrast or color blindness issues, or if you wear bifocals, this article will likely have something of special value for you.

Please go read it, and be sure to share it with your friends and family!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The pink gun trend. Again.

Some time ago I railed about how firearms are being sold to women: by adding pink grips to wholly inappropriate guns and peddling them to the “little ladies”. That just frosts me, because I want women to have the same thing that men have: a gun which they can actually use efficiently to deal with a threat. Part of being able to use it is being able to train and practice with it, and a gun that doesn’t fit well isn’t conducive to doing so.

Putting cute little grips on one of the Airweight Smith & Wesson's doesn't make it into a woman's gun - it makes the thing impossible for all but an expert to shoot. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for non-traditional colors and finishes to appeal to a wide variety of shooters, but the gun needs to be right for the job before those final touches are added. If they're all the product has to offer it's nothing but window dressing. And just a little insulting to the intended audience.

As it happens, I'm not alone in my disdain of frippery engineering; Laura Burgess thinks it's silly, too.

Who is Laura Burgess? She runs a marketing and PR firm that serves the shooting, hunting, and outdoor industries - it's one of the top firms in the business, in fact. Laura's a shooter too (as are her family members, who are also active in the industry) and knows a little bit about the subject.

She recently wrote a piece for The Truth About Guns on this trend to "pink it and shrink it" (wish I'd come up with that, but she's the pro.) It's very much worth reading.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Saturday Extra: win a copy of my new book!

I've got a new book coming out, and my editor is giving you a chance to win a pre-release copy!

The Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Handguns is all about the kinds of handguns available, how to use them, how to pick ammunition, and much more. It's due to hit the shelves at the end of the month, but you might win a copy before it's even in stores!

Click here to go to the Gun Digest entry page, but hurry - the deadline is Tuesday at midnight!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Testing gunpowder, circa 1850.

One of the modern conveniences which we take for granted is smokeless powder. It's stable, predictable, and stores for a very long time. It's also not hygroscopic, meaning that it doesn't readily absorb water - a really good attribute for a propellant!

This wasn't the case with early gunpowder, which we now refer to as black powder. (Even that's not quite accurate, as the black powder of today is considerably more reliably formulated than that which was available in the 19th century, let alone before.) In the days of percussion arms, powder was not as consistent as today - and that's before factoring in the non-dessicated storage conditions! As a result it was often necessary to test a keg of powder to determine how good it was. How do you do this without things like piezoelectric pressure transducers and electronic chronographs?

The answer was the eprouvette. While the form might vary from country to country (or from maker to maker), the idea was to fire a measured charge the suspect powder in a device that had a known amount of resistance. The amount of resistance that the powder charge could overcome was used to compare to other, known lots of powder.

Firearm Blog recently showed some great pictures of a Belgian eprouvette, and the concept is very easily grasped. These are quite rare today; they were made in very small quantities compared to firearms. Have a look and marvel at what our ancestors went through just to keep from blowing themselves to pieces!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Panic in the streets: ammo edition.

For the last couple of months I've been hearing rumblings about stocking up on ammunition for, well, whatever: zombie apocalypse, riots after the election, natural disasters, what have you. (I actually heard a non-gun-person refer to the "zombie apocalypse" just the other day. This is now getting out of hand.)

Rob Tackett over at the TacStrike blog has an
interesting article about panic buying and hoarding of ammunition. It's worth a read, and he presents an interesting point of view.

At the same time, I think we need to consider the possible actions of the prohibitionists who may try back-door gun control via ammunition restrictions. While I don't think ammunition can be outlawed altogether, a steep tax or purchase limits - either of which would likely pass Constitutional muster - would severely hurt our ability to train or engage in any favorite shooting sports. A stash of ammunition, properly stored, serves as a sort of buffer against such artificial supply constraints.

That buffer allows us to continue our favorite activities without worrying where our next box of hollowpoints are coming from. Think of it as a pantry; we have pantries so that we don’t have to go to the store every time we want so much as a snack. (Like a food pantry, an ammunition pantry - when purchased at normal cost - is also an inflation hedge, but not so much when bought at price-gouging panic prices.)

It's all a matter of perspective and priorities. If you're hungrily stacking cases of ammo in anticipation of widespread civil unrest, ammo that you're just going to sit on and fear the expenditure of even a few rounds, that's probably not terribly rational. If, however, you're buying moderate amounts on a regular basis with an eye toward having a back stock that allows you to train and practice without worrying about running completely out, I think you have your head set squarely on your shoulders.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Misogynists - ya gotta love ‘em. Or not.

Several months ago I read a discussion about teaching women to shoot. In it was this gem (written, obviously, by a male of the species) about what a “woman’s class” should entail:
"I would put a greater emphasis on field stripping, taking the gun down and putting it back together. Our society doesn't encourage women to mess with machines, demystifying the gun as a machine instills confidence." This comes from the same mindset that says a really important part of a shooting class is a drawn-out explanation of how the primer ignites the gunpowder and the difference between rimfire and centerfire.

As I've said before, it's silly to think that a woman who has mastered the complexities of driving can't figure out what a slide stop lever does. To take my automobile analogy a bit further, it's silly to think that a woman needs to know how to take an engine apart to "instill confidence" in her driving ability.

Don't get me wrong - if she doesn't have someone who will do the job of cleaning and oiling her gun, she needs to learn to do it herself. The gun has to be maintained, and someone has to do it; it's simply part of shooting. However, to label that maintenance as "demystifying" the gun and "instilling confidence” is nonsense. If she doesn't have confidence from proper training and regular practice, knowing how to field strip her Glock isn't going to give it to her any more than knowing how to replace a crank seal is going to make her a more confident driver.

I think it's more important for her to spend her limited training time and money learning how to defend herself efficiently, how to make the bad guy go away with the least expenditure of her defensive resources, than it is to repeatedly practice the disassembly of her pistol.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Defensive handgun choices.

Well, it appears my editor over at Personal Defense Network finally did some actual work! Rob Pincus wrote
a great article about choosing a defensive handgun, and why you should look for certain characteristics.

I'm gratified to see the defensive shooting world coming to some of these same realizations. While there are some folks out there who are still stuck with outdated beliefs, like the .45ACP being the "ultimate" defensive cartridge despite the lack of corroborating objective data, the movers and shakers in this business have long since moved on. Even some of the old guard have evolved to the realization that the 9mm cartridge and the modern striker-fired (MSF) pistol are the most efficient way to deal with criminal attacks, and now recommend that combination.

There was a time, more than a decade ago, when I espoused the .357 Magnum as the ultimate self defense cartridge. Even then, though, the data was a little hazy as to its effectiveness versus the .38 Special +P. After talking with a lot of people who'd actually had to shoot bad guys with those cartridges, I discovered that they all fired about the same number of rounds to get the bad guy to hit the pavement. It came down to a simple equation: if I'm going to need to fire x-number of shots regardless of the cartridge, wouldn't it be better to get those rounds into the bad guy as quickly as possible? Why was I putting up with the reduced controllability of the Magnum when the Special (with proper loads, of course) would do the same job?

That question caused me to switch to the .38 Special +P for carry, and today all of my revolvers are sighted in for that round - none of them are sighted for Magnums. I went through the same evolution with the 1911 versus the 9mm. Remember that I started out with the 1911 and the .45ACP for my autoloading needs, but quickly shifted to the 9mm and then almost as quickly adopted the MSF pistol (the Glock 19, specifically.) When I carry an autoloader, it's a compact 9mm loaded with Speer Gold Dot +P rounds.

Today, luckily, the choice has been made easier;
the study that Greg Ellifritz did, for instance, puts better numbers to my informal research and gives a much better picture of the overall performance of the common self defense cartridges. I believe it to be the best data we have on a very difficult-to-quantify subject, and you should read the linked article. (It's important to actually read what Greg wrote; if you just look at the charts, you'll be missing some very important information.)

Back to Rob's article: he makes some specific gun recommendations, most of which I agree with. I'll add, based on my own experience, the Steyr M9 and C9 series, which we've owned for nearly a decade now and have proven to be very reliable. However, since ours have the Steyr trapezoidal sights I'll add the caveat that the recommendation stands only if the gun is ordered with the optional night sights, which are of a conventional post-and-notch arrangement. The trapezoid sights, with which I was initially enamored, have shown themselves to be less efficient and usable than the standard variety. (I'm not big on night sights generally, but on this gun they're the only way to get a conventional sight picture.) That being said, I think my next gun will be the new Caracal, which I like even more than the Steyr.

You'll note that Rob also recommends small revolvers for carry. The revolver shares some surprising characteristics with the MSF pistol, including efficiency (no controls other than the trigger to manipulate in order to shoot) and reliability. Of course, as he points out, there are compromises: the reduced capacity and the harder-to-master double action trigger. Still, the MSF pistol can really be considered the ultimate evolution of the revolver, which is why they're both the best choices today!

-=[ Grant ]=-

"Dude, it's mil spec!"

I was going to share this with you last week, but then the whole RECOIL mess came up and pre-empted my planned programming!

Over at the Vuurwapen blog is the entry "
Why I Don't Care If Military Or Police Use Certain Items", and it's all about the silliness of picking a gun (or anything else for that matter) because a particular police or military group uses it. It's a good read.

There are a bunch of logic failures associated with that kind of aspirational marketing or consumption, but unfortunately people fall for them constantly:

- Let's say you've got one police agency using a specific gun (like, oh, the Kimber) and you make your decision based on that. What if another agency that picks, say, the HK P7? They can't both be "best", so how do you make your choice with such contradictory endorsements? What usually happens is that people actually end up arguing about which agency is the best/toughest/most respected, as if that somehow validates their choice - and therefore yours.

- Use of a specific product by any group isn't proof that it is superior to any other choice under all conditions. In fact, it isn't even proof that it's a superior choice for any specific conditions! The testing and procurement process is byzantine in complexity and subject to many kinds of coercion and meddling, from kickbacks by vendors to top brass intervening in the process to influence the selection of their personal favorites. That a product manages to survive that process isn't proof of any intrinsic superiority. Our cops and our troops often end up with inferior gear and supplies, but for some reason the private sector looks upon the failures as having the same stamp of quality as the successes. (CLP, anyone?)

- The presence of an NSN doesn't even mean the product is even being used by the people who are presumably using it. Lots of products that have an NSN aren't actually wanted or needed by the people on the front lines, but they're invariably sold to you as being "the choice of our brave men and women!" Look at the marketing of gun cleaning and lubrication products; when any product claims to be in use with Navy Seals, complete with the NSN, it's probably bunk. And even if it were true, that still doesn't mean it's the best choice for THEM, let alone you!

- Finally, remember that the procurement process (when it works) is designed to get a product that is minimally acceptable for its purpose at the lowest cost to the agency. It's useful to remember what the late, great Alan Shephard once said: "It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract." Not very reassuring, is it?

You need to make your purchasing decisions based on an honest assessment of your needs and the product's suitability for your purpose, not internet loudmouths going by names like Geck045 who drone on about how their gun "must" be the best because "LAPD don't buy junk!"

Yes, they do. Very often.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A look at how barrels are rifled.

There are a number of ways to cut spiral grooves in metal tubes, but the oldest is the cut rifling machine. A cutter is pulled through a barrel, simultaneously cutting and rotating as it travels. How is the tool guided and controlled? Why, by the rifling machine!

Truth About Guns posted this very cool animation of a sine-bar rifling machine at work:

Notice how the cutter is rotated by the sine bar as it travels (which controls the twist rate); the barrel is rotated between passes (which controls the number of grooves - in this case, it appears to be a five-groove barrel); and the bump stop moves forward to push the wedge further in, which increases the depth of the cut (the cutter can't dig out the full depth of the groove in one pass; it must take off only a very small amount of metal, measured in ten-thousandths of an inch, at a time and needs to be adjusted on each pass to do just that.)

Now, imagine instead of the straight sine bar you had a curved one; you could make the cutter rotate more at the end of the cut than at the beginning, which is how gain twist rifling is made. Cool, huh?

The animation is based on a mid-19th century Robbins and Lawrence machine. Slightly more modern machines, like those from Pratt & Whitney or Diamond look somewhat different - though if you watch closely you’ll be able to pick out all the functions shown in the animation. Here’s a real Diamond sine bar rifling machine in action:

Today these machines are hard to find and very expensive. The Diamond shown in the video may look fairly new, but we know it was made sometime between 1890 (when they adopted the form of their name shown on the machine) and 1926 (when the company went out of business.) It’s possible, however, for a suitably skilled machinist to build one in his garage, and many have. There are even people selling plans and DVDs that will show you how to do it!

-=[ Grant ]=-

I would buy one of these.

In a heartbeat.

Ian over at Forgotten Weapons
came up with another interesting gun, and this one is so freaking cool that I'm seriously entertaining the idea of reverse-engineering the thing.

The gun is the Hotchkiss Universal, and if you think the crappy Kel-Tec folding carbine is neat just wait until you see this!

Be sure to watch to the end when he deploys the thing at speed. ME WANT!!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Open Carry movement is being hijacked.

I'm on record, going back at least a couple of years, of not being a fan of open carry for political purposes. My stand is simple: you cannot open carry in an area where it's legal to "fight for your rights", because the right already exists. If it already exists, then it comes under the principle of exercising the right responsibly.

The rabid open carry advocates, those who carry with video cameras and actively seek conflicts with police officers, are not exercising their rights responsibly. I believe it's up to the rest of us to call them on their bad behavior, and not fall victim to some misplaced notion of brotherhood.

Rob Pincus is of like mind, and is calling on the normal, responsible, non-attention-seeking open carry practitioners to stand up and be counted. He asked me if he could post a short plea on my blog. Here's Rob:

Irresponsible Open Carry Activism Jeopardizes The RKBA

Guns should be carried for personal defense, not Activism. The best way to do that 99% of the time is Concealed Carry.

Even if people do choose to Open Carry, they shouldn't do it to provoke confrontation nor be uncooperative with the police while doing it. It makes gun owners look bad, turns cops against us, wastes their valuable time and certainly isn't going to make it more likely that people will think "oh, gun owners are normal people, not trouble makers."

Spread the Word. Most people have realized that the time for "solidarity" through tolerance of the guys carrying guns with video cameras has come and gone. Their bravado is jeopardizing our RKBA and should be seen as an embarrassment to responsible gun owners. When the OC Movement started, people carrying while going about their daily business to show responsibly armed people are part of everyday life, it made some sense... but, the extremists have spun out of control. Let's make sure that the firearms community is condemning this behavior.

I am not calling for a change in laws or for us to ostracize people who carry openly in a responsible, civil manner. Perhaps responsible OCers should be most concerned and the most openly critical of those who are using their guns to get (inevitably negative) attention?

Obviously, I am a proponent of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and do not want to to see OC made illegal, but I fear that will happen more and more often, in more and more places (as it already has it one state), if the confrontational actions of a very few reckless people continue.

-Rob Pincus
- I.C.E. Training Co.


This one's worth watching.

I just realized that I'd not alerted you to this - how neglectful of me!

Mark Craighead, owner of Crossbreed holsters, has put his resources behind a new shooting show: Trigger Time. He's put together a great team of professionals to bring you the latest training, information, and shooting techniques. It's broadcast on the Pursuit Channel, which is available on some cable systems as well as DIsh and DirecTv.

If you don't have one of those services, however, don't fret! Craig is a child of the modern era, and has seen fit to post all of the show's segments on the
Trigger Time website immediately after they're aired! I wish more broadcasters would join us here in the 21st century - {COUGH}OutdoorChannel{COUGH}.

No, I’m not on the show; that would be too much awesomeness even for Craig to handle. But the other guys are pretty good, so be sure to check it out!

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: Confidential to Sigspace - be careful what you wish for, as it may come to pass. Soon.

Monday Meanderings: Taurus wants more, and I (again) get some nice press.

The Truth About Guns alerted me last week to the new Taurus ad campaign. It’s the gun industry version of the sappy and vaguely patriotic campaign commercial, complete with an insipid soundtrack and earnest voice-over by the candidate. Well produced, but it’s going to take more than glitzy PR nonsense for me to take Taurus seriously as a defensive handgun maker.

Instead of telling us how they’re going to be great, I’d be more impressed if they just went out and did it. As much as I admire Jessie Duff, her presence doesn’t tell me anything about whether the guns actually work. I am, however, keeping an open mind. With me, it's all about the quality: if their guns get better, I'll recommend them. If not, I'll continue to tell people to stay away from them for any serious use.


In his blog over at American Rifleman,
Wiley Clapp gives a nice review of my Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver. I'm very pleased that it continues to garner great reviews, and to have someone of Mr. Clapp's reputation appreciate my modest contribution to the shooting world is immensely gratifying.

-=[ Grant ]=-

My Adult ADD strikes again!

I had a number of things I wanted to talk about this morning, but something shiny (and Italian) caught my eye and I've forgotten about everything else!

Forgotten Weapons posted an amazingly cool video of a Lorenzoni Flintlock Repeating Pistol. These things are almost mythical; I'd seen a drawing of one, but never any really descriptive pictures let alone an operational video. Ian got his hands on one and shows it off; I now have a much better understanding of the design and operation.

What struck me was the quality of workmanship. Remember that this thing is circa 1700, long before modern machine tools. Notice how precisely everything fits; listen to the sound of the barrel being unscrewed, which gives you a feeling for how exact the threads are. This is amazing for any era, let alone three centuries ago!

Note also the attention to detail; at the 42 second mark, where he's showing off the magazine, you can see the little "bump" of wood on the stock which matches the hinge protrusion, serving to keep the hinge pin in and also preventing the hand from contacting a metal edge. The maker could have simply rounded off that end of the hinge and staked it so the pin couldn’t come out accidentally, but that wouldn't have been nearly as intriguing!

Looks like you don't need CNC machining equipment to do good work! (Which reminds me: I really need to do an article on the misconceptions which abound about the capabilities of CNC. Most people really don't have a clue and use those three letters as an indicator of quality. 'Taint necessarily so.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Inventing in your garage.

The other day over at Forgotten Weapons,
Ian wondered why there isn't more garage gun-building going on. Not in terms of putting together Franken AR-15s from parts kits - that's not "building", it's merely assembling - but actually constructing guns from scratch, inventing new ways of approaching the mechanics of firearms function. It's legal for an individual to do (you should research the laws yourself, but it boils down to not building an NFA weapon and not selling what you make), but very few people actually do it.

I really liked that article, and I was stunned to realize that I'd not thought about it before. He's right: this country has a proud history of the lone inventor working in his or her garage, and guns certainly are a part of that history. (To the men that Ian mentions I'll add that Karl Lewis, one of the country's most prolific and yet little-known gun inventors, came up with the idea and early prototypes of what would become the Dan Wesson revolver in his garage.) There are lots of amateur gunsmiths and hobbyists out there with pretty impressive machine shops tucked away in garages and basements, and yet we're not seeing new designs or concepts emerging.

Firearms aren't like automobiles, in the sense that they've become so sophisticated that a single person couldn't possibly design one. Guns, even the most complicated variety, are still relatively simple mechanisms. An individual - heck, even a pair of individuals - would have no problem engineering a new design. Putting one into mass production entails far more people (metallurgists and polymer engineers, just for starters) but prototyping can still be done without hordes of people.

Although he mentions CNC equipment, even that's not needed if you're doing prototypes. The price of manual mills and lathes has dropped like a rock in recent years, to the point that they're actually worth nearly as much in scrap value as they are as working machines. Even a modestly-heeled enthusiast could easily acquire all the equipment needed to craft an idea in metal.

Me? I'm not nearly creative enough. I probably possess the machining skills, but I'm not good at coming up with original ideas. (All of mine look suspiciously like Colt Pythons. Go figure.) Somewhere out there, however, there are no doubt people who can - but for some reason don't. Like Ian, I wonder where they are and what they're doing instead.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Built like a Swiss watch. Literally.

Perhaps it's my background in watchmaking, but I've found myself gravitating to Swiss products over the years. The vast majority of my precision measuring tools are Swiss, as are many of my screwdrivers and assorted precision hand tools. Their products are not frilly, but purposeful and built to an incredibly high standard. Though my Austrian Emco-Maier lathe is a perfectly serviceable machine, I still lust for a Swiss Schaublin 120-VM (or, dare I say, an SV-130 Mk. III ?)

Given my fetish for fine machinery, you can imagine my delight that Forgotten Weapons is doing "Swiss Week" - a multi-part look at Switzerland's lesser-known entries into shooting history.

Take, for example, the LMG25. This magazine-fed medium machine gun is chambered in 7.5x55 Swiss, the same cartridge used by the (relatively) common Swiss Karabiner Model 1931 (K31). Like the K31, the machining of the LMG25 is exquisite - which is readily apparent from the photos. I can't stop staring at it.

Ian even did a tear-down video. Even the magazine port cover is precisely made and nicely blued. Listen to the action sound as he cycles the bolt - smoooooooth.

Now I want a Schaublin even more. Damn you, Ian!

-=[ Grant ]=-

My weekend.

Lots of stuff going on and lots of things pulling me in different directions this weekend - all of them shooting related, in some fashion.

On Saturday ace gunsmith and all-around good guy Todd Koonce and his fiancee Amanda Anson were married. Sadly I had a prior commitment and couldn't be there, but I'm happy for the new couple. (Todd's the guy I pictured hovering over his bluing tanks in the Book Of The Revolver, and is soon to be seen in another book. Shhhh - I can't talk about that just yet!) They're great people and I hope they have a long and wonderful life together.

Sunday my wife and I made our way up to
Firearms Academy of Seattle. I was there last weekend teaching Combat Focus Shooting with Rob Pincus, but this weekend we were there to catch up with Massad Ayoob and Gail Pepin, along with Marty and Gila Hayes and several other folks that we don't get to see all that often.

Rob was able to stick around to take Mas' MAG-20 (classroom) course, and came away with a sentiment
similar to that which I've offered on many occasions: it is really a "must" course for those who are serious about keeping a firearm for defense. It covers all the “stuff” - the legal, practical, and ethical things - that you aren’t exposed to in courses that teach you to shoot. Mas is still THE GUY for this kind of information, and you should seriously consider signing up for that class.

Several people came up to me during the breaks to express their thanks for this blog and my book. Most bloggers are obsessed about the number of people who read their work, and it's easy to forget that it's not about the numbers - it's about how you can reach and help other people. It's really quite humbling to know that somewhere out there are real folks who appreciate what you do.

We arrived home at 1:AM this morning, tired but very happy that we've been privileged to know the people we do!

-=[ Grant ]=-

An update on lubrication.

Last week I got a great email from a fellow who works for one of the major oil companies as a lubricant specialist. He complimented me on
my article on lubrication, and said it was "the best and clearest explanation I have ever read." That's nice to hear from someone who does that sort of stuff for a living!

He related the tale of searching for lubricants for his shotguns, and found that none of the many oils or greases his company makes (a huge oil company whose name you would instantly recognize) were suitable for the job. He spent "several months" talking to his company's scientists and came to the conclusion that he, too, needed to go to a speciality lubricant company that makes food-service oils and greases.

What was most interesting to me, however, was that through that speciality company I managed to get a copy of the certification letters for their food-grade lubricants. I did not know this, but one of the criteria for getting certification is that the product must be able to do its job (lubrication, wear and corrosion protection)
after being wiped clean from the surface being lubricated. I've mentioned before that the "miracle" lubes which claim to work even after being wiped off aren't doing anything that a food grade lube couldn't do, and now I have solid proof of my assertion!

This only reinforces my recommendation: if you want the best lubrication for your guns, use oils and greases made for food processing machinery. Their needs are the closest to ours, and they have the additional advantage of being non-toxic and non-staining. They're also a screaming bargain compared to the products sold to an often credulous shooting public.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A sadly forgotten gun designer.

Forgotten Weapons is a blog that should be read by anyone who is serious about the history of firearms. You'll find articles and information there that you just can't find anywhere else.

Take, for example,
their recent story on the gun of one Henryk Strąpoć. Henryk had the misfortune of being a budding gun designer when both Hitler and Stalin invaded his native Poland. He joined one of the many resistance groups, and their need for weapons prompted him to design an indigenous - and very novel - submachine gun.

Strąpoć, having no real education in engineering or gun design but possessing a blacksmith's practicality, came up with design for a stamped-steel machine gun that fired from a closed bolt - decades before the HK MP-5. Working with little more than hand tools (his lathe and drill press were hand-cranked) he constructed the first gun himself. The underground arranged for the "Beha" (as it would become known) to be made by employees of the Zakłady Ostrowieckie metalworks, but apparently only 11 were completed before the Red Army invaded that area. Today only one remains, in the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw.

The gun is remarkable, not just because of the conditions under which it was produced but because of its modernity. Strąpoć's design was truly inspired, and it would be many years before his various innovations would be copied by various firearms companies.

After the war he simply disappeared behind the Iron Curtain, and even the date of his death is unknown. He was obviously and incredibly talented designer, and it's sad that he apparently never made another gun.

The article at Forgotten Weapons has much, much more and there is some great historical discussion in the comments as well. It is
highly recommended reading even if you’re not into submachine guns. (If you think the sun rises and sets on John Browning, it will serve as a reminder that there have been people with that level of genius who didn't have the fortune to live in a country where it was allowed to be nurtured.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: Nice book review, and a new blog.

You can read a nice review of my book, the Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver, over at
the Sigspace blog. (And no, the name isn't what you think it is.)


Ian at
Forgotten Weapons (one of the coolest gun blogs going) has started a new blog: GunLab. In his words, it's about "firearms design, engineering, and fabrication." He's decided that his ultimate goal is to build reproductions of some odd and rare guns, and to that end he's started taking classes to become a machinist. GunLab will chronicle his journey, and along the way look at how guns are invented and produced. If it's half as good as Forgotten Weapons, it's going to be terrific.


-=[ Grant ]=-

Apparently they're looking at the pictures.

One of the most common compliments I get about my
Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver regards the pictures. People tell me that they appreciate the photography, and I'm happy that they noticed - I went to a lot of effort to make sure that the photos supported the text, that the reader could look at them and get the point easily. Apparently, the goal was met!

My publisher, Gun Digest Books, was so taken with them that they've put up a gallery on their site
featuring 20 of the photos from the book. If you haven't yet gotten your copy (you haven't?!?!?), here's a taste of what you'll see.

-=[ Grant ]=-

OODA Revisited.

There is a strong tendency in the world of shooting to apply concepts and techniques from the military to private sector self defense. I've written about this concept of context mismatch before, and the upshot is that it almost always works poorly. Just because the military uses guns and we carry guns doesn't make the two worlds analogous!

One of those misapplications is the work of Colonel John Boyd, particularly his OODA Loop (also called Boyd's Loop or Boyd's Cycle.) There are a lot of scholarly works on his theories which I'll leave the uninitiated to discover on their own, but the OODA Loop has been applied to everything from fighter dogfights to football teams - along with defensive shooting.

The issue is that it's not a good fit. A defensive response to a criminal attack doesn't allow for the kind of maneuver-to-advantage thinking that the Loop covers. "Getting inside your opponent's Loop" sounds great and tacticool as all get-out, but when an encounter's duration is measured in seconds that's simply not realistic.

Some years back I started an email conversation with Rob Pincus, who at the time I didn't know but whose writing had impressed me. I was then studying the ideas of stimulus-response and their application to defensive shooting, and over the next few years - first by email and then in person - we talked about that. Rob, like I, was convinced that application of the OODA Loop was incorrect in the context of private sector self defense and the criminal ambush attack. As his understanding of the brain's processing of information and how it uses pattern recognition to make non-cognitive decisions grew, he evolved a different way of looking at the subject.

He just wrote a new paper called "Evolution of the OODA Loop", and it's a highly recommended read. (There's a ton of background information from the world of neuroscience that's implicit in his conclusions, and if you're interested in a readable layman's introduction to some of the topics, I suggest the book "Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

The Treeby Chain Gun.

Forgotten Weapons is rapidly becoming my favorite firearm blog, simply because they cover neat stuff - usually, stuff that I've never before encountered. Take the Treeby Chain Gun, for instance. How else would you increase the firepower of a rifle during the era of muzzleloaders?

What struck me about this design (other than how close they got to the centerfire self-contained metallic cartridge) is the resemblance to a belt-fed machine gun. The chain is nothing more than a connected belt of linked muzzleloading cartridges, and they could have easily designed it to use a longer chain length - or even a split chain, giving them in effect a belt fed muzzleloader.

If the Henry was the rifle "they load on Sunday and shoot all week", Imagine the reaction to a 100-shot repeater!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris Friday: Testing .22 Ammunition

Editor's Note: Here's Ed again, with some data and procedures on testing .22 LR ammunition for best results. I've found that .22 LR is the most finicky of all calibers, both in terms of accuracy and function. I've seen numerous cases where a .22 rifle or pistol will shoot horrendous groups with one brand/type of ammo, and turn into a tack driver with a different brand or type - and cost isn't always a good predictor of success! The same is true for functional reliability; some guns simply won't run with some ammunition. Even guns of the same make and model will have drastically different preferences for ammunition; I've seen identical Ruger 10/22 rifles, for instance, that had different results with different ammunition: what worked in one gun failed in the other, and the same was true for accuracy. Ed has some guidelines for testing your .22 to get the best results for the money you spend!

Inexpensive Doesn't Mean Inaccurate: test samples and buy a bunch to get the best .22s for the buck!

By Ed Harris (Rev. 5-24-94)

If you don't live near a well-stocked gunshop, your only source of .22 LR ammunition may be the local hardware or discount store. Old stock in small stores may have been around a long time, but if the bullets are not oxidized, buy it if the price is right. It's probably OK. Chain stores always have "fresh" ammo, but seldom carry anything but "High Velocity" .22's. Standard velocity is generally more accurate, but is difficult to find except at gunshops catering to competitive shooters.

Most .22s sold are fired in semi-automatic rifles and pistols by casual shooters. Mass marketers gear their pitch to the shooter who is not technically sophisticated, but simply wants the most "bang for the buck". "High Velocity" long rifle "solids" outsell all other rimfires combined.

There is little difference in manufacturers' suggested retail price between "High Velocity" and "Standard Velocity" .22's, but considering availability and discount pricing, "High Velocity" ammo is generally cheaper, unless you order standard velocity in case lots from a major distributor.

The average user has no control over ammunition manufacturing variables, except to test batches and to buy the most promising lots. Therefore you should pay attention to "lot numbers." and shoot an entire box of ammunition "for group" in your own rifle before stockpiling a large quantity.

"Lot numbers" are used on almost every manufactured item you purchase. An ammunition "lot" usually indicates a day's production, and indicates to the manufacturer such things as the year and day of manufacture, the shift during which it was produced, and the loading or packing machine used. Lot numbers are used to identify process control data, and can facilitate a recall if a problem is discovered after the product is shipped.

Most .22 rimfire ammunition is far more accurate than we give it credit. Ammunition manufacturers operate heavily automated production lines which can produce huge quantities. This has kept prices low, so .22 rimfire ammunition is still a bargain.

The manufacture of .22 rimfire ammunition involves dozens of machine operations. These include progressive die stamping of the brass cartridge case, stress relief, annealing, then cleaning and priming; swaging bullets from lead wire; and assembling completed rounds, by metering the powder charge, inserting, crimping, knurling and lubricating the bullets. There are also numerous quality checks of weights and dimensions, and firing of functional and ballistic tests prior to packaging.

Given its inherent complexity, even low-priced "promotional" ammunition must still be subjected to the same basic operations and inspections as "regular" ammunition. Bargain ammunition is so only partly from lower-cost packaging, and long production runs which permit economies of scale. Omitting non-essential operations, such as plating of the bullet, reduce cost only very modestly.

The most important factors affecting accuracy of .22 rimfire ammunition are bullet quality and uniformity of the cartridge case. The bullet must be round, as close to permissible maximum diameter as possible, have its base square to its axis, and not be damaged in handling or in the loading machines, particularly the crimper. The web thickness of the brass through the rim section affects the distribution of primer mix, controls primer sensitivity, reliability of ignition, and uniformity of the dimensions governing headspace, all crucial to accuracy.

Bullet weight and powder charge variation, within normal manufacturing tolerances, is of only minor significance, if the above factors are controlled. Standard velocity and sub-sonic ammunition have somewhat less wind deflection, but in terms of pure accuracy, whether the ammunition is "Standard Velocity" or "High Velocity" doesn't matter, if "all other factors are equal".

Industry standards require .22 Long Rifle ammunition average 3" or less extreme spread at 100 yards for 10-shot groups. US ammo producers easily maintain 2" as a product average. The best lots will average 1-1/2" or better at 100 yards from the test barrel, and these are the ones you are seeking! Some US producers test rimfire ammunition at 50 yards rather than 100, but indoor rimfire test groups are usually proportional to the range.

"Average" Standard or High Velocity .22 LR ammunition should average an inch for a series of 10-shot groups at 50 yards. The best .22 ammunition should do 3/4" or better from a SAAMI dimensioned "Match" chamber, in a target rifle with telescopic sight, fired by a skilled shooter from bench-rest, or by a Master competitor prone with a sling.

"Sporting" rather than "Match" chambers (in which the bearing surface of the bullet is engraved as the cartridge is chambered) usually produce groups up to about 1.3 times larger than the test barrel, though some individual rifles will give surprising results. US production .22 Long Rifle ammunition will usually average an inch or better for a series of 10-shot groups at 50 yards from an accurate sporter. Specialty ammunition such as CCI Green Tag will often do better, frequently under 3/4" at 50 yards, from heavy target rifles, or high grade sporters with "match" chambers.

When testing, shoot a full box in five consecutive 10-shot groups, without excluding any data. It is common for even poor ammunition to shoot occasional "good" groups, as normal random variation. Results which appear meaningful to casual observation very often are not. You cannot arbitrarily discount individual bad shots or groups, because these are part of the random dispersion and you must look at the entire body of data as a representative sample.

Age is not critical if the bullets haven't oxidized or the lubricant dried out. I have used 20 year old .22 rimfire match ammo that still produced 1/2" ten-shot groups at 50 yards. The limiting factor is evaporation of the volatiles from "grease" bullet lubricants, and oxidation of the lead bullet itself. Minor oxidation may affect accuracy for serious competition, but it is insignificant for other uses if it doesn't cause leading.

High grade match ammunition with oxidized bullets can be salvaged if carefully re-lubed with EP lithium grease, and the excess wiped off with a patch.

In my experience a freshly-chambered rimfire match barrel doesn't "settle down" into its best grouping for several hundred rounds. Consistency of firing technique is VERY important. Firing several hundred groups from the bench with a .22 rimfire will teach you a great deal about "bag" technique, more cheaply than burning out a Hart barrel on your heavy varmint IBS bench gun!

Some inexpensive ammunition may shoot very well indeed, but high price is no guarantee of accuracy. So, it pays to test lots of any ammunition before purchasing in quantity, to find the most accurate ones!

History really is written by the winners.

The history of firearm design is fascinating, but even more interesting to me are the beliefs and assumptions that we make about the designs we see. Why do some designs persist, while other - sometimes quite promising - ideas never see the light of day?

It's often held that certain gun designs succeed in the marketplace (the military and police being a skewed adaptation of a market) because they're the "best". It's true that in some form any given design must win over others to succeed, but "winning" needs to be understood in context for it to have any meaning at all. Too many people assume that the winner is the best performer, and that's not always (if it ever really is) the case.

"Winning" means not just physical performance: the gun shoots well, is reliable and durable. It also needs to be economical to manufacture, easy to repair, use a minimum amount of resources, and not intrude upon political or social contracts. Sometimes it’s those political concerns which trump all.

Take, for instance, the case of the M14 rifle. The testing and adoption of the M14 was convoluted at best, with charges of test-fixing, tampering of the data, not a small amount of military pressure on our allies in NATO, and a strong dose of nationalism. Many people today hold that the FN Herstal design - essentially a FAL in American clothing - was the actual winner of the physical tests, but political pressure by Springfield Armory (which had been the origin of nearly all of our military's rifles up to that point) won over the more meritorious design. Regardless what one believes about the two designs, it's clear to all but the most myopic that there was more than just the rifle's shooting qualities that went into the decision to adopt the M14. The same could be said the of that gun's successor.

A military or police trial is not necessarily a good indicator of merit, even if it is run fairly and squarely. The easiest way to explain this is the old joke about the two guys being attacked by the bear; one says "gee, I'm glad I wore my running shoes!" The other guy says "are you crazy - you can' outrun a bear!" The first guy looks at him and says "I don't need to outrun him, I just have to outrun you." The winning design in a trial only needs to perform better than the others in the design pool to win; if all the designs are crap, it's simply the least crappy which gets the crown.

The entity which runs the trial can establish a performance floor through firm goals and requirements, but that's still not definitive. In the case where an entry meets spec just enough to win, it's helpful to remember the adage: "what do you call the guy who finished dead last in medical school? 'Doctor'!" Just because something completes a trial successfully doesn't mean there isn't something better out there that didn't even get entered - or wasn't allowed to because it didn't come from the right place.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some thoughts on round counts and reliability.

What follows came up in a discussion about the reliability of 1911 pistols, but is actually universally applicable: to Glocks, SIGs, HKs, rifles, shotguns - and, yes, revolvers.

The context of the discussion was the validity of looking at failures during a training class as indicative of larger problems. It usually takes a form similar to "I'm not going to fire 1,000 rounds in self defense, so a gun problem in a class proves nothing; my gun is reliable enough for the 10 rounds it's going to take."

The statement is valid - no one is going to fire 500 or 1,000 rounds in self defense - but the conclusion isn't.

A gun which is carried for self defense continuously deteriorates in terms of its operational condition. Lubricants ooze out and evaporate, while lint and dirt work their way into and onto the operating surfaces. A gun which has been carried without stripping, cleaning and re-oiling for a few weeks may in fact be at the same level of cleanliness, and the oil and grease at the same level of lubricity, as a gun which has just fired 500 or more rounds. (Yeah, yeah, I know - you clean your gun every night and twice on Sundays. You get a gold star that says "I'm the extreme exception!")

Now you might say that a failure at 600 or 700 rounds is immaterial because you never will shoot it that much in real life, but consider this: the gun that's been riding around in its holster for a while may in fact be a lot closer in terms of operational condition to that 600 round mark than you might believe. Since malfunctions are, at some level, random, that gun may be at the brink of malfunction with the first round - or second or third - that's fired in defense of its owner. The shorter the interval between malfunctions, the more concerning this becomes. Different story now, isn't it?

This is why it's important to test your self defense gun thoroughly, and yes - that means a days where you shoot 500 or more rounds through it without cleaning, oiling, or otherwise pampering the thing. It's not to prove that the gun will shoot that many rounds without malfunction; it's a way of helping you determine whether the gun will function in the non-pristine condition in which it probably always exists. The goal should be zero malfunctions, because that's what's necessary when our lives are on the line.

Regardless of the make or model.

-=[ Grant ]=-

An opportunity for a discussion.

Over the weekend Rob Pincus - never one to shy away from a firestorm (I was going to say another kind of storm, but this is a family-friendly blog) - posted a video on YouTube. In it, he details the failure of yet another compact 1911-pattern pistol and expresses his disdain for the breed in general.

The online response was immediate and predictable. Many people agreed with Rob, but a very vocal portion of the shooting public disagreed vehemently. I don't have a problem with the disagreement, mind you (Rob and I discovered some time ago that we share the same feelings about the 1911 pistol, which is probably why we get along), but I do have a problem with the nonsensical responses given by those who disagree. Here are a couple of the most annoying, and they apply not just to the present discussion but all discussions about guns, cars, or darned near anything else on the planet.

More to the point, they apply to the kinds of responses I receive when I talk about the virtues of the revolver versus an autoloader as a defensive tool; I've heard these same arguments to my opinions, gotten them in emails, and seen them plastered over the 'net. That's probably why they're annoying.

"My is perfectly reliable, so your opinion is baseless/stupid/meaningless." Aside from the issues with making claims about an entire population based on a single data point, there are a couple of problems with this statement. First, the two sides may not agree on the definition of "reliable". I've proposed one such definition, but not everyone agrees.

I had a fellow once who told me his particular AR-15, a brand for which I don't care, was "completely reliable". I picked it up, inserted a magazine of fresh factory 55gn ball ammunition, and it failed to feed the fourth round. "Oh, it doesn't run with Federal ammo. That stuff is crap, and everyone knows it." Really? Seriously? If an AR-15 can't feed SAAMI-spec ball ammo (XM193 in this case), it's not reliable - period. The owner disagreed, his definition of "reliable" obviously divergent from my own.

The more interesting facet of this argument is that partisans frequently have selective memories. This is closely related to the phenomenon of confirmation bias: a person simply forgets those data points which disagree with his/her position. I've watched, more than once, a shooter clear a malfunction and promptly forget that he had one. When later he claims that his gun is perfectly reliable, and then is reminded of the incident(s), he can't/won't acknowledge that they ever happened. I don't watch much television, but one of my favorite lines from a TV show comes from "House": "everyone lies." Perhaps not intentionally, but they do.

I was in a class some years ago with a guy who had a malfunctioning Para-Ordnance. (This is not a shock to me, as I've never seen a reliable Para. Please, don't write and tell me about how Todd Jarrett's Paras are so reliable that he made a YouTube vid; he's a sponsored shooter, and both he and his handlers have a vested interest in making sure those "demos" go without a hitch.) A couple of weeks later he was on a forum talking about the class, and mentioned that his Para ran without a hitch. Funny, what I remember was picking up the live rounds that he was ejecting every few minutes!

Remember that there is a difference between extrapolation (from one to many) and representation (one of the many.) Picking a single example to illustrate a broader concept that has statistical validity, as this video does, is not the same as using a single example as the basis for a self-referential supposition. The former has data behind it; the latter has no data other than itself.

"All guns can fail." This is a particular favorite of mine, because it combines a lack of understanding of both engineering and statistics with a dollop of third-grade playground bravado. This statement attempts to get people to focus not on evidence, but on speculation; sadly, it works - as any political candidate can attest. If all devices can fail, then logically it doesn't matter which one you own, correct? If all cars break, why bother to look at repair statistics? Of course it matters, except when the partisans and fanboys get to talking - then the logic just flies out the window.

Yes, all mechanical devices can potentially fail. That's not the point. The point is that some devices fail more than others, and we can chart and often predict those failures based on past experience.

(I hear a variation of this when I talk about revolvers: "I've seen revolvers break too!" So have I - probably an order of magnitude more often than the person writing/talking. The difference is that for every mechanical failure I've seen on a revolver, I've seen hundreds on autoloaders. There is a difference which cannot be wished away.)

might break is a very different thing that what actually does. When we look at failures, patterns emerge that help us make both buying and engineering decisions. Smith & Wesson, for instance, looked at failures of their Model 29 .44 Magnum and made running engineering changes that dramatically improved the longevity and reliability of that gun. They couldn't have done so had they not looked at the pattern of failures that field experience had provided.

Availing ourselves of field data, from people who have seen more of it than us, is one way we can make good decisions. Striking out at the messenger because the message disagrees with some silly loyalty one has developed makes no sense at all.

(Oh, BTW - I do have some experience with short-barreled 1911s in the form of two Detonics CombatMasters, which some day I'll sell to one of those rabid 1911 fanboys. And laugh all the way to the bank.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Maybe we don't have it so bad after all.

If Monday's post got you a little envious, today's should fix you right up.

I got an email the other day from a reader in Thailand (of all places!) He had read my book and was looking for some recommendations with regard to a home defense gun. He also shared with me the gun situation in his country.

In Thailand, you must have permission from the authorities to purchase a gun. You have to submit to a fingerprint check and give them bank statements, plus have letters of recommendation from your employer. The waiting period starts at three months, and that's if you're asking to buy a common caliber (.22, .38, or 9mm.) If you want any other caliber, particularly if it's larger than 9mm, the wait time goes up.

Guns and ammunition are, according to the email, incredibly expensive. A plain ol' Ruger SP101 is the equivalent of $2,700! Once you've bought the gun (and it's very likely you'll only be able to buy one in your entire lifetime), you have to feed the thing - and if you want quality (U.S. made) ammunition, it'll run you $3 per round. For the plain stuff.

So, stop whining about how ammo in this country is getting expensive and how much guns cost these days. Our friends in Thailand have it much worse off, and yet they persevere to give themselves the most efficient self protection tools they can.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Even I'd buy one at that price.

I had something else planned for today, but it wasn't nearly as cool as this!

Over at Forgotten Weapons is a story about
visiting a gun show in Belgium. Now I know we all have a vision of Europe as being devoid of gun ownership (or at least so restricted as to make it impossible to own anything cool), but it would do us well to remember that Europe is the land of the cheap and readily available suppressor.

Compare that to the file-your-paperwork-and-$200-and-wait-six-months ordeal that owning a simple muffler entails here in The Land Of The Free.

That's not the only thing about which (some) Europeans are more enlightened. Take a look at the mounds of full-auto military hardware for sale at the aforementioned Belgian show - then look at the prices. Yes, $1250 for a Dror machine gun. I don't follow the Class II world at all, but even I know that in comparison to the U.S. that is a screaming, unbelievable, unfathomable deal. And there are lots more where those came from!

Of course there is the other side of the coin, and on Wednesday I hope to be able to present it to you. In the meantime, though, may you dream pleasant dreams of cheap Thompsons.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Everyone's getting on the bandwagon.

Last Thursday came the news that Ruger was forced to suspend orders because they were swamped. According to them, in the first quarter of this year (which has ended yet, mind you) they've received orders for over one million firearms. Think about that: one company, in less than three months, pre-sold one million guns.

That's huge. So huge, in fact, that Ruger can't ramp up production fast enough to meet demand, so they're suspending new orders until May. (I feel their pain, or perhaps now they feel mine!)

There's no single explanation for their sudden fortune, other than perhaps uncertainty: economic (we're still in a recession, no matter what the Beltway Boys say); political (it's an election year, and the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue isn't terribly popular with gun owners); and there may be a few people in there who actually believe the Mayan calendar nonsense (in retrospect, I should have written a book on "how to survive the end of the world with your revolver". Bet that would have sold even better than
my terrific book!)

As one might expect, Ruger stock was way up on this news (13% on Thursday alone.)

I expect retail prices of Ruger guns to go up as supplies get tight. I'm also hearing rumblings about the beginnings of another ammunition run, so if you plan to take any classes this year (
from me or anyone else) now might be a good time to get the ammo you're going to need.

Interesting times.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Picking a gun the wrong way.

We have a lot of trite phrases in the defensive training world, and one of them sets my teeth on edge: when someone asks how they should choose a gun for personal protection, the usual answer is to "pick the biggest caliber you can shoot well."

It's nonsensical, and I'm tired of hearing it.

The problem is how to define "well". Are we talking in terms of accuracy? If so, I contend that anyone can shoot any handgun caliber "well" - at least for the first shot. If we're talking group size, given sufficient time between shots I'll hold to my contention: anyone can shoot any handgun "well" if they have enough time to regroup between presses of the trigger.

I've heard the variation "....the biggest caliber that you can handle." Same thing - what do you mean by "handle"? I've seen many guys at the range who claim to be able to "handle" large-bore Magnums, but it's clear they have significant trouble with recoil control. Obviously there's a difference between what I consider control and what they do, which illustrates my point. Without criteria, there's no way to evaluate whether the person can "handle it" or not. Again, most people can handle any gun for a single shot. What about the second, third and fourth?

Some have apparently figured out that "well" and “handle” don’t mean anything and say instead to "pick the biggest caliber that you can shoot quickly and accurately." How quickly? How accurately? With any gun/ammo combination, given a specific set of environmental variables, there will be a certain balance of speed and precision which the shooter can achieve. A .454 Casull will have one, and a .22 LR will have another. Which one should the person pick? Which balance of speed and precision is best?

As one goes up in caliber or power, at any given level of precision the shooter's speed will decrease. How far along that line should the shooter travel before settling? There are many examples of arbitrary tests that people take to determine these things (so many shots in so many seconds with a minimum score), but they're contrived. Take a 12-gauge and a 20-gauge shotgun; any given shooter may be able to use the 12-gauge and pass a qualification, then logically conclude that it's the largest gun that he can shoot quickly and accurately. However, if that same person shoots the same course with a 20-gauge, they'll find that they can shoot it faster with the same level of precision. Which, then, is the better choice?

Starting to get the idea? These statements - and their variants - sound profound, but they're not. Unless very specific criteria are defined they mean nothing.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ed Harris on Metallurgy

(Editor’s Note: Ed’s back with an incredible article on firearm metallurgy! This originated as a reply to an email from a “DG”. Ed gives some phenomenal information on the metals used at his employer, Sturm Ruger, to build their guns. I think you’ll find it very interesting, if a little complex!)

DG: A toolmaker friend wants to know what types of metal are used in a revolver. Having read your posts, I figured you would probably have the answers. Please feel free to be as technical as necessary...(Editor's Note: remember, folks, he asked for it!)

EH: At Ruger chrome-moly revolver frames are typically 4140LS blended at the mill to specific (and proprietary) chemistry to give the desired structures in the cast parts. Mostly this involves holding the sulphur within very stringent limits which are lower than those used by other manufacturers, and having additional restrictive requirements to eliminate silicates or phosphorous to the extent that they are below the detection limit by x-ray diffraction. There are some other elements which are manipulated to get specific properties related to the casting process which I am not at liberty to discuss, but suffice to say the investment casting process varies depending upon whether you are working with CM (chrome moly) or SS (stainless steel.)

The stainless is vacuum melted and poured under controlled atmosphere, such as in argon or nitrogen, whereas the CM can be poured in ambient air, though oxidation protection is provided by pouring a powdered antioxidant over the open mould sinks after the sprue is full.

All of the steel used at Ruger is ordered in 100-ton heat lots and produced by a continuous casting process which ensures uniformity in the billets produced. The billets are then cropped, and rolled per Ruger's specs.

Cast parts generally incorporate about 50% virgin material, and 50% remelt scrap which results from Ruger's own operations. Scrap is kept separate by machining line and is tagged by heat lot and type of material so heat lot integrity can be maintained as long as they are running that batch. A sample of every lot of material cast in the foundry is sent to the lab for analysis, generally 4 times per shift.

The cast parts are visually inspected, annealed, straightened, then gaged, sorted and either x-ray or ultrasonically tested. Rough machining is done in the annealed state. Finish machining is done after final heat treatment.

Barrels and cylinders are not machined from castings, but are produced from bar stock or forgings, depending upon the gun model. Barrels and cylinders are generally heat treated to Rc35 Min at Ruger, whereas other makes are typically 20-24. Ruger frames are generally Rc 28-35, whereas a lot of S&W frames used in the Model 10 and similar guns won't even register on the C scale, but may be around 80-90 on the B scale.

The stainless material used for revolver frames and cylinders is a 410 series, whereas barrel stock is a modified 415. Lockwork is a 300 series stainless in both blued and stainless versions. Critical parts like barrels and cylinders are 100% Magnafluxed using the wet method with circular continuous magnetization.

After final assembly proofing is done with standard military HPT or SAAMI specification proof cartridges, one per chamber. I might note that some other makers do not proof all six chambers of a revolver, but try to cut corners on the proofing. If all six chambers are not proofed the cylinder is not equally stressed and you may not detect flaws such as secondary piping, or nonmetallic inclusions or laminations which might occur in the melt shop at the steel mill because the fellow cropping the billets was having a "bad hair day".

We set up our steel specs and receiving inspection on barrel and cylinder steel to pretty much eliminate that type of problem by specifying ingot position, and requiring on-line ultrasonic and x-ray testing of the bars, which were also bumper straightened and checked with eddy current for flaws before the mill length bars were loaded onto the trailer.

When we received a shipment we'd take samples, cutting the ends off of a specified number of bars, based on a statistical sampling plan, and run them into the lab to verify the structures and chemistries against the mill cert. We'd send the driver off to a local hotel for a steak and a shower on us while it was going on so he wouldn't be as unhappy if we rejected the batch and told him to take it back (which we did a few times when I was there).

When I was there only two mills, Timken and SKF, were able to consistently produce 4140LS to our specs for cylinder blanks and Mini 14 receivers and bolts. This material is almost identical to Navy-nuclear pressure vessel grade material, and exceeds normal gun-barrel quality. Similarly, the stainless was vacuum melted, argon-oxygen decarburized and ladle refined similar to a Navy-nuclear or aerospace bearing grade of material.

Most of the other makers buy standard AISI grades in gun barrel quality, typically 1137 for shotgun, blackpowder and .22 rimfire barrels and 4140 for centerfire barrels. Most stainless target rifle barrels are made of 415 or 416 series stainless, but both the re-sulphurized CM and the free machining SS (which produce "mirror finish quality") have sulphur or selenium additives to improve machinability. If the distribution of these elements is nonuniform, the clumped inclusions can form stress risers which impair ultimate strength. For this reason they cannot be used in applications such as M14 or M1A barrels which have complex exterior machining which might produce stress risers. Nor can they be used in hammer forging of barrels which will undergo significant reduction and elongation. Generally, steels used for cylinder blanks or for hammer forge barrel applications cannot exceed 0.006% max. S or Se.

We spent a lot of time and money at Ruger developing tooling, coolants and processes which would permit machining to good interior finishes with materials giving the maximum ultimate strength and ductility. We had our own vacuum heat treating facilities in-house for stainless, and gas furnaces for CM.

Some types of stainless, such as used for Mini-14 firing pins and barrels and Redhawk revolver cylinders, would get a nonconventional cryogenic stress relief rather than the usual low temperature (1045-1050 deg F) "bake" to normalize. This, combined with the particular chemistry we used, resulted in firing pins which were file hard but which you could bend into a pretzel shape without any cracks, and barrels you could elevate to cook off temperature with 180 rounds of full auto fire then set up a bullet-in-bore obstruction and fire a proof load in the hot barrel without it bursting. Try THAT with an M16!

We converted entirely to synthetic coolants, such as Trimsol 6-8% concentrate in distilled water while I was there and got all the chlorinated paraffins out of the shop entirely. We ran hourly refractometer readings on the coolant used in the CNC machining centers and had thermocouples at the machining stations to monitor the incoming coolant temperature and the exit coolant entering the scavenger pumps, and fed the used coolant through filtration, centrifuges and heat exchanging equipment before putting it back into the pipeline. We also set up our own water treatment and recycling plant to purify city water to remove the chlorine, because we could not use it to mix machine coolant. This also permitted us to recycle machine coolant water and dispose as hazardous wastes.

There is beauty in workmanship.

Forgotten Weapons recently featured some pictures of an extremely rare Japanese autoloading pistol: the Hino-Komuro from 1908. It's intriguing because of its blow-forward design (the only other examples of which I know are the Mannlicher of 1894 and the Schwarzlose of 1908), but not a lot is known about it. There were only 1200 made, and only a handful survive.

Until this post, I'd never seen a picture of one - only line drawings in Pistols Of The World (Hogg/Weeks.) When I saw the image I was intrigued not just with the rarity, but with the obvious quality of the gun's manufacture (and the incredibly good condition!) Head over to FW and look at the great pictures.

Note how the grip screws fit precisely into their ferrules; how the wood of the grips mates with the contours of the metal, and the precision of the checkering pattern. The bluing is very nice, and see how the grip safety fits into the frame. There was a lot of care and talent that went into making this pistol.

It's easy to look at late-war examples of Arisaka rifles, with their poor machining and fitting, and forget that the Japanese were quite capable arms makers when they had the resources. This is a beautiful example of what they could do.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings: safety TV, Tam's funny, and an important video.

Over at Sharp As A Marble comes the revelation that
gun safety was front-and-center on a primetime broadcast show. I'm glad to see shooting becoming more mainstream, or more precisely returning to the mainstream status it enjoyed when I was a kid.


Funniest thing I've read this morning, from Tam on the subject of Whitney:
"I'm also waiting for the first spotting of a Velvet Elvis portrait of MJ and Whitney side-by-side, busting beatific poses, à la a Byzantine icon, perhaps with Dale Earnhardt and Lady Di at their shoulders and the mighty host of Celeb Heaven gathered behind them..."

Soon to be seen at all the better streetcorner vendors, no doubt.


Recently a county right here in Oregon produced a quality
video that aims to reduce misconceptions about officer-involved shootings. Titled “Hollywood vs. Reality”, it counters many of the common misconceptions about shootings in the line of duty. When you remember that some of those misconceptions often persist in private sector self defense, the value of a myth-busting video like this one should be clear. Definitely worth watching!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Sights for autopistols.

I was reading about the
Kimber Solo over at The Firearm Blog the other day, and something struck me as odd. No, it wasn't the anachronistic thumb safety (on a double action, striker-fired gun) nor the smooth front and back grip straps (which make it impossible to control in anything resembling realistic defensive fire.) It wasn't even the incredibly specific ammo requirements (the likes of which we haven't seen since the introduction of the Seecamp LWS 32.)

What I found odd was the rear sight. Now most people will probably look at it and think that there's nothing at all odd about its vaguely Novak-like profile, but that's exactly my point. That 'low profile' design has been around forever, but still makes no sense in terms of functionality. That something so superfluous is nearly ubiquitous is amazing.

The design is said to be less prone to snagging, one of its major selling points. The problem I have with this concept is that it is non-snag in the direction of holstering, not in the direction of drawing! It seems to me that snagging the rear sight while holstering isn't really an issue, where snagging during the draw might (note I said 'might') be a problem. So why the huge ramp on the front side of the sight?

The design has no real function, but does present a problem where the shooter needs to operate the slide one-handed. The rear blade is now snag-free in the direction that we need it not to be - there is no hook or shelf on the slide which the shooter can catch on a belt (or the edge of a holster) to help manipulate the slide. Net result: a "feature" which actually has less than zero purpose.

Admittedly, the likelihood of needing to operate the slide one-handed is slim. Still, why design that possibility out of something when there is no compensating gain to be had?

(Hmmm...thumb safety. Low-profile "snag free" sights. Extremely picky about ammo. Hey - they've managed to recreate 1985!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Critical thinking when reading.

Someone sent me this link to
a story on about the Center Axis Relock (C.A.R.) system of Paul Castle. At the outset it's important to note that I don't think much of this "system", largely because it asks the shooter to do a number of things that aren't congruent with how the body reacts to a threat stimulus. It may or may not have some use to military or police tactical teams when in a proactive mode, but since I'm neither of those I'm not qualified to judge its tactical usefulness in those areas.

I can, however, comment on the intellectual inadequacies of one specific part of the story. In the fifth paragraph of the article, the author defends the C.A.R. system's extreme bladed position with regard to body armor. One of the criticisms of this exaggerated stance is that it exposes the weakest part of an officer's (or soldier's) body armor to the threat. The author’s rejoinder is that the system places the bones and tissue of the upper arm in a position to protect that vulnerable spot.

Seriously, that's what it says.

There was a shooting instructor back in the 1950s or '60s (whose name I'm not recalling at the moment) who recommended that the pistol be shot one handed, with the weak hand reaching across the chest to the strong shoulder to put the bicep roughly over the heart to provide protection. Gosh, why aren't we still doing that? If the bones and muscles of the upper arm are sufficient for protection of vulnerable areas, why are we wearing body armor at all?

The whole idea of body armor came about because flesh and bone have proven to be quite inadequate at stopping bullets. In fact, that's exactly the kind of material that bullets are designed to defeat. While a muscled arm may slow the bullet down a bit, it's still going to go through and into more important organs. Body armor exists because bullets go through muscles, and we've expended many resources to give people ever-better armor with fewer and fewer vulnerable areas.

The sides and arm holes are a well known weakness of all armor, and the recommendation has always been to keep the front area of the armor pointed at the threat if at all possible. There are many stories of soldiers and cops killed because a bullet (or piece of shrapnel, in some cases) made its way into the body by way of the open space around the arm - the size of the bicep notwithstanding.

There are those who will read the article without questioning. Unless they think critically, examining both the author's assumptions and logic flow, they might be caught up by the recasting of a flaw as a feature.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did at SHOT Show, Part Four.

More of the 2012 SHOT Show!

It seems that I’m always looking at new riflescopes. I'm pretty particular about image quality, and given how I tend to treat field gear (roughly!) I also need a scope that will stand up to abuse. In past years I've been happy with the price/performance balance of the IOR/Valdada and Leupold scopes I’ve owned, but their optical quality isn't as good as the more expensive brands. I’ve had the privilege to use a Schmidt & Bender scope, and while I love the optical (and mechanical) quality I can’t afford the stiff tariff! I’m thus in a constant quest for something approaching the quality of the S&B, while costing closer to the Leupold. Believe it or not, there may in fact exist such a scope.

At SHOT I managed to stumble upon the
Premier Optics booth. Premier is familiar to me (and I suspect a few of you) as the maker and installer of custom reticles in Leupold scopes. Unbeknownst to me, a couple years back they decided to start making their own scopes. They hired some very experienced German scope makers to do the engineering, then started building them here in the U.S. I've got to say that what they've come out with is stunning!

Premier was showing their two basic lines: the Tactical line, which features 34mm tubes and the biggest, best adjustment knobs I've ever handled; and the Light Tactical line having 30mm tubes and smaller (but still big) knobs. I examined the scopes closely, and did a quick-and-dirty optical evaluation. I could find no obvious spherical or lateral color aberrations and no field curvature. The scopes have great contrast while color, to my eyes, was a little on the cool side (but not so much that there was a cast.)

The Premier rep assured me that all of their scopes would pass a box test with flying colors and return to zero perfectly. Given their long experience in military and long range competition circles, I’m inclined to believe them!

I was particularly taken by their Light Tactical 3-15x50. I has very solid click adjustments, and they even built in a mechanical turns counter so that you don't get confused trying to remember how many clicks you've put into the adjustments. Neat!

Turns counter, underneath dot on upper turret, shows the number “1” - meaning the turret has been rotated one full turn.

As noted, optical quality was top notch, which is not surprising considering the pedigree. All reticles are in the first focal plane, making rangefinding with the mil-dots a snap at any magnification.

I did a double-take when I looked through their new 1-8x Tactical scope. At magnifications under 3x you see a red dot, designed for speed of acquisition and rapid close-quarters shooting. Once the magnification is set beyond 3x, the reticle magically changes into a standard cross-hair mil-dot! It's a cute trick, and I can see this scope being very popular with AR-15 shooters who want its unique attributes.

Like with anything else, quality costs - but not as much as it might from some of the German brands. Yes, you’ll spend north of two grand for the cheapest of their scopes, but given the very high construction and optical quality I think that’s a bargain.

There were quite a few vendors of what has come to be called ‘tactical gear’, things like pouches and bags and load-bearing equipment, at SHOT. One I'd not heard of is
Marz Tactical Gear, a Phoenix-area company who proudly marks their stuff as Made in USA. They showed a couple of products that intrigued me.

First was a first aid kit pouch perfectly sized for a trauma kit. Called the "Patrol IFAK", the pouch will hold a tourniquet, pressure bandage, a roll of hemostatic gauze, and a few incidentals. The cool part is that the back is covered with Velcro, and they have a matching plate that straps onto the backside of an automobile headrest. This keeps the kit in a known and easily accessed location; in use, you simply grab the handle and rip the kit from the mounting plate. You can then take it to where it is needed. Very useful; I think I'll be buying a couple of them.

The other thing that caught my eye was what they call their "Field Kit". It's a large piece of waterproofed Cordura nylon attached to a couple of zippered pouches. The pouches can hold cleaning supplies, lubricants, or even spare parts. When unrolled you have a decent-sized work surface to catch parts and keep dirt away from mechanisms, with the pouches on one side for easy access to the aforementioned incidentals.

It would make a great field cleaning station or armorer's go-anywhere emergency shop, and might be very useful for the instructor who occasionally needs to fix a student’s gun. A neat little idea to make life in the field (or at the range) a little easier.

All week I kept hearing about Mossberg's new "tactical" lever action. At least a half-dozen people told me that I just had to go see it, so I did.

“Tactical” has officially jumped the shark.

My initial reaction: “you’ve GOT to be kidding.” Where to start? Mossberg managed to design out all of the lever action's positive attributes while adding very little to its usability. The collapsible AR-style stock wobbles and doesn't have a comfortable grip; the rails add unnecessary weight and make holding the forearm quite unpleasant; and the action was, to put it charitably, rough.

The myriad protrusions of the butt stock and fore end rails simply destroy the smooth, snag-free handling that is one of the chief virtues of the lever action. It's a rifle that has been styled as opposed to designed, perhaps by someone who might not have had the opportunity to become familiar with the lever action and how it is best employed.

Available in .22LR or .30-30, I'm sure it will sell - just like the Taurus Judge sells. I'll stick to my traditional models, thank you, as they've proven themselves capable of a wide range of tasks, without poseur bolt-ons, for quite some time now.

(This is a perfect example of my belief that the rifle, particularly the lever action, is a general purpose tool. The more crap you hang on it, the more specialized and therefore less useful it becomes. My AR-15s are pretty much stock, and I've found that they're the most versatile in that configuration. As my eyes continue to deteriorate I may have to fit them with optics, but even then I'll make sure that the choice will leave them usable for the variety of tasks I expect to encounter. The same can be said of my lever actions. Someone at Mossberg, in my opinion, just doesn’t Get It.)

More to come tomorrow - stay tuned!

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did at SHOT Show, Part Two.

As it happens,
this year’s SHOT was a record-breaker: more than 61,000 attendees, with 2,466 of those being media (including yours truly!)

I'll start today with what I didn't see: any big introductions from the major revolver manufacturers. Smith & Wesson had a couple of Performance Center variants (I'd not seen the Model 647 Varminter before), Ruger was showing the previously announced four-inch SP101 in .38/.357 and .22LR (the smallbore having vastly improved sights), while Colt didn’t show any double action revolvers - and probably won't any time soon.

I had a great chat with Brent Turchi, the head of Colt's Custom Shop. He said that new revolvers weren't in the cards for at least a few years yet, and if they ever do release a new wheelgun it will probably be something like a King Cobra or Anaconda, or possibly a lightweight concealed carry piece based on the SFVI/Magnum Carry action. It’s all just speculation at this point, he emphasized.

The Python is gone for good, he said - too expensive to make, and they no longer have the skilled workforce to do so even if they could justify it economically. In fact, the people who today work repairing Pythons are nearing retirement, and when they go a lot of knowledge and skill will go with them. On the plus side, 2011 was a very good year for Colt as they were able to sell tons of 1911s. Of course.

The big handgun news at SHOT was the official U.S. introduction of the Caracal pistol. This is a new polymer striker fired pistol made in (of all places) the United Arab Emirates. Apparently the UAE has decided that even their large oil reserves won't last forever, and have decided to get into manufacturing firearms. Their first products are full-size (think Glock 17) and compact (Glock 19-ish) pistols in 9mm (.40 S&W versions will come later this year.) The Caracal is the brainchild of Wilhelm Bubits, former Glock employee and designer of the Steyr M series of pistols. His new design borrows some elements from the Steyr, but most of it is new.

I first heard about the Caracal when Rob Pincus went to Italy last year and found a couple of his students armed with this unknown handgun. Apparently it's been sold in Italy and a few other places for almost two years, and the reports he got from those students were glowing. The guns were used hard during the three days of intense training, and there were no failures. That says a lot about the design.

The Caracal is unusual in that everything inside the gun is modular. The fire control group in the frame, as well as the striker assembly in the slide, are modules that are quickly and easily removed for service, and just as easily replaced. The bore axis is very low, approaching that of an HK P7, while the slide mass has been reduced. The result, I'm told from those who have fired them, is reduced recoil impulse and muzzle rise.

Ergonomics, even for my small hands, are superb. The Caracal fits me better than either the Glock or the Steyr, and I can even hit the magazine release without too much contortion! The trigger is very smooth, very linear (once you get past take-up, of course) and has a nice, jar-free letoff. It's very impressive.

What is also impressive is the construction quality. The machining, inside and out, is superb - the underside of their slide makes a Glock look like a gravel road. Everything is polished, there are no tool marks, and even the plastic castings are perfectly clean. This is top-notch quality, an amazing feat for a young company.

Caracal was all over Vegas; all of the buses for the convention had Caracal banners on their sides, their booth was large and set up for doing lots of business, and their marketing materials were big-league. The folks behind Caracal have invested a ton of money into both the product and the marketing, and it's obvious that they intend to be a big player in this business. If the product holds up to its promise, I think they will be. (Oddly enough, despite seemingly being on top of every little detail they still haven’t gotten their USA website up - even though the URL is printed on all their materials!)

I'm impressed with the gun, and so was nearly everyone I talked to who'd seen it. I think this might be one of the top autoloading pistol choices for defensive shooting, particularly when the sub-compact versions come out later this year. Caracal is worth watching.

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did at SHOT Show, Part One.

For those of you who might have wondered, I spent last week at the annual SHOT Show in sunny Las Vegas. It was a busy week for me, as I had several meetings lined up and those meetings generated still more meetings, all of which turned out to be for the good. In fact, I was so busy meeting and talking with other people that I didn't get to see as much of the show as I'd wanted!

That actually fit in with my plan, as I go to trade shows to network, not necessarily to see new products. From way back I learned that every magazine (and today every blog and discussion forum) will have tons of information on what was new at the show. I could learn all about the new stuff from the comfort of my living room, but I need to shake hands in order to get things done - that’s what a trade show is really for!

This was my first SHOT, and I must say that compared to other (larger) trade shows I've attended it is fairly compact and relatively easy to navigate. The show organizers could stand to do a little more work on attendee comfort - sideline benches and beverage sources were scarce, for instance - but overall it was pretty well set up. (The SHOT Show iPhone app, sadly, was more trouble than it was worth, forcing me to rely on an old-fashioned map that was surprisingly hard to lay my hands on.)

I didn't get there for Monday's media range day, an event which I determined I really didn't need to attend (a view which was reinforced after talking with those that did.) Tuesday was the first day of the actual show, and was primarily spent going to those meetings I'd arranged prior. A couple of those spawned the first of my on-the-fly meetings, wherein someone would say "gee, you should really meet so-and-so" and off we'd go!

My biggest meeting on Tuesday was with my publisher, Jim Schlender at Gun Digest Books. We talked about the Gun Digest Book of The Revolver, of course, but also some future products. I won't spill the beans just yet, but there will be more Grant Cunningham titles to come - along with some other great projects.

Me with Jim Schlender of Gun Digest. I’m the short one with the really cool hat.

(Sadly, I didn't get to meet my editor, Corrina Peterson, who had to stay back at headquarters to mind the store. I'll get a picture with her yet, even if it means flying back to Wisconsin to do it!)

In case you didn't know, Gun Digest has an email newsletter that goes out weekly, and often contains great information and deals on Gun Digest publications.
If you aren't subscribed, may I suggest you do so?

Wednesday was more of the same, and one my favorite meetings was an interview with Paul Carlson at the
Safety Solutions Academy podcast. I like Paul's podcast because he always has interesting topics and the production is well done. I'm a big fan, and it was an honor to be on his show. He was working like a madman, doing a half-dozen interviews a day, and you can hear mine at this link.

That afternoon I was able to get out a little bit and see some of the actual show, rather than catching glimpses of it as I passed through on my way to see someone else. I met up with Omari Broussard and Eli Brown of 10x Defense, along with Bryan Collins (a low-key but respected law enforcement instructor who is slowly moving into the private sector) and as a group we went to some of the booths that interested us.

I also got a rare chance to sit down and talk about training concepts with Omari and Eli, who are working on a unique approach to integrated instruction that I think will make some waves in the training community. These guys are smart, organized, and motivated, and I can see 10x Defense becoming a model for the rest of us in a few years.

Thursday morning I got around to see the major revolver manufacturers, visiting with Colt (whose people liked to talk); Ruger (who would talk but didn’t have much to say); and S&W (who wouldn't give me the time of day.) I also checked in at some of the booths that were around them, including that of
Honored American Veterans Afield. This is a group that's doing good work with a small budget, and deserves all our support.

I made it a point
not to stop at the Chiappa Arms booth, as the grapevine had alerted me that I was persona non grata for daring to point out, in print, some of the Rhino's flaws. I also didn't stop at the execrable GunsAmerica booth, but I did (very discreetly) flip them off as I went past. (Yes, I know it's childish. Yes, I know it's beneath my dignity. Yes, I know they probably didn’t even notice. But it felt so darned good!)

Thursday afternoon was jam-packed: first, I was invited to a meeting of some of the movers and shakers in the training business. A low-key call had gone out to meet up at a specific place and time, and you wouldn't believe the talent that showed up! It was an honor to be invited to take part in that informal but influential gathering. It gave me a chance to meet some of my heroes in the field, including Claude Werner (something of a legend among those whose opinions count) and Dr. Robert Smith of
Direct Action Medical Network (who developed the "human weapon system" concepts.) When great minds get together great things happen, and I think 2012 is going to see more than its share of great things in the training world.

One of my Tuesday meetings had unexpectedly spawned another meeting which was scheduled immediately after our instructor get-together. It proved to be extremely intriguing. You never know how such things will pan out, but it might just result in something really cool. I'll let you know more as things develop.

I finished Thursday having a great
interview with Doc Wesson on a live edition of The Gun Nation podcast. It was a lot of fun (it always is with Doc), and we covered my book, my impressions of the show-in-progress, and a bunch of other stuff.

Friday was "shiny rock day", a term coined by Diane Walls (an honest, reliable writer whose work can be seen regularly in Concealed Carry and
Women & Guns magazines.) Along with her husband Tom ("Pharmacist Tommy"), we walked around the show without any preconceived plan, but rather looking for things that caught our eye the way that shiny baubles dominate a magpie's attention. We found plenty before the show closed for this year. A long drive home (18 hours!), and here I am!

I'll be updating the blog daily until I get through all of the material I gathered. Coming up this week: yet another gun maker is clueless on the concept; a new line of revolvers from an unlikely place; you won't believe who was showing yet another prototype AR-15; the most impressive autoloading pistol I've seen in years; rifle scopes I'm lusting after; keeping your first aid kit handy; a real Gat; the only 1911 I'd want to own; and more. Stay tuned!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Dear GunsAmerica - Bite Me.

Read this.

Then, perhaps instead of using GunsAmerica, resolve instead to use one of the quality gun auction sites like
GunBroker (my personal favorite) and AuctionArms.

But hey, I’m just a nobody. What do I know?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Here’s the link to the original article. You have to read the comments, as Mr. Helinski puts his foot in his mouth more than once. My favorite quote: “You’ve never heard of us, and we are the industry leader in internet readership, after 15 years of hard work and dedication. Why should I have to wait for you to finish taking a video with your phone at range day?” - Paul Helinski, GunsAmerica

My book finally made it to iTunes!

iPad owners, you no longer need to feel that you're playing second fiddle to the Kindle aficionados out there - because
The Gun Digest Book Of The Revolver has finally come to the iTunes Bookstore!

-=[ Grant ]=-

When are we going to give up on this "Rule One" nonsense?

The incident of a
recently graduated Navy Seal shooting himself in the head has been widely discussed in the gun world. The most common refrain (and darned near the only one I'm hearing, proving Patton's Dictum) is that he just didn't pay enough attention to "Rule One."

Go read my original article on that rule.

Here's the issue: it's not that he didn't pay attention to Rule One. It's that Rule One has a huge logic flaw, one that most people in the gun world still don’t want to acknowledge - let alone discuss. The flaw? The rule isn't, and can never, be universally true!

If "all guns are always loaded" or "treat all guns as if they were loaded" were true, we'd never be able to clean our guns.

If it were true, we'd never be able to engage in dry fire practice.

If it were true, we'd never be able to put them into a case and transport them to the range.

If it were true, the entire manufacturing and warehousing of firearms would by necessity grind to a halt.

The reason none of that occurs, of course, is because we make constant exceptions to that rule to allow those activities to happen. We make these exceptions to what is supposed to be a universal rule almost daily because we know we have to. We know that guns aren't always loaded, else we wouldn't be able to do any of these things (and many more) with them. We do this so often that we don’t even think about it, and it’s those exceptions that get us in trouble.

Face the facts: guns are not always loaded. You know it, and I know it. Rule One is a joke. Why do we keep deluding ourselves?

The problem isn't that this guy didn't pretend hard enough that "all guns are always loaded"; it's because
he chose to do something stupid with a gun that he was sure was unloaded. That's the problem, and this continual Pavlovian bleating about "Rule One" isn't helping prevent these accidents.

The solution isn't to get people to pretend harder, it's to get them to
stop doing stupid things with guns!

Since I wrote that article several years ago I've modified the Commandments a little. After conversations with a number of people, and lots of thinking about the implications, I've come to this version:

1. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

2. Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you are ready to fire.

3. Always remember that you are handling a deadly weapon, and if you do so negligently you may kill someone - including yourself.

That last one takes care of things like watching for a proper target, making sure that you know where your bullets are going to land, following proper dry fire procedures, and all of the rest. It allows situational variance (we really don't have to worry what's behind our target when it's in front of a bullet trap at a range) and better instills the proper safety mindset that I proposed when I wrote the original article. It might have saved this guy's life.

Because "Traditional Rule One" sure didn't.

-=[ Grant ]=-

My ears are burning!

I always love listening to Mark Vanderberg and Doc Wesson over at the
Gun Rights Radio Network. Mark is the force behind GRRN, and when he finds any spare time he also does the Gun RIghts Advocate podcast. Doc is well known for The Gun Nation podcast, on which I've been a guest. Both podcasts have a presence on GRRN’s discussion forums.

Every so often they get together and do what they call the "
Bar Stool Discussion", a joint podcast which they do live (though I've always listened to the recording.)

On a recent episode they talked - unbeknownst to me - quite a bit about my new book, and said some very complimentary things.
You can listen to the discussion here; my segment starts at 1:13:00.

Before that they interview Alex Haddox, the man whose voice was made for broadcasting, who does the
Practical Defense Podcast. If you’ve never listened you should, as he has one of the better podcasts on the topic. He too has a new book out called "Practical Home Security", and it sounds interesting enough that I'm going to order a copy for myself.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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, 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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-

Attitude Change, 2010 Edition.

I've been actively interested in the topic of self defense training since the early 90s. Over the last decade, particularly in the last five years, a lot of my original opinions regarding self defense have changed. This isn't because I'm wishy-washy and unable to hold on to an opinion (just ask my wife!) Rather, such change is brought about by being exposed to new information, or because new research alters original assumptions.

As this year winds down, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at just a few of the things about which I've changed my mind in the last decade.

- The value of competitive shooting: back in the mid '90s I was part of a local group looking to advance our defensive skills through "tactical" competition. We tried rules, targets and procedures from USPSA, IDPA (as soon as it was formed), and even early versions of what would become The Polite Society rules. All of them had serious flaws, and we ultimately tried to develop our own rules and even specialized targets. By about 2000 we'd abandoned the effort altogether, and I shot my last "tactical" match of any sort in 2002. At the time I couldn't quite put my finger on why, but it just didn't seem that it was possible to get actual training value out of a game. Eight years later I'm better able to articulate the "why" than I was back then, as I learn more about both actual defensive encounters and how the mind reacts to them. Today I tell my students that competition may be a fun hobby, but there are serious scientific and practical reasons why it's neither training nor good preparation for self defense. Some gaming adherents react with predictable vitriol, but I've developed a sufficiently thick skin.

- The .357 Magnum as a defensive cartridge: at one time I was a huge proponent of the .357 as a "manstopper". I stopped carrying the load in 2004 or so because I came to the realization that all handgun cartridges are relatively weak, and expecting a single shot to reliably stop a determined attacker was sheer folly. From this came the realization of what ends fights: rapid, multiple, combat accurate hits on target. It was clear to me that I could not deliver that kind of performance given the recoil of a Magnum cartridge, and elected to give up sheer power in favor of controllability and recoil recovery.

- Night sights: all my friends had them, and I too was once convinced they were the be-all and end-all of defensive shooting. Oddly it took me some time to realize a simple fact: if there was enough light to positively identify my target, there was enough to get a visual alignment of the gun (using the sights or otherwise.) If there wasn't enough light to get a solid visual index, I probably couldn’t be sure of my target. Playing around with these ideas on darkened to downright dark ranges pretty much confirmed my suspicions. Looked at in this light (yes, I worked hard to make that pun) my conclusion is that night sights don't have a lot of value.

- The importance of changing your mind: in the last few years it’s sunk into my thick head that if you are putting yourself out there, stretching your intellectual muscles and exposing yourself to new ideas and concepts, you are going to end up changing your mind about something. You have to, if you're intellectually honest! If one is to assume to any degree the appellation of 'professional' in regards to training, one has to be able to grow and progress intellectually. To grow, one must change; it can happen in no other way. Doggedly sticking to an opinion for no other reason than inertia (or dislike of the person presenting new information) is inherently unprofessional; it stifles growth. I've met people, some students and some instructors, who simply could not accept that perhaps there was an objectively better way of doing something, or a factual reason why another approach might be more relevant than their own. I've resolved not to be so intransigent - how about you?

So much for 2010! On Friday I'll have the weekly surprise, and next Monday I'll kick off a new year of what I hope will be even more illuminating, annoying, challenging, informative, entertaining, infuriating, and progressive blog posts. I hope you'll continue to tag along!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Probabilities and perspective.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas weekend!

Despite the holiday (or perhaps because of it), I got a lot of email this weekend. One of them asked a question that comes up every so often, and my answer to it has changed over the years.

The question is usually something akin to "I'd like a gun for protection against dangerous animals (bear, cougar) while out hiking. What do you suggest?"

In the past I'd have answered with a run-down of the best calibers for use against large animals, but over the years (and particularly after a stint doing search-and-rescue work) my answer has changed dramatically.

What do I recommend these days? A course in wilderness first aid, a course in land navigation, and a course in multi-environment survival. Those are a far better use of your limited resources than a frickin' "bear gun"!

The fact is that attacks from dangerous animals in the U.S. are quite rare (and unprovoked attacks even rarer.) Inhabitants of suburbia worry about bears in the woods, but fatal bear attacks are incredibly uncommon in this country. According to, there were two in this country in 2009: one occurred when a woman intervened in a fight between a couple of cubs (gross stupidity), while the other occurred when a 'pet' bear attacked its owner (more stupidity.)

How about 2008? There was one: an attack by a trained grizzly against its handler. 2007? Two. 2006? One.

Cougar attacks in the U.S. are
even rarer: one in 2008, none in 2007, 2006, or 2005, one in 2004, none between 2003 and 2000, and one in 1999.

In contrast, there were 21 deaths due to lightning strikes
in just the first half of 2010! I'd be willing to bet that most of the folks worrying about 'bear guns' haven't yet learned proper behavior during a thunderstorm.

Your chances of getting injured or lost in the woods are much higher than the risk of being attacked by bears or cougars. Learning how to use a map and compass (your GPS is useless without charged batteries and a knowledge of how to use it) or how to survive a night alone in the woods is far more valuable than spending hard-earned money on a gun with limited purpose. Learning how to treat injuries in the backcountry is incredibly important, because what amounts to an inconvenience when you're near medical facilities can become life threatening when you're miles from your car (or a reliable cell signal.) Knowing what caliber will stop a black bear pales in comparison to knowing how to treat shock.

It’s a good bet that most (if not all) of the people asking the gun question haven’t yet attended to these more likely and thus more important things. SInce everyone's resources are limited, doesn't it make sense to spend yours preparing for the most probable risks?

Don’t let armchair fantasies dictate your priorities.

That's how I currently answer the question of the best gun for vicious animals. In the future I may start asking for a training resumé and a survival kit inventory before I answer!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Rhino Revolver. ProArms Podcast. Yours Truly. What could go wrong?

I recently recorded an interview for the ProArms Podcast, and
it's been released. The first half is the ProArms gang discussing the Rhino, and the second half is my discussion with Gail Pepin about the gun. If you've been waiting to find out what I really thought about the Rhino, have a listen!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part IV: single action lockwork.

One of the things that struck me when I first opened the Rhino is that the trigger doesn't directly
do anything. In every other double action revolver the trigger directly contacts the hammer in both single and double action, but not the Rhino!

In a traditional revolver's single action the sear (which is usually a pointed projection on the trigger) drops into some sort of notch on the hammer. When the trigger is pulled, the sear slips out of the hammer notch, allowing the hammer to be propelled by the mainspring and fire the cartridge. This system has persisted with only minor change for over a century. It's a simple, robust method that's easy to make and easy to maintain.

It's not nearly so simple on the Rhino.

Take a good look at the pictures, because this gets very complicated very quickly!

The Rhino is cocked, as we learned last time, by pulling back the external hammer, which pushes the cocking lever down, which pushes the hammer spring lever down against the tension of the mainspring. The hammer spring lever draws the hammer back.

At this point, the long extension on the front (right) side of the hammer slips past the spring-loaded single action lever (aka 'sear'); the single action lever springs back (counter-clockwise), trapping the hammer in the cocked position.

When the trigger is pulled, it pushes on the connecting rod which is connected to the interlink lever. (These are all official Chiappa part names!) The interlink lever and the single action lever share a common pivot point, and are separated by a phosphor bronze washer (not seen in these pics.) As the interlink lever rotates clockwise, a small pin on it contacts the downward-pointing extension on the single action lever, pushing the extension and causing the sear surface to rotate upwards and slip off the hammer extension. The hammer is now free to rotate clockwise, propelled by the mainspring through the hammer spring lever, which brings the top of the hammer into contact with the frame-mounted firing pin.

Got that?

It's an extremely complicated way to approach the function, though those familiar with high-end rifle triggers, which typically use a series of levers to do the same task, will recognize what the Rhino is doing. Those more familiar with handguns will be left staring at the pictures, scratching their heads, and saying "what the ****?" (It very much reminds me of the operation of a Hermle chiming clock, a mechanism with which I am intimately familiar. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that is good or bad.)

In the next installment we'll have a peek at how double action works. It's a little more conventional, but still unique.

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part III: the non-hammer.

Quick: is this Rhino cocked, or not?

As it happens, it is. The "hammer" that you see isn't a hammer at all. Since the gun fires from the bottom chamber of the cylinder, the hammer is buried deep within the frame. Since the hammer is inaccessible, to cock it for single action requires that something reach down into the works. That something is called the cocking lever, and it's connected to the thing that looks like a hammer but isn’t - but which, confusingly, is called the external hammer.

To cock the gun, the external hammer is pulled back; it pushes the cocking lever down, which certainly looks like it’s connected to the internal hammer - but it's not! The cocking lever actually works by forcing a piece called the hammer spring lever down. The hammer spring lever in turn rotates the hammer back, thereby cocking the gun. When the gun is cocked, a spring on the external hammer returns it to the rest position, pulling the cocking lever back up with it while the other parts stay in the cocked position. A red flag on the left top of the frame (which was cleverly not shown in the first picture) is pushed up by the hand (which they call a ‘lifting lever’ ) to let the user know the gun is cocked. You can see that part if you look carefully for the red line just under and to the right of the external hammer.

When the Rhino is cocked, the external hammer is held in the forward position under spring pressure. To decock the gun, it is pulled back and held while the trigger is pulled. Then the user allows the external hammer to slowly and carefully return to the rest position.

What's interesting is that the key to this whole operation is the cocking lever. If one wants to render his/her Rhino double action only, it's a simple matter of removing the sideplate and pulling out the cocking lever:

It simply lifts out of the works. The sideplate is replaced, and the gun is now DAO. The external hammer can still be manipulated (remember that it has its own spring to keep it in the forward position), but since there is nothing connecting it to any other part of the gun it performs no function. Actually, that's not quite true - since the rear sight is a notch machined into the external hammer, it still serves as the rear sight.

Next time we'll take a look at the Rhino's very different single action sear (bet you can’t spot it) and how it works. It’s anything but straightforward!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How the Rhino works, part II: the extractor.

By now everyone knows about the Rhino's unique hexagonal cylinder, but it's unusual in more ways than the shape. The extractor (star or ratchet, depending on the maker) on the Rhino is quite different in execution than any S&W, Colt, Ruger, Dan Wesson, or Taurus.

The orthodox method of making an extractor is to cut half circles to accept the cartridges, and mill cam surfaces in the center so that the hand can rotate the cylinder. The extractor does double duty, as it were.

Those cam surfaces are responsible for both rotating the cylinder and locking it in a precise position when the gun fires. The extractor must stay in perfect relation to each chamber if barrel-chamber alignment is to be maintained. If the extractor rotates even slightly relative to the cylinder, the chambers won't come to the exact position for every shot, and in severe cases an out-of-time condition can be caused.

The common method of maintaining that alignment was to insert a couple of steel pins (very small pins!) into the web between opposite chambers, and drill the extractor arms to fit over those holes. That requires precise machining and fitting, two things which have become cost prohibitive.

In recent years S&W has approached the problem by simply machining the outline of the extractor, and the cylinder recess into which it fits, into something resembling a square. This is not an entirely satisfactory approach, as there is significant play between the two pieces. Ironically, that's what the machining is supposed to prevent!

Because of this sloppy fit, modern Smiths must be timed with fired casings in the chambers, which immobilizes the extractor. The downside is that if live ammo is undersized, the extractor is free to rotate and the problems come back.

Chiappa decided on a very expensive method to obtain barrel/chamber alignment. They took the alignment pin idea, and instead of using them to fix the extractor they inserted four more, and use those as cams to rotate the cylinder! The extractor is drilled to simply fit over the pins, and serves only to push empties out of the gun.

(This concept of separation of function will show up later when I detail how the double- and single-action sears work.)

Chiappa's method has the advantage of taking all extractor movement out of the equation. The disadvantages include a) they are not easily adjusted if chamber/barrel alignment is off, and b) the system is very expensive to produce.

The first disadvantage is evident in the gun I'm reviewing: two of the chambers are ever-so-slightly off, and a correction will not be easy. Keep in mind that the amount of discrepancy is very small, and doesn't apparently affect the accuracy of the gun to a great degree, but the error does exist. The first gun, which I sent back because of a very heavy trigger, did not have the error.

The second disadvantage doesn't seem to concern them, as we saw in the previous article on their breechface insert. Again, the machining is quite well done, despite the slight error noted.

If properly done, this design would make for very precise and repeatable chamber indexing, but if extreme care isn’t taken in execution that pursuit of perfection can result in a permanent deficiency. This is not unlike Colt versus S&W cylinder locking: the more precise Colt requires more care in manufacture and maintenance, while the sloppier S&W mechanism makes for a more tolerant system. Both have advantages and disadvantages that the gun designer balances to get the desired performance characteristics.

In the next installment we'll dive into the internals, starting with the hammer that isn’t a hammer - and you might be amazed at what it takes to render the gun double action only.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another interview!

I must apologize for being a bit late with this one. Last month I was interviewed on the "Meet the Smiths" segment of the Personal Armament podcast. I'd planned to put a note on the blog when the interview was published, but forgot about it until yesterday. That’s when I fired up iTunes for the first time in several weeks, refreshed the podcast list, and -- there it was!

The podcast is a good listen even when I'm not the guest. (Hmm. That sounded vaguely conceited, didn't it?) Rob Robideau is a solid interviewer; he asks great questions, and is flexible enough to pursue different lines of inquiry when they show promise. Most interviews are heavily edited, but he's polished enough that what you hear is pretty much how we recorded it.

As I find time I'm downloading and listening to his back episodes, and they are terrific.

You can
listen to my interview here, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Hope you find it interesting!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday pot-stirring.

I've mentioned that my father was on a bomber crew during World War II. I didn't mention that a few years before he died he trolled the gun shows looking for a decent M1 Garand (I eventually found one for him, which my brother and I gave to him as a birthday gift.) I asked him why he wanted one, and he animatedly exclaimed "I carried one during the War, and it was the best weapon ever made!"

"Ummm, Dad?" I said, "you were in a bomber - they issued you a pistol, not a rifle!"

"Yeah, well...I carried one in basic training, and it was a great rifle!"

That didn't end the discussion. We talked about another legendary gun, one with legions of fans even more rabid than Garand lovers, and one with which he was very familiar: the M1911A1 pistol. He wasn't nearly as appreciative, calling it a "piece of junk that couldn't hit the broad side of a barn." My Dad was a pretty fair shooter with all arms, pistols included, but he hated the 1911.

When my wife got her heavily customized Springfield he looked it over, sniffed a bit, and offered that it sure looked nice and was probably more accurate than the one he'd been issued, but that no amount of work would ever fix what he called the "jamamatic."

I was reminded of this by a comment I heard recently, to the effect that the 1911 must be a great gun because the U.S. Government issued it for such a long time, and that fact somehow supported the belief.

The irony is that this same gentleman considers the current issue M9A1 (aka Beretta 92) to be a "piece of junk." Let me get this straight: if the Army issues a 1911 it's only because the gun is superior, but when it issues the M9 it's because...what, exactly?

That's the problem with the
appeal to authority. When the authority contradicts your view, you either have to change the view or abandon the authority, regardless of what the facts tell you. Doing neither just invalidates the opinion.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Recoil and reflexes.

video of a petite woman shooting a S&W .500 Magnum made the rounds last week. At issue was an uncontrolled (negligent) discharge, occurring as a rapid “double tap.”

Watch the video, and you’ll see that as the gun recoils from the first round, a second round is ignited. The barrel is nearly vertical when the second shot fires, raising all sorts of concerns about its eventual landing place.

The various comments made (not just on The Firearm Blog) indicate a lack of familiarity with the forces at play.

If one observes new shooters closely, it's very common to see them release the trigger immediately after the sear breaks. This is particularly true where the reset force significantly exceeds the pull weight, as it does on most S&W revolvers in single action (especially the X-frame .500.) The strong rebound spring quickly, almost instantaneously, sends the inexperienced trigger finger back into the battery position.

As the trigger/finger reach full reset, the recoil has caused the muzzle of the gun to arc backwards toward the shooter's face. The shooter, who has not expected this level of violent reaction to the cartridge firing, finds that the hand does not have a firm enough grip on the gun. The hand muscles - all of them - instinctively tighten to maintain a grip and control the gun.

The problem, of course, is that as those muscles tighten so do those of the trigger finger, which is now sitting on a trigger that has reset and produced a gun that is in battery. The hand squeezes and the trigger is forced back, firing the gun again.

It's not a gun problem, and having a longer trigger travel or a heavier trigger as some suggest won't prevent this from happening. What would prevent it is proper instruction from a teacher who understands the whole issue, and is smart enough to do a couple of things: first, have the shooter dry fire the gun so that he/she understands what the trigger is going to do. Second, put only one round into the gun until the shooter is comfortable with the recoil/muzzle blast/trigger control.

The most important thing to take away from this is that it is a predictable, and therefore preventable, occurrence - assuming that the person in charge has the knowledge base necessary to do so. Some time back I took heat for having the temerity to suggest that a good shooting coach needs to have a passing familiarity with physiology, psychology, physics, and engineering. This incident illustrates why that opinion remains unshaken.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Excitement in Berkeley North.

Life is never dull in my part of the world.

Yesterday a gun shop in Portland was treated to a large police response because -
gasp! - someone was carrying a gun into the store. We're used to the law enforcement agency of our state's biggest city being in the news, as their overreactions are legendary around these parts, but what really got the chuckle meter going was that it happened at a store of which the local folks aren’t all that fond.

You may think that I’m making things up, but
here are a couple of threads on the regional gun discussion forum. Any of you have stores like this in your neighborhood?

-=[ Grant ]=-


The FedEx guy was just here and dropped this into my lap:

I’ll be doing a technical analysis here, and a shooting review for Concealed Carry Magazine. Stay tuned!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Wednesday wanderings.

I haven't done a Wednesday Wanderings post for a while, but since I took the holiday off what would have been posted Monday got shuffled to today.

So, what's going on in the world? Well,
Tam continues her slide to a greener lifestyle. She's almost to the point where she could move to Portland and lobby for more bike paths to further clog traffic. (I'll bet she's developed a taste for tofu, too.)

Firearm Blog recently posted a great old television commercial for the Mattel "Tommy Burst" gun. Someone I knew as a kid had one of these, though for the life of me I can't remember who it was nor do I remember the commercial. I do, however, remember the sound the bolt made as it was pulled back. Fun toy that would cause apoplexy of sold today. (Readers of a certain vintage will recognize the voice of the narrator and the face of the bad guy as both belonging to Hal Smith, the great character actor and voice artist.)

Gabe Suarez recently posted an interesting article of the value of
simplicity in training. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but his point about not having unlimited time to train is spot-on. That point alone deserves an entire article.

As if the Judge phenomenon couldn't get any sillier, I give you the
Tactical Judge. Make of it what you will.

Rob Pincus recently returned from a teaching stint in South Africa, where he made this video of a Glock suppressor that he (and I) didn't even know existed. Square (of course), made of plastic (what else?), and disposable (!!), it fits on a special barrel that Glock also sells.

Cool stuff, but why in 'repressed' South Africa are these things freely available, but here in the 'free' United States are they demonized and heavily regulated?

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Someone sent me
this link to a tale of a Ruger Redhawk whose barrel had parted company from the frame. It's an old story; not this particular occurrence, but the problem in general.


Seems that a certain Canadian manufacturer of simulated munitions now has some competition. I've always disliked the existing company's elitist insistence on only selling to police and military buyers, and Speer, the maker of the new product, looks to change that. Their new product,
Force On Force, will be sold not just to the public sector but to "professional instructors" as well. They've even got portable enclosed shoothouses available! Cool stuff from a solid, responsible AMERICAN company. (Thanks to Fear & Loading for the tip!)


DPMS was apparently the prime sponsor for a match called the "Tri-Gun Challenge", which was recently cancelled. What's interesting isn't the match, but rather
why it isn't going to happen this year. The range on which it was to be held was slapped with an order prohibiting the firing of handguns on the property. When the range/club was founded 30 years ago, they allowed all kinds of guns to be shot. In 1995 they were issued a conditional use permit for a trap and rifle range, and their neighbors apparently are alleging that the shooting of handguns violates that permit!

This is hardly unusual. My wife and I belonged to a gun club a few years back, a club which had been in existence since 1952. The conditional use permit under which we operated stated that no camping was allowed. Once a year, however, the Boy Scouts used the club facilities for a two day shooting party, with a sleepover the intervening night. The kids camped out in the classroom, but a couple of the den mothers brought camping trailers (for obvious reasons.) One particularly nosy neighbor, a recent transplant from another state, spotted the trailers and notified the county. We were hit with a similar order for violating the CUP.

People with an irrational fear of guns will always find a way to cause problems. Don't believe for an instant that because we won in the Supreme Court, the gun prohibitionists have been defeated.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

In the
Friday Surprise for the 6th, there were two bonus questions. A couple of people came close, but didn't get all the details. The Leopolds referred to in the title were Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, friends who happened to be professional musicians and amateur photo chemists. Their work in color film led directly to the invention of Kodachrome. The connection with Rhapsody in Blue? The song's composer, George Gershwin, had a sister named Frances - who was married to Godowsky.


It seems odd to me, but I get lots of inquiries about where to buy targets. My favorite source is
Law Enforcement Targets, which carries a huge line of paper and cardboard products. For defensive and "tactical" training, their stuff is the best. My other source, which carries more traditional targets (NRA, IPSC, and IDPA) is Alco Target Company. I've done business with both for years, and have never had a reason to complain.


I've mentioned this before, but do check out the forums over at the
Personal Defense Network. There are some great discussions there, and the only thing missing is YOU!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Steyr rides again.

A few years back Steyr Mannlicher USA imported a batch of their M9 and S9 pistols. They were polymer framed, striker fired guns of the type popularized by their fellow Austrians at Glock, but that's as far as the similarities went.

The Steyr guns featured a steeper grip angle, more ergonomically sculpted grips, a lower bore axis, and better triggers. Like all Steyr products, they were superbly constructed of quality materials.

Sadly they've been unavailable in this country for a few years, the high cost of quality Austrian workmanship and the unfavorable exchange rates having combined to make them uncompetitive in the marketplace. Things have stabilized a bit and once again Steyr USA is importing the MA-1 and SA-1, which are the second generation versions of the original M9 and S9.

My wife routinely carries an S9, which is the compact version, and is very happy with the gun. It's proven to be reliable, accurate and a pleasure to shoot. The trapezoidal sights take some getting used to, but work well for their intended purpose. The original guns were criticized for the smoothness of their grips, which the second generation have changed to be "grippier."

Why am I writing about a plastic autoloader? Because it's a gun I believe deserves wider recognition for its unique attributes.
Available in both 9mm and .40 S&W at an MSRP of $649.

Thanks to
The Firearm Blog for alerting me!

-=[ Grant ]=-

In Oregon, we're used to rust.

That doesn’t mean that we like it, however!

A recent email from a reader asked about protecting guns from rust in long-term storage. There are many approaches to the problem, most of them involving some type of coating or oil.

I prefer wrapping the piece in a Volatile Corrosion Inhibitor (VCI) paper. VCI paper is coated with chemicals that vaporize to provide a protection layer against moisture and rust. Properly used in a sealed container (like a Zip-Loc bag), it can provide years of complete protection.

You can get it in sheets from Brownell's.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Yet another reason I don't watch reality TV.

I spent this weekend assisting at a defensive rifle class with Georges Rahbani, and sometime during the weekend thought of a great article for today.

Then I forgot what it was.

My usual habit is to carry, in the left pocket of my shirt, a small pad and a mechanical pencil. When I have an idea I jot it down, thus preserving it for a time when I can make use of it. That's assuming, of course, that I remember to look at the thing!

The weather was pretty warm this weekend (about 90 degrees) and we were in the sun for most of the two days. I'd shed my normal pocketed button-front shirt for a more comfortable short sleeved Henley. My pad and pencil, of course, was in the regular shirt and when the aforementioned great idea struck, I was without a means to record it. Thus this morning's rambling version of "my dog ate my homework!"

Luckily Chris over at
The Anarchangel posted something worthy of commentary. Go read it, then come back for a little discussion.

I tuned in for the first episode of Top Shot, recognized it as yet another overblown social manipulation festival common to reality television, and promptly turned it off. My spare time is quite limited and I have to make hard decisions about what I do with it. Even with guns and shooting Top Shot didn't make my cut, so I didn't know what transpired until Chris filled me in.

Those who live in landlocked states probably have no concept of just what the United States Coast Guard does. Here in Oregon, where Coast Guard helicopters and rescue crews are a common sight, we have a deep appreciation for the sacrifices those men and women make. Despite being ridiculed (or even worse, ignored) they go out and do their job to the best of their ability every day of the week.

Those in the other services are only in danger when they've been activated and deployed, and their tours of deployment are limited in duration (a good thing, do not misunderstand.) The USCG is always on deployment, whether doing rescue work, interdicting smugglers, or protecting our Navy's operations in foreign ports. (That's right - when the U.S. Navy needs help, they call the Coast Guard!) When I was growing up it was widely said that you were more likely to be killed in the Coast Guard in peacetime than in the infantry during wartime. While that may not be literally true, it serves to illustrate the tough job USCG does.

Much of that is because the nature of their missions requires them to always be in harm's way. One of their primary duties is to protect lives in America's waters, and here in Oregon they do so constantly. The USCG's rescue swimmers and helicopter pilots are the best that can be found; until you've witnessed a Dolphin SAR helicopter hovering nearly motionless just feet away from a cliff face, in high winds and torrential rain, you have little appreciation for the skill of those crews. I don't know where one goes to recruit such people, but they must have ice water injected into their veins upon enlistment. They are amazing to watch, and when they appear on scene there is a very strong feeling of relief - even if you're not the subject of their attention.

So, to Caleb and all the other past and present members of the United States Coast Guard, and especially to those stationed here in Oregon, thank you. We appreciate your service, your sacrifice, and above all your professionalism.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Coolest video you'll see today.

Tam alerted me to this video which she found at New Jovian any case, it's great. I've seen big-budget Hollywood productions that weren't as realistic, even with a liberal charge account at the local prop gun emporium.

Good job CBE FIlms!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Shameless plug for a great show.

The new season of
SWAT Magazine TV starts tonight - 8:00 Eastern time, on the Outdoor Channel!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The worst part of my job.

Do you have a recurring task that you put off because it's just so...annoying? For many people paying bills falls under that classification; for others, doing the dishes. In my job, it's tracking down parts.

If I'm working on a gun of recent manufacture, it's just a matter of popping onto the website of one of the parts houses and ordering up as many as I need. For guns that are out of production, or are of a vintage when the parts were of a different configuration, I have to hunt them down. With Colts everything is discontinued, and the very small number of used parts that are available are hard to find and are often not serviceable. I have to hunt those parts down.

I hate parts hunting.

Hunting takes up a lot of time, especially because many of the better parts houses don't have their inventories online. I have to call them up, in some cases multiple times because their phones are always busy, ask for the part, wait for them to check if they have the right one, and if they don't I have to repeat the procedure with the next company.

It chews up a lot of time, time which I'd rather spend working. It's also often unproductive, so I end up making the same calls for the same parts over and over. Is it any wonder I put it off?

Today is parts hunting day, which I've been putting off for several weeks. Now I have even more parts to hunt down, which makes it worse!

Wish me luck. Not in terms of finding parts, but that I don't go stark raving mad in the process!

-=[ Grant ]=-

This has "bad idea" written all over it.

I got an email last week from a client whose relative was concerned that his new Glock "didn't have a safety." To remedy this perceived fault,
he's considering buying one of these.

So, let me make sure I understand the concept: a safety device that forces you to mess with the trigger in order to either put it on safe or take it off safe. What could possibly go wrong?

(Bonus question: how do you take the safety off if you're suddenly forced to use your weak hand?)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

The Truth Is Out There: I've mentioned Kathy Jackson's CorneredCat site as the best resource on the web for those women who want to get involved in the firearms world. This week on the ProArms Podcast, Gail Pepin interviews Kathy about one of her all-time classic articles: "How to Make Your Wife Hate Guns." The interview is even better than the article, and is a must-listen for any man out there who wishes for his wife/significant to start shooting.

Guys, I'm not kidding - you need to listen to this podcast. Kathy's interview starts about 20 minutes in, preceded by Dr. Paula Bratich talking about concealed carry in Illinois.

Better Late Than Never: Prior to the SHOT show, The FIrearms Blog reported that Ruger was going to show a .357 version of the LCR. It was only slightly premature, as Ruger showed it off at last week's NRA Convention. Not for me, thanks, but I'm sure that there are those who will love it.

The Bad Guys Have An Advantage: An interesting article over at asks "Why do bad guys seem to do so well in gunfights?" Worthwhile reading.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Hope for the terminally myopic?

The Firearm Blog alerted me to this post over at A new sighting enhancement, making use of a “zone plate" optic, is due to hit the market soon. The device makes it possible to focus on both near and far objects at the same time, without the penalty of large, expensive optical systems.

I'll be anxious to try one of these on a rifle. My eyes cannot focus on close objects without optical help, and I disdain scopes in general. While I can still shoot irons on rifles with long (22" and up) barrels, the shorter carbines are next to impossible for me to use. It is those short, handy rifles that I must scope, which obviously negates the value of a short, handy rifle!

If the MicroSight works, I've got several favorite rifles that might just shed their
pregnant guppy personas.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A worthy cause!

On Monday I mentioned that my bore cleaner of choice is Ed's Red, the popular homebrew formula. I've used it for many years, and have been satisfied with its performance over a wide range of firearms.

If you don't regularly read the comments section, you may have missed a note from Ed himself. He's always coming up with something that's new to me, and this time he revealed that Brownell's carries Ed's Red in convenient bottles, all mixed up and ready to use!

I had no idea, but that's not the end of the story. Turns out that a portion of the sales of Ed's Red goes to support the Junior's programs of the Virginia Shooting Sports Association. That's reason enough to buy Ed's Red over any competing product. Well, that, and the fact that Ed's Red works!

If you're a Brownell's customer, put
a bottle of Ed's Red on your next order. If you're not a Brownell's customer, you should be!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On bore cleaners.

A recent email asked my opinion on bore cleaners, and to my surprise I found that I'd not written anything on the topic. It is, after all, unlike me to have no opinion - and it may be a bit of a surprise to learn that, on this topic, I don't have a strong opinion.

When it comes to bore cleaners, it's been my experience that everything works. Shooter's Choice, Hoppe's, Butch's, Break Free, it really doesn't matter - with one caveat.

I break cleaners into two basic types: general bore cleaners, and copper removers. Copper removers, such as Hoppe's Benchrest and Sweet's 7.62, usually contain ammonia to dissolve copper jacket residue. Ammonia compounds, if not thoroughly flushed, can pit steel. Pitted bores are not generally conducive to good accuracy! Those compounds are also hard on bronze bore brushes, which is why their makers often recommend nylon brushes wound on stainless steel cores. Regular use of a copper removing bore cleaner isn't recommended, and I only use them in rifles where accuracy reductions are likely to be noticed, and only when the jacket fouling gets to a point that those reductions show up. Other than that, I use a regular bore cleaner.

The bore cleaner I use most is the popular homebrew
Ed's Red formula. Originated by C.E. "Ed" Harris, noted engineer and certified firearms genius, Ed's Red is both economical and effective. I've found it to be as good as anything else in cleaning rifled bores, and a bit better than most when cleaning shotgun barrels. (The acetone in the formula makes it an ideal solvent for removing plastic wad fouling.) Since I use a lot of bore cleaner, being able to mix a gallon at a time saves me both money and effort.

If you're not the DIY type, anything will work. Many people like the smell of Hoppe's #9 (the distinctive odor comes, I believe, from amyl acetate), and I must admit a certain fondness myself. My first cleaning kit, for a Winchester Model 67 rifle, was from Hoppes. The smell takes me back to my childhood and summer afternoons sitting under a walnut tree, cleaning my rifle from a hard day of plinking.

Frankly, given the generally good performance of all of the bore cleaners I've ever used, that's as good a rationale for a choice as any!

-=[ Grant ]=-

The annual ritual.

I have a physical exam every year, complete with blood panel. When they take my blood, I always ask specifically for a lead test to show how much of that stuff has gotten into my bloodstream. Last week the doctor did my blood draws, and today I learn the results. I expect my lead levels to be at their normal lows, thanks to a few sensible precautions.

First, I always wash my hands after shooting. I carry a package of those pre-moistened towlettes with me wherever I go, and make sure to wipe my hands and face after shooting, or before I ingest any food or drink. The antibacterial (waterless) gels can also be useful, but only if you immediately wipe with a towel of some sort; allowing it to dry on the skin doesn't get rid of any lead compounds, it just moves the stuff around to a larger area of skin!

Never partake of food or drink on the firing line; smoking while shooting is also a good way to introduce lead into your bloodstream. Take a break, wipe your hands and face, then eat, drink, or light up as you see fit.

Handling lead bullets usually results in some of the metal being transferred to the skin. The very best protection is to wear gloves (latex or nitrile), but if you can't do that at least give your hands a very thorough washing.

There is lead residue on and in your gun after firing. When you clean your gun, those compounds are removed and deposited somewhere. They don't just disappear! Gloves are highly recommended for cleaning chores, and you should always use some sort of disposable or washable covering over the area where the cleaning is being performed. Keep those gloves on while you clean up after the gun maintenance is finished.

I recommend that the first thing down the barrel be a wet patch, followed by a dry patch. This tends to remove the bulk of lead residue, after which you may proceed with any brushing you feel necessary. Under no conditions do I run a dry brush down the bore first; that pushes the residue out the end of the barrel, where it floats into the air that you breathe. Start with a wet patch to trap as much of that stuff as possible.

Even small amounts of lead in your blood can pose a serious health risk. Be smart, take a few simple precautions, and your only worry about lead will be the escalating price!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Back To Work - Returned last night from a rare (for me) three-day weekend. I spent the time in the eastern half of the state (the desert part) to visit relatives and do some shooting. The last such trip was two years ago, and I'd forgotten what it was like to relax!

Somewhere Steve Wozniak Is Crying - The Firearm Blog brings us news that an Aussie company has developed a sniper moving target system using Segways as drones. I was pretty pumped about that - shooting a Segway would be almost as satisfying as perforating a Prius - but alas the little things are armored. Still, it's a neat concept. (I like the part where the Segways run for their lives at the sound of a gunshot!)

Shooty Goodness - One of the topics of discussion amongst my cousins this weekend was their desire to go to Knob Creek for the annual machine gun shoot. Turns out it was happening literally while we were talking about it, and Tam was there.

Pest Control - The shooting part of my trip involved helping to rid my cousin's ranch of the dreaded sage rat. Sage rat hunting has become a Very Big Thing out here in the West, and despite hundreds of thousands of the things being dispatched every season the population continues to outbreed the hunters. Damage to crops from sage rat infestations is staggering, and it doesn't look like the problem is going to end any time soon.

There are a couple of schools of thought regarding the hunting of sage rats. One school likes to set up a shooting bench and snipe the things from long range with a .22-250. The other prefers to use a .22 rimfire, and just get closer. I belong to the latter group, as using a rimfire is significantly cheaper and still quite challenging. (In a good field it's not unusual to go through 500 rounds a day, and I'm just not wealthy enough to afford to do that with a centerfire rifle!)

Another benefit of using rimfires is that it's easy to get kids involved. It's important that children learn early the necessity of responsible wildlife management. The reason we shoot the sage rat is because a) the population is out of control, and b) poisons aren't an option in areas with large raptor populations. (How many of you have actually seen a bald eagle hunting prey? I saw a half-dozen just this weekend, which is the case every time I go out there. With poison, that wouldn’t be the case.)

Happiness Is A New Gun - My nephew Roman came with us on this trip, and I presented him with his first “grown-up” rifle. Up to this point he'd been using one of the little Chipmunk rifles, and it was time for him to upgrade. I gave him a Glenfield Model 25 with some special touches: I shortened the barrel to a more kid-friendly (yet legal) length, tuned the trigger just a bit to get rid of the horrendous grittiness, floated the barrel, and mounted a 3/4"-tubed scope. It turned out to be a fast handling, accurate little gun which he quickly put to good use, making some excellent shots in very challenging (windy) conditions.

Some Thoughts On Equipment - It's normal to think that a beginner doesn't need top notch gear on which to learn how to shoot. My nephew reinforced my belief in the opposite view: the novice is more in need of quality equipment than the experienced shooter. It's hard to learn all the nuances of good shooting when one is fighting with substandard gear, and good quality guns and ammo don't stand in the way of skill development. Regardless of the age of the student, If one is just starting out it's important to buy the best equipment one can afford. It is only after the basics are mastered is one able to rise above his/her equipment, but poor equipment can keep one from truly mastering even the simplest techniques.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Supporting our own.

SWAT Magazine TV, hosted by the irrepressible Rob Pincus, has been nominated for a Telly Award at YouTube. It's not often that gun-related shows get the recognition they deserve, but in this case we can all help the cause.

Click here to go to the Telly Awards site where you can vote for SWAT Magazine TV. Share it with your friends, your family, and anyone else who has a stake in the growing public acceptance of firearms and shooting.

-=[ Grant ]=-

I almost forgot...

Last weekend I was assisting at a Defensive Shotgun course taught by Georges Rahbani (
"The Best Rifle Instructor You've Never Heard Of"). A couple of the participants were discussing a problem with a ParaOrdnance pistol when I walked up. "Well, it's not like you should be surprised", I said, "when the brand's name tells you everything you need to know."

They stared at me blankly.

"Para- is a prefix meaning 'similar to' or 'resembling' ", I continued. "So, Para-Ordnance means that it's only 'sort of a gun' ."

I'm here to tell you that some people are seriously humor impaired.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Perfectly suited.

I get a surprising number of inquiries about carrying in an office (suit and tie) environment. I spent a few years wearing Italian suits and selling to corporate types, so I'm passingly familiar with the problems involved.

There are a number of ways to carry a gun in a suit: belt holster, shoulder holster, pocket carry, bellyband, Thunderwear (aka 'crotch carry'), and in an ankle holster.

Belt and shoulder holsters can be considered together, as in a corporate environment they share the same major disadvantage: you can never take the jacket off. If you go to your office every day, sooner or later your co-workers are going to notice that you never remove your coat! For a salesman, who doesn't actually work in the offices he visits, these can be viable. In those cases, the suit needs to be tailored to fit around the gun - and no, going to Men's Wearhouse to buy your suits isn't going to cut it. You need a real tailor, who can either make a custom suit or modify an off-the-rack example to fit properly.

Of course, this means you need to wear the gun and allow the tailor to work around it. This can be easier said than done, particularly if you live in a gun-unfriendly city (which is to say, most of them.) The best thing to do is call around and discreetly inquire if the tailor has experience working with legally armed clients. There are always a few, and it pays to seek them out.

(My favorite clothing store back in the day was owned by a mother and son, neither of whom had any problems with concealed carry. In fact, I got to know the son fairly well, as he routinely carried a very nice Colt Model M in .380, aka Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless. It was his opinion that the sleek little Colt was "the perfect gun for the well-dressed gentleman.")

If, like most people, you need to be more flexible with your habiliments, a close relative of the belt holster is generically referred to as a "tuckable." This is an inside-the-waist holster that allows you to cover the gun with your shirt - the shirt slipping between the gun and your waistband, then bloused a bit to conceal the outline. This leaves a small leather keeper visible on the belt, but if the belt and holster color are well matched it is difficult to spot. Of course, you end up looking a bit lopsided with a bulge on your belt; proponents argue that blousing of the shirt properly on the off side will help conceal the protrusion, but many people dislike the somewhat sloppy appearance which results.

One often overlooked method is the bellyband. Originally designed to be worn just above the beltline (hence the name), it can be effectively employed at the mid- to upper-torso level. At this position the gun is placed under the arm, very much in the same position as a shoulder holster. Getting to the gun is done through the shirt front, (again) using the same movements as one would with a shoulder holster. The shirt button at the base of the sternum is left undone, allowing rapid access to the gun; one's tie covers the buttons anyhow, so that the arrangement is not detected. Be sure that you do not wear 'athletic' fitted shirts - standard shorts only to allow plenty of room to hide the firearm.

The Thunderwear carry is often touted as a solution to many problems, but for those who sit for long periods of time they prove to be quite uncomfortable. They're also slow to access, and the size of the gun is very constrained. I do not personally consider them suitable for a primary sidearm, though they may be useful for backups or deep cover assignments.

Ankle holsters are another special-purpose carry method. They are very slow and cumbersome to access for a primary arm, and are best used to carry a backup pistol. Yes, I know that there are some fancy ankle holster draw moves which are surprisingly fast, but I encourage you to try them in a realistic force-on-force exercise. You'll quickly learn why I don't feel ankle holsters are a good choice for general armed carry.

Finally we come to pocket carry. With a proper holster and loose-fitting slacks, this is perhaps the most viable method of concealing a pistol in a corporate environment. They're reasonably quick to access, comfortable (if used with a lightweight gun), completely invisible (unless you wear your slacks tighter than a gentleman should), and has the additional benefit of allowing your hand to be on the gun without alerting anyone.

You'll need to shop for slacks with front pleats (provides blousing to hide the gun's bulge) and deeper pockets (some have shallow pockets from which the gun's butt can peek out.) I also recommend a medium-weight pant, which typically features a satin lining between the pocket and leg. The lining dramatically reduces chafing as the gun moves around, and makes sitting for long periods more tolerable.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Reality - what a concept.

Yesterday, Tam asked
"I laugh at the sight of the pimped tactical N-frame, too, but why?" Allow me to explain with some fuzzy dice.

Yes. You read that correctly - fuzzy dice.

If you go to a car show featuring hotrods from the '50s and '60s, a common sight will be a pair fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. They're always carefully chosen to complement the paint color, and I've even seen fastidious owners arranging the dice "just so" to get the proper look. Fuzzy dice are an accepted, and expected, part of the decor.

Take those same fuzzy dice, run over to the Tour de France, and hang them from Lance Armstrong's bicycle. No matter what color dice you pick - to go with his jersey or the bike's paint - they'll just look silly. Fuzzy dice on a racing bike? Preposterous!

Yet, objectively, the function of the dice has not changed. That is, they really have no function. They don't do anything, they serve no architectural or mechanical purpose, they simply have mass and occupy space. They derive whatever value they possess from the context in which they occur, but that value is not intrinsic; it exists only because the context allows it to exist. Think of it as Second Life with mag wheels.

Once taken out of the expected setting, stripped of the value of that context, the reality of the fuzzy dice becomes apparent. Understand this: whether on a '57 BelAir or Lance's Trek Madone SL, fuzzy dice are silly. In the former case, we don't see them as silly because we've been conditioned to accept them in that environment. In the latter, if every Tour de France competitor were to carry them for a few years - perhaps a decade or more - they would become part of that context too. They'd still be silly.

The same is true for the tacticool accessories Tam questions. (A bit of a correction: the device hanging at the muzzle isn't strictly a white light - it's a combination light and laser.) We're accustomed to seeing lights, lasers, and milspec red dot scopes attached to autopistols. In the gun rags, in the movies, and especially in video games, we're told that "serious" guns carry these things. Tough guys, warriors and operators, have these on their guns. Thus the context is constructed, such that we no longer objectively analyze the value of those things.

Putting them on a revolver takes them out of context. (After all, "operators" don't carry revolvers!) Once out of context their true worth becomes easier to evaluate, and laughter is the result.

This whole idea of context is particularly important to those of us interested in the concept of self defense. There are a lot of instructors out there who teach what can only be termed range tricks. In class, the instructor's reputation and manner of delivery combine to create a reality distortion field that even Steve Jobs would envy; in that context even the silliest ideas sound valuable. They may be useless and even counter productive, but if the student can't evaluate them outside of their context that reality will be hidden.

The same thing happens with people who get their firearms training from Hollywood - what I've heard called the "Mel Gibson School of Firearms". In the movies, the good guy always orders the bad guy to drop his weapon. The good guy gives the bad guy a chance to redeem himself, to straighten out his horrible life and repent for his sins. Naturally the bad guy doesn't take that opportunity, wheels around to shoot the good guy, at which point our hero drops him neatly with a single shot. Roll credits.

Inside the context of the movie script, this seems perfectly plausible. Through repetition the scene is burned into our subconscious, to the point that we start to accept it as normal. Unless we learn to force ourselves to evaluate the behavior outside of the theater we may find ourselves repeating it.

This apparently happened to a certified good guy up in Washington a few years ago, who faced a gunman in a mall. From all reports, it seems the good guy drew his legally carried gun, then challenged the bad guy to drop his. Life isn't like a movie, and the rampaging gunman simply shot him - five times, paralyzing him permanently.

It's important to develop both the ability to look at things objectively and critically, and the judgement to recognize when it's necessary to do so. I'd say that anything dealing with defensive firearms needs such evaluation.

As for fuzzy dice...

-=[ Grant ]=-


A comment on last Wednesday's article correctly reminded us that there seems to be some confusion about the phenomenon known as auditory exclusion.

Under times of high stress, such as a violent criminal attack, the body makes profound physiological adjustments to limit distracting data and focus on the threat. One of these is to radically attenuate (or even completely silence) aural inputs - in other words, it shuts your hearing down. This is called auditory exclusion.

It's important to understand that auditory exclusion is performed in the brain, not in the ears themselves. Though your brain isn't accepting the audio data being collected, your ears are still collecting it. It's a filtering mechanism, where the brain decides what's unimportant and ignores that to concentrate on what is important.

Since the physical parts of the ears are still functioning, they can and will be damaged by high sound levels just as they would under high sound pressure levels in a non-stressful environment. The tympanic membrane and the fragile hairs of the cochlea can still be profoundly affected by gunfire even in a high stress environment.

No doubt someone reading this is thinking "what about the aural reflex mechanism, smart guy?" Aural reflexes do physically protect your hearing by changing the curvature of the eardrum, and preventing the tiny bones of the inner ear from transmitting vibrations to the cochlea. This is designed to protect the sensitive parts of the ear from sustained loud sound. The key here is the word "sustained"; gunshots are simply too short in duration to activate the aural reflexes, and are not a function of auditory exclusion.

Simply put, auditory exclusion just doesn't pull a blanket over your ears to protect them!

In the case of a shooting, the extreme noise levels are doing damage to your ears even though your mind isn't reporting anything. It isn't until the aftermath, when your body starts to return to normal, that your brain turns the audio back on. That's when you discover that you don't hear as well as you used to.

The rationalization that "during a fight, you won't hear those Magnum rounds going off" is true, but the implication that auditory exclusion is preventing all harm to your ears isn't. You're going to have to weigh the risk of a certain amount of hearing loss, however small, against the perceived effectiveness of the ammunition being considered.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Incorrect conclusions.

This morning I got a very nice email from a concerned gentleman in a southern state. His NRA instructor gave him numerous pieces of incorrect information about his new GP100, one of which I've heard many times before: "Don't carry Magnums, because the muzzle flash will blind you in a self-defense shooting!"

With all due respect, bull twaddle.

The .357 Magnum is notorious for muzzle flash, based largely on some well-known pictures from the 1980s. These days, even the Magnum uses flash-suppressed powders, and muzzle flash with the .357 has been dramatically reduced.

Still, the misconception remains that any muzzle flash will blind you and make it impossible to deliver followup shots. In my experience, that isn't the case.

I once did an experiment, in front of witnesses, on our club's indoor range - using not some wimpy .357 or even .44, but a Dan Wesson .445 SuperMag with a 3" barrel. I personally loaded the rounds to "full house" status, which means maximum velocity, recoil, and flash.

We turned off the range lights except for one in the adjacent classroom, which gave just enough illumination for me to make out the IDPA target about 20 feet downrange.

KA-BOOOOOOOOM! If you've never experienced a SuperMag on an indoor range, it's a treat. If, that is, you like lots of noise, concussion, and muzzle flash. We're talking muzzle flash that witnesses confirmed extended 5 feet from the barrel. I wish we'd taken pictures.

Guess what? I could still see my target; I wasn't blinded at all. So I fired another shot. Then another. Still no flash induced blindness. I could still see my target, but most importantly I could still hit it. Understand: I'm not saying that it had zero effect on my vision. I could see the afterimage of the fireball, but it wasn't at all debilitating even in near darkness.

Is this conclusive proof? Of course not, it's just one person's experience - but it's a heck of a lot more experience with the subject matter than most gunstore commandoes appear to have. No matter how impressive the fireball, it just doesn't seem to possess sufficient intensity to markedly reduce one's vision.

If a non-flash-suppressed SuperMag won't do it, I hardly think a .357 with modern suppressed propellants could. Of course I'm willing to be proven wrong, but at this moment I consider it ill advised to pick a round (caliber or brand) based solely on muzzle flash characteristics.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Well, there's something you don't see every day.

Did you know your eye dominance can be changed? I didn't!

I recently had a problem with shots hitting several inches off my point of aim (at only 5 yards.) That's odd, I thought, it's as if I'm seeing out of my left eye. But that's impossible - I'm right eye dominant.

For some reason I did a quick dominance test, and I was shocked that it showed I was left-eye dominant! I must have done it wrong, I thought; I did the test again, and it showed the expected right eye dominance. Whew! One more time, just to be sure - darn it anyway, it came up left again. And again.

That's odd. Dominance, as I've always understood the mechanism, is neurological, not optical. Your brain simply prefers the vision from one eye or the other, and it appears to be hardwired from birth. I've always thought it to be unchanging, as most people do, yet mine had definitely changed.

Guess what? Turns out it's not as immutable as I'd believed. According to my ophthalmologist, who I called the next morning, eye dominance spontaneously changes only in a very, very small percentage of adults - usually as a symptom of an underlying neurological disorder.

Neurological disorder? Doesn't that mean...tumor?? YIKES!

As it happens, I'd had a complete physical (including a thorough eye exam by this doctor) just a couple of months ago. I had no other symptoms, and he reassured me that lack of symptoms and my recent positive tests made me an unlikely patient for surgery.

As it happens, he said, eye dominance can be trained away. The usual trick is to wear glasses with some Scotch-type tape on the lens of the dominant eye. The out-of-focus image forces the brain to use the other eye, and in time becomes used to the arrangement - thus changing the dominance.

But, I protested, I haven't put any tape on my glas....oh, wait.

For years I've worn a jeweler's loupe over my right eye. When I'm working, I swing it down so I can look through it and back up when I no longer need it. It's a hassle to swing it in and out of my vision all the time and get it perfectly aligned again, so for the last year I've just sort of looked around it instead of flipping it up. I use my left eye for distance vision, and the right when I need to do closeup work.

What I normally see in my right eye, then, out-of-focus image. It's the same as tape on the lenses, and by doing that I've unintentionally trained away my right eye dominance! At this moment I'm part of the small number of people who have no strongly dominant eye. If I continued using the loupe in that manner I'd end up strongly cross-dominant.

I immediately swapped loupe positions to force my brain to accept the right eye again. It's been a month or so, and I'm already seeing results. Once I'm back to my normal, strong right eye dominance I'll swap my beloved loupe for a binocular magnifier.

Trouble is, I hate those things! Decisions, decisions...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

It appears that our spell of excessively hot weather has ended. Last week the digital thermometer at our house recorded a high of 111 degrees. (Yes, that's in the shade - who'd be stupid enough to go out into the sun on a day like that?) We set an all-time record for consecutive days over 90 degrees (9 and counting.) I'm just looking forward to being able to spend a full day (more or less) in the shop.


From The Firearms Blog comes the news of a(nother)
special edition S&W 627 in .38 Super. This one should have a sticker on the box that says "Now With More Ugly!"


I'm pleased to note that QC at Ruger is improving - the last couple of SP101s I've seen, of recent production, are much improved over those of years past.
Gail Pepin at the ProArms Podcast tells me that she's visited the plant recently, and their production floor has changed considerably. She credits their new emphasis on 'lean manufacturing', with its attendant focus on reducing waste and rework, for the quality bump.


The Firearms Blog also brings us happy news of Winchester's reprise of the
Model 92 Takedown. I'd be tempted if they'd make it in .357 Magnum...


Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to go to work!

-=[ 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 ]=-

A crowning achievement.

Occasionally someone will ask me if the muzzle crown is all that important. In the past I'd probably say something like "only if you want the bullet to go where you're aiming!", but I'm trying to reduce my percentage of flippant answers. Today I'd put it more lawyer-like: "it depends..."

The crown is the edge of the bore at the muzzle. It's important to point that out, because it's not unlike the edge of a cliff. Once you've fallen over the edge, you have no chance to change your path (unless you're Icarus, in which case I'd really like to talk to you.) The edge of the bore, where the rifling ends, is likewise the last chance for the barrel to properly direct the path of the bullet.

The edge needs to be perfectly perpendicular to the axis of the bore; if it's not, as the bullet leaves the barrel one side might be clear of the barrel, but the opposite side will still be touching. This can introduce instability to the bullet, reducing the accuracy of the shot.

Even when correctly squared, a crown with a nicked edge can have the same effect. If the last thing that touches the bullet imparts any directional friction, like a nick or burr, the bullet path will be compromised.

It's amazing now small an imperfection can affect the accuracy of a barrel. I recently had a battle of wills with a Mossberg M44US rifle. This was a target .22 that Mossberg sold on contract to the U.S. military back in the late 1940s. They have a reputation for being quite accurate, and every example I've ever shot held up that reputation - except this one.

I could not get a decent 5-shot group out of the gun to save myself. I tested 15 different loads in the gun, went over it with a fine-tooth comb, and still got flyers in every group. I looked at the crown, and it seemed perfectly fine, but still the gun wasn't accurate. After exhausting every other possibility, I decided to recrown the barrel.

The edges of the bore seemed fine, but the first pass with the crowning reamer told the story: the crown was ever so slightly crooked. We're talking perhaps a couple of thousandths of an inch, which isn't a lot. I cut a perpendicular crown, and took the gun to the range.

Night and day.

The gun now shot like a 44US is supposed to! Beautiful groups from Wolf Match Target (aka SK Standard Plus, aka Lapua SC), which had shot no better than cheap Remington bulk prior to the recrowning. The crown had seemed to be a non-issue, even under magnification, but before and after targets proved that even tiny imperfections can make a huge difference.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Still more about testing .22 long rifle ammunition.

A recent email asked about
an old article, wherein I talked about the problems with residual lube in a .22 rimfire barrel. Is it really a problem, the email asked, and if so how do I go about eliminating that variable in testing?

Yes, the effects are real. I never believed in the residual lube theory until I saw the results for myself, and to this day I can repeat them at will with that rifle and ammo.

My test protocol now is to use a standard smallbore target, the type with 6 bullseyes on a sheet. The upper left corner is used to fire 25 seasoning rounds, without regard for group size. This both burns off any residual lubricant and allows me to make any sight adjustments to bring the rounds fairly close to center. I then fire a 5-round group at each remaining bullseye, which gives a good average of the groups that ammunition will deliver. If you're counting, that's one single box of ammunition on one sheet of paper.

Rimfire purists will point out that this is not a sufficient number of rounds to really ascertain the true performance of any specific load, and I'll admit that subsequent testing will sometimes show small differences in group size (better or worse) than this. If you're a serious rimfire match shooter, you'll need to fire hundreds of rounds to truly judge what the ammunition will do. Of course, if you are that person you also won't be looking here for advice!

I've found my test procedure to be the easiest, fastest, most reliable method to obtain a decent (field-grade) indicator of relative performance of rimfire ammunition.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings: "back to the grind" edition.

I hope everyone enjoyed their Independence Day holiday! I've been burning the candle at both ends lately, so I took a long weekend, during which I managed to overexpose myself to the sun. (The weekend was hot by Oregon standards - we hit 100 degrees at our house on Friday, and only slightly cooler on Thursday & Saturday.) What's that line - "feel the burn?"


Since it was so warm, I drank a huge amount of water. Having been in the ER more than once for severe dehydration (and accompanying heat exhaustion), I'm a little more attentive to this detail than most. For several years, my choice of liquid container has been the
classic Nalgene bottle - the translucent white variety, made of #2 HDPE, free of those nasty plasticizers currently suspected of causing cancer. A side benefit is that HDPE is flexible, making it more suitable to hard use than the much more rigid clear varieties. This proved beneficial this weekend, when I ran over my Nalgene with a tractor. Smashed it nearly flat, and collapsed the bottom inward. I managed to squeeze the walls back into roughly cylindrical form, but wasn't able to fix the floor. I filled it with water, threw it in the freezer, and in a couple of hours the expanding ice did the trick! Good as new (more or less), and none the worse for wear.

I just wish they'd make the things in "earth colors" - OD, coyote tan, etc. Nalgene, are you listening?


The S&W "J" frame is a generally reliable piece, but lately I've gotten reports of ignition issues with newer examples. S&W has transitioned to a new firing pin, which is much lighter and much shorter than the previous varieties. (This may be their solution to the drop testing standards in California.) They seem to be the source of the problem.To insure reliability, I replace all those I encounter with the
Cylinder & Slide Extra Length firing pin. Highly recommended, and an easy "do it yourself" modification for those so inclined.


supply chain is finally starting to recover; AR-15 rifles are becoming a common sight in the stores again, and I'm receiving reports of ammo shelves being restocked. Shortages of certain products (most notably .380ACP ammunition) can be expected to continue for the next few months, but by and large we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

-=[ 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 ]=-

Everything has a purpose.

Even the .32ACP.

Many of you are familiar with Ed Harris, firearms engineer and ballistic experimenter. One of Ed's passions is the hunting of small game - squirrels, rabbits, etc. - and the guns that facilitate that activity.

(Before we go any further, it seems that a lot of folks today don't have any experience with serious small game hunting. There are an awful lot of people who consider it somehow inferior to the taking of large game, but they are sorely mistaken. In virtually every respect, hunting wily little creatures is just as demanding of one's hunting skills as taking a trophy elk. Fieldcraft and marksmanship are just as difficult, but since you get more than one chance per trip you can hone your skills over a larger number of animals. Because of the increased experience, a good small game hunter is almost invariably a good big game hunter, but the reverse - at least in my experience - is rarely true.)

Ed has made up a number of dedicated long guns for the task, but has recently been experimenting with purpose-built handguns to go along with them. What he and John Taylor have come up with is a modified Beretta Model 70 in .32ACP, which Ed calls "the Third Level of Bunny Gun Nirvana".

Now I've never thought much of the .32ACP cartridge except for use as a deep concealment backup gun, but Ed had other ideas. He started by fitting his Beretta with 7- and 13-inch barrels, then developed a subsonic heavy bullet loading:

The barrels are supplied with a very interesting scope mount:

Ed talks about the performance of the combination:

Using 94-gr. Meiser LFN .312 cast bullet and 1.7 grs. of Bullseye velocity just shy of 900 f.p.s. Very low noise, from 13 inch barrel slightly louder than H-D military with can (suppressor), no muzzle flash, the 7 inch barrel sounds like .22 match pistol with standard velocity. Indoor range groups were shot at 25 yards. Not the best range light and targets oscillate a bit, so like it's trying to head-shoot the pirate from pitching deck of a destroyer, but shows potential.

It looks to be a formidable little game-getter!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On dry firing.

One of the great advantages of the double action revolver is that the mechanism makes dry firing easy. Unlike the majority of autoloaders, you don't have to break your grip to operate the slide or recock the hammer; just maintain your grip and pull the trigger, over and over. As a result, I suspect most revolvers are dry fired with greater frequency than most autos.

Various pundits have opined over the years that it is perfectly safe to dry fire any modern gun without regard to mechanical consequences. Some have even gone so far as to claim snap caps to be some sort of conspiracy against dry fire!

In my experience, that point of view is a bit misguided. I recommend the use of snap caps for any extensive dry fire practice, and with good reason: I have to fix the guns that break!

The problems involve broken firing pins, both hammer mounted and the in-frame variety. I do occasionally see broken pins that, upon investigation, would seem to have been caused by dry fire practice. Colt revolvers are probably the worst offenders; their firing pins tend to be harder than those of other makes, and subsequently a tad more brittle. I've seen many broken pins in Pythons and Detective Specials, and more than a few in the other models. If you have a Colt, I consider snap caps an absolute must.

Smith & Wesson revolvers seem to be a bit better in this regard, as I've not seen the number of broken pins that I have with the Colt products. They will occasionally break, however, and as a result I do recommend the use of snap caps if one is planning to do a significant amount of dry firing.

I've never seen a broken Ruger firing pin (though now that I've put this in print I'll no doubt hear about a rash of them!) However, snap caps seem to reduce peening of the back side of the firing pin, which serves to maintain ignition reliability. I don't consider their use as important as for their competition, but I believe them to be a good long-term care strategy.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A short note about a shortened cartridge.

Busier than a one-armed paperhanger today, so I'm just going to give you a link and some commentary.

On Monday I mentioned my attraction to wildcat cartridges. There is one that still intrigues me, because a) it's an easy wildcat to make, and b) it's a cartridge that SHOULD have been factory made from the start:
the .41 Special.

I've always wanted to play with it, but have never owned the necessary .41 Magnum gun in which to shoot it. Since I'm not all that much a fan of the .41 Magnum to begin with I doubt I ever will, which automatically leaves me out of the .41 Special fraternity. Unless, of course, I decide to do a conversion on an existing gun! Here we go again...

(Oh, BTW - check out Ed Harris' comments on
Monday's post, particularly the video. I've been jealous of his rook rifle since he told me about it some time back; someday I'll one-up him by building a double rifle in .32 Colt New Police, aka .32 S&W Long.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Uncommon cartridges.

One of my interests, though I suppress it as much as possible, is the field of wildcat and proprietary cartridges. The lure of a cartridge that will give me something that I can't get anywhere else, that will dramatically improve some aspect of my shooting, is nearly irresistible. Of course owning and using something that other folks may not have heard about, let alone used, is a strong motivating factor!

Why do I suppress this interest? First, because I don't need yet another caliber to reload. Second, because reloading non-standard cartridges almost always requires extra work, and I've got enough to do as it is. Finally, because they rarely do anything that can't be done with something more mainstream, no matter how much I tell myself otherwise!

This interest was kindled many years ago when I was tasked with loading up some .451 Detonics for a local Detonics fanatic. The .451 was a proprietary cartridge, supposedly made by cutting down .45 Winchester Magnum brass, that was reported to throw a 185 grain bullet in excess of 1350 fps. This collector had a large quantity of virgin .451 Detonics brass, and wanted to recreate the defunct cartridge.

Loading data was scant, but we proceeded to work up loads using a rare .451 Detonics Combatmaster with an even rarer factory Seecamp double-action mechanism. We stopped when the 185 grain slugs exited that short barrel at 1325 fps - with recoil that can only be described as fierce!

(I don't believe the Seecamp option was ever actually offered for sale by Detonics. This collector, who was friends with someone from the original Detonics company, told me that "several" Detonics models were so constructed for test and evaluation, and he managed to acquire a couple of examples.)

That experience hooked me on odd cartridges, and I fed the addiction by purchasing a Dan Wesson in .445 SuperMag. Several other non-standard cartridges followed, and then I caught the wildcat bug. Wildcats are like crack cocaine to an oddball cartridge addict, and I played with several. I even toyed with the idea of developing my own wildcat, but luckily sanity (in the form of my wife) prevailed and the project was forgotten. More or less.

Most of my pet oddballs were eventually sold as my interest in them waned. Well, that - and I got tired scrounging and/or forming brass for them! I still have a few foreign military cartridges in the collection, though I'm not sure they really fit into the wildcat/proprietary motif.

My single remaining wildcat is a rifle chambered in 6.5-284. This is now a semi-legitimate cartridge, as it has become popular enough that Norma loads it and sells properly headstamped cases. When I took up the cartridge, though, it was a pure wildcat requiring forming cases from .284 Winchester brass. It's a wonderful cartridge, flat shooting and horrendously accurate, and now that it's become more mainstream it's much easier to load. Somehow, it's also lost the allure it used to hold for me.

Must - resist - urge - to - acquire - more...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Gas piston rifles.

Last week's arrival of Ruger's SR-556 rifle has a certain segment of the shooting community swooning with delight. I'm not at all certain the hoopla is justified.

There are those with the opinion that a gas piston system has merits over the direct gas impingement operation used in the standard M-16/AR-15 family of rifles. There are perceived shortcomings in the impingement system, but in my experience, over many rifles and uncounted thousands of rounds of ammunition, most of the complaints are imagined or overblown.

One supposed problem has to do with the AR-15 gas tube, which leads from the sight block into the upper receiver. That tube, so the detractors say, will get clogged with carbon from the hot combustion gases, and ultimately fail to cycle the action. Frankly, I've never seen a tube that had any buildup inside, let alone a clog.

A few weeks back I was helping an acquaintance with some work on his AR-15, and part of the job involved pulling the gas tube out. I inspected the tube, and the inside was shiny clean. Just to prove my point to the gun's owner, I swabbed the tube with a long, dry pipe cleaner (commonly sold as a "gas tube brush.") Nothing showed up on the white nap of the cleaner. This is a gun which has been heavily used, to the tune of thousands of rounds of mixed ammunition - and the gas tube had never been touched, yet was still pristine.

This is not to say that the gas tube never develops deposits. If an owner insists on cleaning the gas tube, using any kind of solvent, the residue from that material could carbonize and adhere to the walls of the tube. CLP-type products, which contain oils, would be especially prone to leaving behind soot. I suspect those who complain of dirty gas tubes have done just that, which ironically causes the condition which they're trying to avoid in the first place!

My solution? I never touch the gas tube, period. I don't put any oil, bore cleaner, or other liquid into the tube. I've found that they stay perfectly clean, no matter how many rounds are fired through, without any attention whatsoever.

Another common complaint is that the gun "defecates where it eats" (though usually the term is somewhat more colorful.) The gas tube outlets in the upper receiver, which supposedly gums up the bolt and leaves deposits in and around the chamber.

Yes, the chamber area does get dirty on the AR-15 - but I can tell you, over many thousands of rounds of shooting both, that it gets no dirtier than an FN-FAL (and is significantly cleaner than any HK rifle.) In our rifle classes, our students will shoot 800 rounds over 2 days; I've never seen a chamber area dirty enough to impede functioning.

The bolt itself does get dirtier than on other rifles, but in reality suffers no more than any other system. Again, comparing to the FN-FAL, the area that gets dirty is simply shifted - on the AR-15, it's the bolt, while on the FAL it's the gas piston head. Both have to be cleaned with about the same frequency, and failure to do so will induce the same failure in each rifle. To me, it's a non-issue, because until someone develops a true self-cleaning rifle I'll be forced to do it myself regardless of the design!

Redesigning the AR-15 with a gas piston, according to supporters, supposedly makes for a more reliable system. I can't imagine how adding more parts to any mechanism makes it more reliable, but perhaps there is some new engineering principle which says it can be done. It would certainly be news to me!

I do have significant experience with gas piston designs. I'm a longtime FN-FAL user, having shot many examples and huge amounts of ammunition. In my experience, the gas piston is in fact the weakest point of the whole gun. On the FAL, if the piston is even slightly bent it will bind in the upper receiver boss, and the bolt will not be able to travel forward into battery. Alignment of the gas block and the upper receiver has to be perfect, otherwise binding will occur in one (or sometimes both) places.

I could go on, but my point is that a piston is not necessarily a guarantor of reliability. This, coming from someone who is a huge fan of the FAL!

Ruger's new gun will probably sell very well to those who believe in the piston concept, but the ironic thing is that Ruger will have to work twice as hard just to equal the reliability of the standard AR-15. First, because more parts doesn't always translate to better performance, and second because a piston is likely to demand more careful construction and assembly - areas where Ruger, to be fair, does have a bit of a problem.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The research (as usual) in on our side.

David Kopel at the
Independence Institute has a new research paper forthcoming in the Connecticut Law Review. Titled "Pretend 'Gun-Free' School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction", it deals with the subject of concealed firearms carry on school campuses. From the abstract:

Most states issue permits to carry a concealed handgun for lawful protection to an applicant who is over 21 years of age, and who passes a fingerprint-based background check and a safety class. These permits allow the person to carry a concealed defensive handgun almost everywhere in the state. Should professors, school teachers, or adult college and graduate students who have such permits be allowed to carry firearms on campus?

In the last two years, many state legislatures have debated the topic. School boards, regents, and administrators are likewise faced with decisions about whether to change campus firearms policies.

This Paper is the first to provide a thorough analysis of the empirical evidence and policy arguments regarding licensed campus carry. Whether a reader agrees or disagrees with the Paper's policy recommendations, the Paper can lay the foundation for a better-informed debate, and a more realistic analysis of the issue.

I highly recommend that you download a PDF of the paper from Social Science Research Network. It's a terrific read and well worth your time.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Over the weekend I got a nice email from
the shooter in last week's article. Sure enough, the screw had backed out and let the crane past. He's ordered a new screw, and plans to LocTite it in. Good plan!

(The sad thing was that he was shooting really well up until that happened...ruined a perfectly good stage.)


Those of you looking for Lubriplate SFL grease may be in luck - I got this interesting email last week:

Just for your info, I'll be offering the Lubriplate "SFL" NLGI #0 grease in 16 oz. cans starting in about two weeks.

The grease will come in screw-top metal cans with a brush attached to the inside of the lid, real handy for applying the grease without making a mess.

Retail will be $19.95 plus actual shipping, without any inflated "handling" charges.

Email is


Gila Hayes over at the
Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network recently reviewed a book that I had to buy: "Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence" by Rory Miller. Miller's treatise is about violent criminal behavior - how it happens, why it happens, and what does and doesn't work to counter it. It's written from the perspective of empty hand martial arts (as opposed to the martial art of the firearm), but everything in it is applicable to the person who carries a firearm for protection.

He goes to great lengths to dispel both our romanticized notions of what violent acts are really like, and our belief in our own ability to deal with them. Early in the book, he says "you are what you are, not what you
think you are." (Emphasis added.) The rest of the book shows us what why that's true, and why what we believe is not always reality. His perspectives on training, of what is/is not valuable, follow the same hard-nosed refusal to buckle under to fantasy.

This book has earned a permanent place in my library, which is not something I can say of many works. I highly recommend it to anyone who carries a gun for self defense, and perhaps even more to those who don't. (One warning: this book may be unsettling to those who've become attached to their images of how a predator interacts with his/her prey. As Miller reminds us, reality is rarely pretty - and his work is chock-full of reality.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Be honest with yourself.

In college I minored in music performance. Being just out of high school (read: thoroughly stupid) I thought I was a hot musician, harboring dreams of becoming a professional trumpet player. Like so many other aspiring performers I really had no idea what the world of a professional musician actually entailed, but I was absolutely sure I had what it took.

One of my professors, an accomplished professional trombonist, made it his job to bring us post-adolescents into the real world. Shortly into my freshman term, he was talking with a few of the members of the trumpet section after class. The talk turned to the requirements of a "pro", and all of us were convinced we had the Right Stuff. Our prof had heard this kind of chatter before, and bet our first chair player that he didn't yet possess the bare minimum skills necessary for the job.

Trumpet players are usually narcissistic personalities, the kind who don't back down from a fight, and the kid said "you're on!"

The prof sighed and said simply "get out your horn. I want you to blow a perfect half-note G above the staff" (trumpet players in the audience will understand.) The kid smirked, dropped his case to the floor and pulled out his horn. "Wait a minute", said our teacher. "I said a perfect G. No warmup. Just one perfect note; in tune from start to end, solid attack, no slop or waviness, crisp decay. You have one and only one shot. Go."

I shouldn't have to tell you the kid failed - miserably. Then again, none of the rest of us would have done any better. We were clueless: none of us yet knew enough to understand how much we didn't yet know.

Fast forward a few decades, and the shooting range serves up the same lesson. Georges Rahbani, "
The Best Rifle Instructor You've Never Heard Of" , has a way of impressing on his students how they should assess their own abilities:

"You are only as good as you are, on demand."

What you can do right now, without warm up or sighting shots, without excuses or alibis, is the true measure of how good you are.

This is different from how most people gauge their ability. Most folks would take their rifle to the range on a nice sunny day, settle in comfortably at the bench, fire a bunch of rounds, then shoot a 1" group. They're so proud of that group they take the target home and hang it in their garage or office. "I'm hot stuff!", they'll think - after all, they have the target to prove it!

The next day at the range it's raining, they've had a fight with their spouse, can't get comfortable on the cold bench, and now their best group doesn't even break 3". "That's not me", they'll say to themselves, "I shoot one-inch groups!" The alibis flow like PBR at a fraternity house, and serve to obscure the fact that the 3" group wasn't the anomaly - the 1" group was. The larger one is the true indicator of their skill.

It's not what someone can do when everything is going their way that shows ability; it's what they can do under suboptimal conditions that does. If a person can't shoot until getting into just the right stance, with perfect foot placement and textbook body positioning, then that person still has a lot of work to do to master the fundamentals. (I've seen people who can shoot pretty well on a concrete pad, but go all to pieces on a gravel range. They can't get into their comfort zone.)

This is one thing if we're talking about plinking, but becomes another thing entirely when the subject turns to self defense. The other guy isn't going to wait for us to get into the perfect stance we learned from our guru; we need to be able to deliver rapid, multiple, properly placed shots from whatever position the situation dictates, under whatever conditions it hands us. That requires the courage to admit to ourselves that maybe - just maybe - we aren't quite as good as we think.

Right here, right now, no warmups, no excuses - how good are you?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

Sitrep: gunshow vendors tell me that any autoloading rifle is like gold these days (while they can't give away bolt-action hunting rifles.) Concealed handgun licensing is at an all-time high here in Oregon (and a large percentage of applicants are from what is often referred to as the "left" of the political spectrum.) Ammunition shortages continue, as well as components such as bullets and primers.

If I didn't know better, I'd say a lot of people have joined the ranks of "clingers."


Someone recently asked if I still had the same opinion of Taurus revolvers that I did back in 2006. Given my recent experience with the brand-new 856 model, I'd have to say yes. Nothing at Taurus has changed, as near as I can tell.


Late last year, the
ProArms Podcast broke the news that Federal was bringing back .38 Special NyClad ammunition. This load was for many years the best standard-pressure .38 Special available. The NyClad is a soft lead hollowpoint of 125 grains, coated in a nylon compound to prevent barrel leading. It is just the ticket for the recoil sensitive, and especially for the new crop of uber-light "J" frame revolvers.

My sources tell me that Federal planned to do an initial run of the NyClad in March, so it should be available soon (if it isn't already.) Unless your local dealer is particularly astute, he probably won't be carrying it - you'll probably have to special order some.


I wish I had time to write a political/economic blog - between Washington and Wall Street, there is a huge amount of material coming down the pipes daily. (The passing reference to waste plumbing is intentional.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Coffee and miracle lubricants.

Coffee is one of those vices in which I do not indulge. Not from any religious objection, mind you - it's just that I can't stand the taste of the stuff. I admit to loving the smell of brewing java, but coffee is one of those things that smells a whole lot better than it tastes!

Stay with me, I'll get to the point.

A number of years ago I knew a district sales manager for one of the major coffee companies. (Coincidentally, his first name was also Grant. Obviously a man of superior intellect, charm, and modesty.) Grant told me that the coffee brand with the largest market share at that time was Folgers, due largely to their "mountain grown" ad campaign.

He commented that the campaign was so much hot air, as all coffee was grown in the mountains - but people had been conditioned to believe that since a) the mountain environment was desirable, and b) only Folgers was grown in the mountains, therefore c) Folgers was the only coffee to buy.

Yes, the mountain environment was desirable, because without it there would essentially be no coffee, but no - Folgers wasn't the only coffee which was grown there!

His story came back to me this week when I received yet another email from what was obviously a salesman for one of those multilevel marketing (MLM) "miracle lubricant" scams. One of the consistent claims by all such snake oil concerns is that their product "bonds with the metal at the molecular level", that it is a very desirable thing to do, and only their product does so.

Think "coffee."

Reality time: all oils bond with metal at a molecular level, because that's what oils do. Were there no molecular attraction between oil and metal, the oil would simply slide off of the surface to which it was applied. Not drip off, not ooze off, not pour off - slide off with absolutely no trace of itself left behind. No film or residue, not a single atom of the oil would remain. Absolutely nothing.

Of course, that doesn't happen. Apply any oil to a piece of metal, then turn the metal upside down; the excess oil may drip off, but a layer of slippery liquid is always left stuck to the surface. That is molecular attraction - bonding, if you will - at work.

Those who wear glasses know how difficult it can be to completely rid lenses of even a drop of oil; there always seems to be some that stubbornly refuses efforts at removal. This is because there is a molecular bond between the oil and the material from which the lens is made, and the same thing happens when oil is applied to metal.

Molecular attraction is why the water in your coffee is in liquid form, rather than the elemental hydrogen and oxygen from which it is made. It makes metal alloys possible, and is why lubricants - all of them - work. The companies which claim their product "bonds with the metal at the molecular level" are simply saying that their oil does the same thing that all other oils do.

Admitting that fact wouldn't sell much oil (or coffee), would it?

-=[ 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 ]=-

Monday meanderings.

I'm gratified - and somewhat surprised - at the tremendous response to last week's post
"Risk assessment, or lack thereof." One of the difficulties I've found with this whole blog adventure is predicting what will resonate with my readers. In some cases I've been deliberatively provocative in order to get people to think outside of their comfort zone, while in others I've tried to deliver solid technical information not readily available in the swamp that is the internet.

On occasion (as with the article under consideration) I worry about whether I'm talking over my audience, that the subject might be a bit too abstract. I'm happy to find that my readers are significantly more discerning than average.


One complaint about the Bianchi SpeedStrips is that they're not available in calibers other than .38/.357. I'm surprised that, until tipped off by a reader, I didn't know about
Quick Strips from Tuff Products. They appear to be a clone of the Bianchi product, but are available in a wide range of calibers. Check 'em out.


You may have heard that the U.S. Attorney General called (not surprisingly) for reinstating the infamous Assault Weapons Ban. What was surprising was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's adamant refusal to consider such legislation. Mr. Obama's administration may find their road tougher sledding than they'd originally anticipated. All the better for us!


A while back I wrote about the iPhone/iTouch ballistics application iSnipe. While it worked well, it was pretty basic; as I explained to the author, it needed some features added to enhance utility for the serious long-range shooter.

It didn't take long for competition to appear:
Ballistic FTE has everything I ever wanted, and then some. It is superb in every respect; you must see the target recording function! It even has a calculator to help with rangefinding (mil-dot) reticle use. Ballistic FTE is a bargain at $9.99.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is that gun loaded, and do I really care?

In the comments to
last week's post regarding safety rules, someone asked why checking the condition of a firearm is never listed in any rules. It seems logical enough - why not check the condition of a gun when you pick it up?

I'd like you to think about that for a minute -
really think: why are you checking it?

If you plan to shoot it immediately, I can understand wanting to make certain that it was loaded. If you were going to disassemble it for cleaning, or do dryfire, or some other specific task that would require it to be sans ammunition, I understand why you'd want to verify that it was unloaded. But checking just to be checking? I'm not sure that it keeps anyone safer.

Other than those obvious examples, I can't come up with a good reason for someone to obsess about the load condition of a gun - unless it's because, consciously or unconsciously, they want or plan to do something unsafe.

Look at it this way: why are you verifying the condition if you're just going to pretend it's loaded anyhow? The answer seems to be quite obvious: because you're not really going to treat it as though it's loaded, and the reason you're not going to is because, deep down, you want to do something that you know isn't all that safe.

When I'm handed a gun, unless I'm going to do something that requires a particular state, I don't feel a need to immediate check it. Why? Because I treat all guns to the same standard:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

I'm not going to point that gun at anything I'm not willing to shoot, regardless of whether it's loaded; I'm not going to have my finger on the trigger, either, loaded or not. I don't make exceptions, because the Three Commandments neither contain nor allow exceptions. That is why they are superior to any form of the existing "Four Rules."

There's yet another dynamic at work, which I've observed over the years with a wide variety of people. Those who do the habitual check often display an absolutely frightening tendency: after they've checked the gun, they relax. Visibly. You can see the changes in their body language and facial expressions, showing that they are now at ease - and less vigilant - with that firearm.

I've seen this with new gun owners, and I've seen it with the most experienced instructors. I've seen it with combat vets and with gunsmiths, with gunstore jockeys and seasoned competitive shooters. People check the gun, see that it's empty, and drop their guard. The situation is obvious to anyone who has the courage to look for the signs. You can almost hear them thinking: "don't worry, it's not loaded!"

(Of course, not every single person does this - but you'd be surprised, when you start looking, how large the percentage is and how it cuts across all levels of experience.)

When people are handling firearms, I want to see them completely engaged. Dropping one's guard because the gun has been verified as empty is the genesis of negligent discharges. Never become complacent - the consequences are simply too great.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Living with your choices.

One-liners, sound bites, and witty retorts are often used to convince others to unthinkingly follow a certain path or belief. When the subject matter is of little import, they are simply amusing. When subjects turn more serious, they impede the flow of vital information necessary to make good decisions.

Such is the latest, a hearty "guns break!" when faced with evidence that one's choice in safety/rescue equipment might not have been ideal. Yes, guns are mechanical contrivances and do suffer failures; it is important, though, to understand the nature of failure before making such proclamations.

Any mechanical device - be it a gun or an automobile - is subject to failure from several causes:

- design flaw
- inferior materials
- construction irregularities
- improper maintenance
- suitability mismatch

Of these, only the last two are within our control - the others are beyond our control. That doesn't mean we're at the mercy of the fates, however; the end result can still be affected by the choices that we make.

In order to avoid failure, one would choose a perfect design, made with the best possible materials and showing the highest workmanship. Of course, that can only happen in La-La Land (or the internet!)

In the real world we have to make compromises at all of those points, and it is necessary that we understand those compromises going in. Nothing's perfect, that's a fact. From 'imperfect' to 'near perfect', though, is a continuum: we have bad choices, better choices, and - if we're lucky - superb choices.

Simply put, there will always be better choices than others for any given criteria. For instance, let's say that you were looking for a car to get you reliably back and forth to work - day in, day out, with as little down time as is possible. You might succumb to glitzy marketing and pick a Land Rover or a BMW, or perhaps something more pedestrian like a Toyota or a Honda.

Were you to look at reliability rankings for those brands over at Consumer Reports, you'd find the Rover and the Beemer were the least reliable over a large sample, while the Toyota and Honda are rated as the most reliable. (One example from each may be at the far end of the bell curve, but the probability of getting that one is not with you. A sample of one is just that: one.)

Of course, there are other aspects to the choice: comfort, amenities, performance, and (admit it) status which also might figure into the decision. Understand, though, that those cannot be transmuted to the primary criteria: reliability.

In this example, were you to pick one of the first two brands, the likelihood of a failure leaving you stuck on the side of the road increases dramatically. You might be able to fool yourself, but the data says that the Euro-rides will suffer more frequent failures than their Asian counterparts. That is a fact you just can't sound-bite your way around.

If your co-workers happen to point out that your fashionable wagon breaks down more often than their less ostentatious wheels, how intelligent would it be for you to yell "cars break!" at them? Yes, they know cars break, which is why they chose examples which break less often. Getting mad at them won't make your car's repair record any better.

The same is true for firearms and their attendant equipment. Like it or not, there are products which, over time, have proven to fail less often than others. If reliability and/or longevity is your primary concern in a gun-related purchase, you should understand that there is in fact a range from most to least, and make your choice accordingly.

Pretending that there is no difference between the alternatives because they all fail at some point is ignoring reality. As someone once told me: you either acknowledge reality and use it to your advantage, or it will automatically work against you.

Georges Rahbani,
'The Best Rifle Instructor You've Never Heard Of', has a great way of putting this in perspective: if you're buying a gun for fun (plinking, target shooting, hunting, competition, etc.), you can be far less demanding about reliability/longevity. A failure in those applications is of minor consequence, and thus you have leeway to factor other criteria into your decision.

If, however, your firearm is a serious tool upon which your life may depend, you need a relentlessly critical attitude toward your choice. Don't make it on the basis of one-liners heard at the gunshop.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Yes, I'm repeating myself.

written about this before, but it's getting worse. All across this country are people standing behind gun counters who need to be taught that women are people, too.

I've lost track of the number of times I've run into a woman who was
sold (as opposed to deciding to buy) a revolver for self defense. Now it should be pretty clear to even the densest web denizen that this is a revolver-friendly blog, so it should not come as a shock that I think revolvers are a great tool.

They are not necessarily, however, the right tool.
As I mentioned last week, the revolver is the easiest gun in the world to shoot, but the most difficult gun to shoot well. That long, heavy (in stock configuration) trigger requires a certain amount of hand strength, without which the gun cannot be fired.

Herein lies the problem: the female of the species, in general, tends to have less strength in her digits than does the male. It's not unusual, therefore, to find a woman saddled with a brand-new revolver on which she cannot manipulate the trigger. I've seen countless numbers of women who actually have to use two fingers to get the trigger moving!

It's not so much a matter of gun fit (though that enters into the equation far too often), but simply the trigger offering more resistance than a slim finger is capable of overcoming. In reality most women would really be better served with the shorter, lighter trigger action of an autoloading pistol, but the wisdom of the gunstore commando is that autoloaders are just "too complicated for the little lady."

Hey, Bubba, I've got news for you: women actually drive cars these days! Yes, automobiles, with their myriad switches and levers and pedals and buttons. Women have no problem figuring those things out, yet you think they can't handle the concept of a slide stop lever?

The usual rejoinder is that women don't have the upper body strength to manipulate the slide of an autoloader. This is fact turned on it's side to bolster a flawed assumption; yes, women tend not to have our arm strength, but that deficiency can be rendered immaterial through proper technique. It's a simple matter, and nearly any female (and a more enlightened male) firearms instructor can teach it inside of thirty seconds.

This whole issue wouldn't bother me so much - and I wouldn't be writing about it again - but the inferiority attitude is so pervasive that some women are themselves buying into the notion that they're not "capable" of handling an autoloader. I've actually had students to whom I've taught the autoloader manipulation techniques (and who've shot very well with one) go out and end up with a revolver. Not because they wanted one, mind you, but because some dolt behind a counter convinced her that it was all she could handle.

Mind you, I'm not some new-age "sensitive man". I'm as big a neanderthal as the next guy; I believe that women and men are different, and you can thank your favorite deity for the difference! I'm just tired of people assuming that my wife, sisters, nieces, and mother are so stupid that they can't handle a simple mechanical device. I'm annoyed that they are doing their level best to indoctrinate women to this nonsensical point of view, and I'm appalled that it actually seems to be gaining some traction among women themselves!

I don't have a prescription for this problem, other than to continue to educate every person - man or woman - I run across. If that means I repeat myself every so often, I'm willing to do so. I hope you'll forgive me!

Yes, revolvers are wonderful, but they're not for everyone. We need to help people to make intelligent decisions, and if that means they choose a self-shucker, so be it. Heretical? No, just realistic.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A perception issue.

A recent SHOT show write-up, regarding the new Ruger LCR revolver, contained the (sadly common) comment that the gun would be perfect for "non-dedicated personnel."

I hereby give public notice that I am officially tired of reading excrement like that.

The snub-nosed, double-action revolver is the easiest gun in the world to shoot, but It is the
hardest gun to shoot well. Mastering the double action pull takes time, dedication, and practice; that's just a fact of life. The nice, light, short trigger pulls on autoloaders are much easier to become proficient with, which is part of the reason they are popular.

Let's look at what happens when the "non-dedicated" person buys a double action revolver. Because he (or she) is "non-dedicated", he's not going to put in the range time to thoroughly learn how to shoot the gun to a good standard of accuracy, which means his target hit potential is quite low (but the innocent bystander hit potential is quite high.) If it has a short barrel the small sight radius compounds the accuracy issue, and those lightweight models make the gun difficult to control in recoil. Does this sound like the gun for an inexperienced shooter? Not me!

If that wasn't bad enough, if the "non-dedicated" person doesn't become proficient with that heavy double action trigger pull, he reverts to doing what he sees in the movies: cocking the gun to single action. Comes a deadly encounter and we end up with a poorly trained individual whose adrenal gland is going into extra innings, holding a cocked gun with a very light, very short trigger action. This doesn't sound like a Good Idea to me! (Of course, this doesn't apply to the LCR or the S&W Centennial, neither of which can be cocked.)

In terms of administrative handling, I'd agree that the revolver is certainly more suited to this type of person. When talking In terms of hitting the target, though, it just isn't. In my mind, the non-dedicated person is better served by a gun that is easier to shoot well. Learning a slightly more complex manual of arms is a small price to pay to ensure that projectiles aren't flung over half the county.

The revolver, particularly the short-barrelled variety, and especially with a lightweight frame, is a gun for serious shooters. A pox on those who would insist otherwise!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Greasing the skids.

If you've read my
Lubrication 101 article, you know that I'm a big fan of the Lubriplate SFL series of greases. Unfortunately, they are hard to get; there are no consumer-quantity online sources that I know of, and even the company that once supplied me is no longer.

There is another good choice: the Lubriplate FGL line of greases, which are available in more consumer-friendly packaging - but still hard to find in anything less than case quantity. I remain amazed that Lubriplate makes such terrific products, then makes it so hard to buy them!

Reader Chris S. sent me an email regarding an alternative:
Dow-Corning G-0050. It looks good; while technically not quite as robust as the SFL or FGL products, it's a close second - and is still head and shoulders above any lithium-based product that you'll find on the shelves at your local gun store. It's available in single tubes from McMaster-Carr - who have one of those annoying sites that won't let you link directly to an item, but their catalog number is 1445K41.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another rifle class; more lessons

This past weekend marked our last rifle class for the year. As often happens, we came away with our unusual (In this day and age) opinions about rifles and gear validated and vindicated.

Georges Rahbani, our chief instructor (and my vote for the best "urban rifle" teacher you've never heard of) has a saying: "thou shalt not hang sh*t on thy rifle!" His point is that adding geegaws to a basically sound firearm rarely improves shooter performance, and often results in lessened mechanical performance. The ever-popular "tactical latch" for the AR-15 is such an accessory, and the installation of one may pose an unforeseen risk.

For those who've never seen a "tac latch", it's a large appendage that replaces the standard latching lever found on the left side of the AR's charging handle. (I'm still not really sure of it's purpose, but all the "high speed, low drag" folks appear to have them on their rifles. The latch's large "wing" would, it seems to me, in fact increase drag and decrease speed - but hey, what do I know?)

In all fairness, it should be mentioned that there is one good use for the tac latch: to be able to operate the charging handle with a low-mounted scope, in the same way that a hammer extension performs on a lever-action rifle. Outside of that, however, they serve no useful purpose that I can discern.

If you're absolutely convinced that you really need this accessory, take a piece of friendly advice: DON'T install it on the stock aluminum charging handle! The increased leverage from the oversized latch causes fractures to develop around the charging handle's pivot pin; the "t" part of the handle can then snap off at inopportune times. Yes, I've seen it happen.

There is an all-steel charging charging handle available from Brownell's (and no doubt other fine retailers), and it is a far better choice for the installation of the tac latches. Do yourself a favor and spend the few extra dollars; it's worth it to avoid the problem.

-=[ Grant ]=-

More lessons from Hunter's Sight-In Day

For some background, read
Monday's post.

Today's lession: you can shoot no better than your gear.

This encounter is interesting both for what happened, and the frequency with which it happened.

The three of us (me, and my friends Georges and Maurice) oversaw the benches reserved for "problems", which are those shooters and guns needing more experienced and knowledgeable assistance than the regular coaches could deliver. Our customers always came to us with a "referral" from another coach, who would tell us the difficulties being encountered. We, in turn, would try to remedy the situation. We often had to resort to a 25 yard target - the only ones on the entire line were in front of our benches - to see where shots were going.

A couple of years ago, Maurice got a customer toting a 7mm Magnum topped with a really cheap scope. The fellow sat down and Maurice had him start at the 25. Even at that short distance, his shots were all over the place. Judging any kind of a center was well-nigh impossible.

(This is not uncommon, sadly - from our collective experience, the vast majority of people carrying Magnum rifles into the woods can't place their bullets with what we would consider "precision". This particular customer, however, was worse than the norm.)

Maurice coached the fellow in the basics - breathing, trigger control - and it really appeared that he was doing everything right. The groups opened up with every string, and Maurice finally sent him to the gunsmith shack to check the mounts and have the scope boresighted.

On return, the problem was no better. In fact, it may have even been worse.

It was at this point that Maurice decided to take the unusual step of shooting the rifle himself to identify the source of the problem. Maurice, who is an eerily consistent shooter, sat down with the rifle and shot a 100-yard group that was, perhaps, six inches. Maurice is used to shooting groups that are less than 1/6 of that size, which pretty much told us where the problem was.

The rifle was handed back to the fellow with the admonishment that he have the (apparently) broken scope and cheesy mounts replaced before venturing into the field. (Could it have been the rifle? Perhaps, but it was a better bet that the scope was the culprit. The rifle was of decent quality - a Weatherby, if memory serves - and looking at the weak link is the rational course.)

A year went by, and another sight-in event was upon us. As usual, Georges, Maurice and I took our positions at the adjacent "problem" benches. At one point a coach brought down a fellow who had a 7mm Magnum; the coach told me that he was having trouble getting the scope zeroed and that the shots were going "all over the paper."

I sat the guy down and told him to shoot three rounds at the 25-yard target while I observed through the spotting scope. His three rounds all landed in wildly divergent places. I coached him on breathing and trigger control, and had him fire three more rounds. If anything they were worse.

At that point Maurice pulled me aside and said "I think this is the guy from last year!" We talked about it, and I couldn't believe that this could be the same guy with the same broken scope and crappy rings. He didn't go out after game last year, did he?

Apparently so, because I sat down behind his gun and proceeded to shoot the most beautiful six inch group I'd seen since...last year, when Maurice did the same thing with the same gun!

While the old taunt of "it's a poor workman who blames his tools" has some truth, it's also true that there has to be a base level of quality to allow any work to be done. Beyond that is the realm of "nice", but below that good results are impossible. Putting a cheap scope in thin aluminum rings on a hard-kicking rifle is almost a guarantee of substandard performance.

Frugal is one thing; cheap is another entirely.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Systems analysis and the sighting-in of firearms

This weekend was the opening of general deer season here in Oregon. I could tell it was opening weekend, because our normally deserted gravel road, which leads into the mountains, has been turned into Interstate 5 for deer hunters! The parade of all the hopeful woodsmen (and perhaps not a few woodswomen) going after Bambi made me realize I'd missed something this year: hunter's sight-in at our gun club.

You see, last January my wife and I bought a new place. When we moved we gave up our club memberships, as a) the club is now 60 miles away, and b) we can shoot all we want on our own property. I don't miss the club, but I do miss the circus-like atmosphere of sight-in days. I actually enjoyed helping out those whose shooting skills were not, shall we say, fully developed. They needed all the help they could get!

(Sight-in days at our former club is a big event. It occupies every full weekend for a solid month; it's not unusual to have several hundred guns per day go through the system, as the club is one of the few rifle ranges within easy driving distance of the Portland, OR metro area. Working at sight-in means long days and lots of activity.)

In recent years I worked sight-in alongside my friends Georges and Maurice, who got the same kick out of the event that I did. We kept a running tally of the best, worst, and most over-gunned shooters on the line. During the lulls we'd trade stories of the unusual incidents we'd had, and not all of them were with customers!

One particularly busy day I had a run-in with one of the folks who served as Assistant Chief Range Officer for the event. I was helping a middle-aged fellow who'd arrived toting a .30-06 of unremarkable (though completely serviceable) pedigree. He showed me his gun, his ammo, and sat down at the bench. The club provided sandbags and front rests for the guns, but this fellow didn't want to use them. "My zero is different if I shoot from a bench than from my hands, so I'd just like to rest my elbows on the table." That was fine with me; this fellow had obviously been around the block more than once and thus knew what he was doing. (His target would later prove my analysis to be correct.)

He had just fired his second round when the aforementioned RO came rushing up. "He needs to use the rest", he sputtered. "He'll never know if he's properly zeroed shooting from his hands!" I told him that the customer knew his own needs, and that I admired the fellow for obviously knowing more than the average schmuck who came through the door.

This annoyed the RO to no end; he wanted to argue with me, insisting that I was a complete fool for letting the customer do this. I simply smiled, waved him away, and went back to my job.

The RO in question, like many, was confused about the reason we sight in a firearm. The goal of sight-in is to get all parts of the weapon system - the gun, ammo, sights, and shooter - in alignment so that the bullets land where desired. If we take away - isolate - any part of that system, we have removed a functioning part that will affect the outcome. The outcome is what we're testing! We're not testing the scope (which is what this RO was convinced we were doing), or the ammo, but the results that they - together with the shooter - produce. We have to test all parts of the system in concert, so that we can see if the goal is being met.

Let's say that we were to test the system using sandbags and a bench. There are very few rifles made that will have the same zero point no matter how the gun is suspended; the points at which the suspension occurs, the amount of pressure on the suspension points, the direction of that pressure, and even the resulting direction of recoil will all change when the gun is taken off the bench and shot from a field position. All of those will change the landing point of the bullet, sometimes dramatically.

Now consider the shooter's input. The head position from a bench is different than it is from standing (or even sitting or kneeling, and especially from prone.) The shooter's eye will not be in the same place relative to the sights or scope; the cheek weld point will be different; the shoulder will be further forward or backward, depending on the physique of the shooter. The shooting hand will shift position slightly, leading to a different grip pressure and direction of pull on the trigger. Think any of those might affect the outcome of the shot? You bet they will - all of 'em.

Change enough of those inputs, and you'll end up with a system that won't shoot to the same point of aim under the expected conditions. We need to check the system's alignment (gauged by the impact point of the bullet) under the conditions in which it will be used. For hunting, that means "not from a bench rest."

An extreme example of this can be found simply by looking at G. David Tubb's rifle. For those who don't know, he shoots with the rifle held at an angle, which is very different than what we were all taught to do! That doesn't matter, though, because he's set his sights to hit correctly with that unorthodox hold. Imagine we "isolated" his rifle; put it on a bench, cradled it level in sandbags, and proceeded to "zero" the gun. Guess what? It wouldn't hit the correct point, because it wouldn't be held in the position in which Tubb shoots the thing. Given his modest success at highpower competition (!), I'd say he knows what he's doing!

One day I was visiting one of the very best handgun trainers I know. I picked up her gun and was surprised to see her sights drifted quite a ways to the right. I thought that odd, but she pointed out that they were that way because that's where they had to be to allow her to hit where she wants the gun to hit. Given that she can regularly clean the clocks of just about any male shooter - some of them state and regional champions - at will, I'd say her system is working perfectly. That's all that matters!

Are there times when we want isolation? Certainly - when we're testing specific parts of the system. Comparing one load to another, for example, demands an isolated gun; we don't care exactly where the rounds hit, because we're interested in the differences between two inputs of the same type. In order to see those differences, we have to eliminate all other variables that might obscure them.

Sighting in, on the other hand, is all about the whole system. To align the system, we need all of its parts to be working as they normally do. The fellow on the line that day understood the concept; the RO didn't.

There is no substitute for thinking about what you're doing, and why you're doing it.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A new firearms podcast - and this time, it's serious!

Last week I discovered that Massad Ayoob has gotten together with some of his friends and started a podcast. (Yes,
that Massad Ayoob; the proud and unrepentant technophobe, the man who has proclaimed - in public and multiple times - that to him the computer is "nothing more than a typewriter with a suppressor." With this project, his reputation as a Luddite may experience a steep decline; when he starts toting around a PDA to check his email, however, I'll know the world is coming to an end!)

Anyhow, the ProArms podcast deals with guns and shooting - no surprise there! It's a roundtable format, with Mas and the crew discussing various guns and shooting topics, interspersed with interviews of industry luminaries. (They've already managed to snag, in one fell swoop, three of the most important women in the defensive shooting world: Gila Hayes, Vicki Farnham, and Kathy Jackson. Those are the kind of interviews that you just won't hear anywhere else.)

Though Mas is obviously the main draw, the rest of the cast are phenomenally experienced shooters in their own right. You may never have heard of people like Jon Strayer or Herman Gunter, but in the southeast part of this country they are well known and respected arms experts. You'll grow to appreciate their informed commentary.

ProArms podcast even has a pretty good website, where you can learn about the show, the crew, and listen or subscribe to the podcast. Of course, like any podcast worthy of the title, it's available on iTunes as well.

-=[ Grant ]=-

On the current fad of Stoner bashing.

No, not THAT kind of stoner - I mean Eugene Stoner!

Websites, forum postings, and blog entries heap scorn and derision on the M-16/AR-15/M4 family of rifles. Why? Everyone has a different reason, but it comes down to the old saying about greener grass. I have no doubt that the same kinds of grousing appeared when our military switched from the .45-70 cartridge to the 'puny' .30 caliber!

What's amazing is the amount of engineering effort and money being spent to produce add-ons to "improve" the gun's operating system. Fixing the gun's "ills" has become big business, and everyone seems to be cashing in on the latest fashions.

I won't bore you with my analysis of the rifle or its engineering; there are lots of armchair commandos out there who have already done so. Instead, I'll simply relate what a good friend of mine tells me about the platform.

Some background: this is a guy who survived a particularly brutal civil war in his native country, shooting and being shot at on a very regular basis. He didn't have the benefit of being in a heavily armed squad with mobility, air and artillery support, a division armory, and the prospect of getting out in a matter of mere months. He had to survive, with only one M-16 rifle and an extremely thin ammunition supply, for
years against a well financed enemy hell-bent on killing his people and taking over his country. His rifle was, quite literally, his life.

He fought against the vaunted AK-47 fielded by his enemies (and occasionally with them when they were carried by his allies.) He therefore has unique and important experience with the two weapon systems that none of us is ever likely to accumulate. What is his take on all this?

"The AK-47 isn't as good as you think it is, and the M-16 is
better than you think it is."

Most opinions I politely listen to; a few I take to heart. His fall into the latter category.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Unintended consequences of riflestock design

This weekend I was working around the farm on a particularly labor-intensive project. It got to be about noon, and the rapidly rising temperatures (there was no shade where I was working) convinced me to take the afternoon off and go shooting.

I decided to take my "sport utility rifle", which is a .22LR Marlin 39a. This is the gun that stays loaded all the time, as a .22 goes with farm livin' like beer goes with NASCAR. (I neither drink beer nor watch NASCAR, but
Jeff Dunham says so and that's good enough for me.) I'd recently replaced the bead front sight with a plain front post from Skinner Sights, and wanted to see if the new sight picture would significantly improve the usable accuracy.

Along with the rifle and it's usual ammunition, I took some smallbore targets and a few paintballs. (There was a recent thread over at
RimfireCentral forums about shooting "fun" targets, and paintballs were a common choice. I don't own a paintball gun, but I now own a box of paintballs!)

After setting up the bullseyes I flopped down to a solid, comfortable prone position and fired my first two groups. I've been shooting iron-sighted target rifles for the past few weeks with great success, so when I walked down to check the target I was stunned at what I saw. Both groups were about three times the size I expected, and centered about an inch-and-a-half high and about the same amount to the left. Well, at least I was consistent!

Keep in mind that this is a gun that gets shot regularly on the plinking range, and never has it shown any tendencies such as I'd just seen. I decided that it was me, and if I did something else for a little while and came back to the rifle I'd be fine.

When I picked up the rifle a half-hour later I decided on a "quick and dirty" test: I'd shoot a few of those little paintballs (which are just a tad over a half-inch in diameter) from the 25 yard line. I set up the bright spheres, took a solid kneeling position and started shooting. The first shot connected and produced a nice orange mist; I pulled the second shot, but the next connected; the last two went just as planned - two more dead paintballs.

This was odd: I could hit these half-inch balls consistently, but if they'd been paper targets I'd have missed completely! It must have been me after all. I flopped down to prone to re-shoot those groups.

Imagine my surprise when I again found two-inch groups, high and to the left! What in the world was going on? Position obviously was a factor; I reshot the groups, this time from my kneeling position. Perfectly centered, and less than half the size of the prone shots.

After thinking about it for a while, it became clear that the problem was a sight issue. The receiver peep sights I have on the gun work better the closer one's eye is to the aperture (which is true with any peep sight.) The further back the eye is from the peep, the less effective that type of sight is.

The design of the Marlin's buttstock was preventing me from getting my eye sufficiently close when prone, but not so much when my body was more upright. The comb of the stock is a bit low, and the point is quite narrow and far back; when in a normal, unstressed prone position it put my eye further back from the aperture than is optimal.

The result was that the "self centering" aspect of the peep sight was reduced, and the depth of field (sharpness about the front sight) was reduced as well. This caused my groups to open up and shift. I found that if I contorted my prone position I could get my eye a bit closer to the sight. That helped with the sight picture but the resulting muscle tension made it impossible to hold steady on target, making the situation even worse.

The ironic part of this is that, had I been using the open sights the gun came with, it wouldn't have been an issue. Eye position is not a factor with the notch-and-bead sights the factory puts on the gun. By putting on the receiver peep sight, I'd changed the interaction of the various parts of the gun's design, and the weakness appeared.

The Marlin stock is great for snap-shooting; looking at it next to a shotgun, one notices similarities in shape and dimensions. Both are designed for efficiency in upright shooting positions, but are less than optimal when the upper body moves to a horizontal plane. The folks who designed the 39a made a great gun, and by introducing a new sighting system I'd bumped into the limitations of their design.

This episode has helped me understand how the elements of a rifle stock design interact with the shooter. I already know (from hard experience) that a Monte Carlo stock design has serious problems with certain shooting positions (particularly in prone), but I hadn't stopped to consider all the other little intricacies.

Even after 40-plus years on this planet, I learn something new every single time I go to the range!

-=[ Grant ]=-

In praise of the "boy's rifle"

When I was a kid (which was not all that long ago - at least I don't remember it being all that long ago) we had "boy's rifles." Today they're known by a more politically correct term, but as Juliet said "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."

The boy's rifle was chambered in .22 LR, and was most often a single-shot bolt action - though repeaters were not unheard of. Their wood stocks were sized slightly smaller to fit a teenager's frame (before the days when teenagers were routinely 6' tall and weighed in over 180 lbs), and were slim from butt to forearm. The grip area was smaller in circumference to fit shorter fingers, and the receivers and barrels were similarly proportioned.

Though not normally fitted as nicely as the adult-oriented rifles in their respective lines, they usually shot pretty well. Some, in fact, were downright amazing, especially considering the very simple sights they carried.

People used to larger guns are often astonished when they pick up an old boy's rifle; light weight, quick handling, and superb pointing characteristics are almost foreign concepts today. Unfortunately, those attributes usually lead to snide comments about feeling "like a toy." Were they to actually shoot one - or, better yet, pack one into the field - perhaps their opinions would change. I know mine did!

Like many people, I have a number of "adult" .22 rifles, none of them weighing under 7 lbs. I recently acquired an old Stevens Model 66, which is a bolt action tube fed repeater. At barely 5 lbs, it's definitely a lightweight - but this 70-year-old gun, well worn on the outside but pristine on the inside, is an absolute joy to shoot.

The best word I can use is "handy". It's the kind of gun that carries unobtrusively on the shoulder, yet springs immediately to eye level when needed. It makes my "grown up" .22 rifles seem ungainly by comparison.

Give one a try. You may just get hooked - and wasn't that the whole idea behind the boy's rifle to begin with?

-=[ Grant ]=-

The gun of dreams

There are guns that we want - perhaps even "need" - but don't happen to have. This is not about those.

This is about the gun which consumes large amounts of our subconscious thought, in the way that the opposite sex did in high school. Though we desire others, one remains a constant; a gun that, it seems, we've always wanted and always will. Perhaps one day our dream is fulfilled, perhaps not - but it never goes away.

Admit it: you have one. We all have one.

Me? It might surprise you to know that mine is not a revolver. Don't get me wrong - there are a number of wheelguns I want but don't yet possess, the specifics changing a bit over time. My dream gun, though, has remained unchanged for many years now. That is the way of dreams.

My dream gun is a Mannlicher stocked bolt action carbine in 6.5x55 Swedish. Why? Romance, plain and simple. (That's the great part about dreams - they don't have to make any sense.)

Since I was a kid I've seen pictures of the lone hunter standing on a ridge, peering through binoculars at some unseen quarry, with "my" rifle perched on his knee. A graceful yet purposeful gun, lithe of line, whose mere presence brings gentility to the wilderness. (I told you it was romantic!)

Open up a hunting book from the '50s or '60s, and you'll probably see that picture. I have, more times than I can count. That's the reason I want one.

Of course I can recite all the technical justifications for owning my dream. I rationalize that it would make the perfect hunting rifle (which it would); the 6.5 Swede round is well suited for the game we have in North America, and it's one of my very favorite target cartridges to boot. The light weight and short barrel would make it wonderful to carry and even better to swing on target; it would be the perfect tool for "snap shooting" and tramping through our dense coastal rainforest.
Yadda yadda yadda.

But, at the end of the day, it's all about peering off into the game-filled distance with the Dream perched ever-so-photogenically on
MY knee.


-=[ Grant ]=-

On scope magnification

Moving back to the farm as I recently did has changed my shooting habits. I'm shooting a larger amount of rimfire rifle lately, not just for fun but also predator/pest control.

For all the years I lived in suburbia (which is a Kafkaesque purgatory for a simple, ignorant country boy like me) I did all of my shooting at the gun club. When I shot rimfire there I invariably took the only scoped .22 rifle in my inventory, forsaking the other iron-sighted rimfires in the safe.

Out here, where the rimfire rifle is a constant companion, the scoped rifle is too awkward to constantly carry around. The open sighted rifles are slimmer, lighter, and less delicate, which means that I'm using them more and more often.

Shooting virtually all open sights has resulted in an interesting revelation: the less magnification I have, the better I shoot.

For years I shot long range rifles with higher magnification scopes. The last centerfire I built - a marvelous 6.5-284 screamer - got topped with a relatively low power 2.5x-10x variable scope, which I've found completely adequate all the way out to 800 yards. Friends shooting at that same range would use 16x or 20x optics, and wondered why I chose the "small" magnification. Even at that time I recognized that the 10x was enough; I just didn't need any more.

As to the rimfires, my scoped rifle carries a straight 4x optic. As I shoot more with iron sights, I find that even this modest magnification is more than I really need, especially from field positions. Even at 4x, movement is sufficiently magnified that my mind starts to play the game that is the bane of precision shooters everywhere: "hurry, the crosshairs are right on target! Pull the trigger now!"

In the field, I've proven to myself that I can shoot open sights more than accurately enough. There are times, though, when a scope would be handy - differentiating target from background in dappled sunlight, for instance. In those cases I'm dreaming of a nice fixed 2.5x scope - or maybe a 2.5x-5x variable, just in case I need a bit more magnification at some point. (In my heart I know that I won't, but the "I might need that someday!" attitude is part and parcel of being an avid shooter!)

For me, less magnification is definitely the way to go.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is the Ruger GP100 inaccurate?

It sometimes amuses me how often one hears the same question, with only slight variations. One that I've heard over the years goes something like this: "Is it true that the GP100 isn't very accurate?" Personally, I've not noticed that any of mine are, but there is more to this story.

Assuming that the gun is "in spec" with regards to its construction (forcing cone, crown, chamber/barrel alignment, etc.) it should shoot quite well. Many GP owners, however, continue to complain about the accuracy of their individual example in the absence of those identifiable deficiencies. It so happens that there is a design defect in certain models of the GP100 that will definitely reduce the precision of the gun: the sights.

Owners of fixed-sight Rugers are generally much happier with the accuracy of the GP than those who have the adjustable sights, and I can't say I blame them. The first problem is Ruger's rear sight: it stinks, to put it bluntly. Don't get me wrong, the rear sight picture isn't bad (in fact I prefer it to Smith & Wesson's); the problem is that the Ruger rear sight often won't hold zero all that well.

It starts with a body which has a very loose fit in the frame's sight channel. It continues with universally sloppy fit on the sight pivot pin - the pin that holds the sight onto the gun, allowing the body to pivot up and down for elevation changes. The elevation screw, likewise, has a lot of "wiggle" in it, and the windage screw is often not any better. The net result is a sight that can't be relied upon to stay where it's set from shot to shot.

The rear sight isn't the only problem, just the biggest one. The interchangeable front sight often shows deficiencies of it's own. It is investment cast (like the rest of the gun), but without subsequent machining the edges and serrations remain quite indistinct. The sight picture isn't all that crisp, making a sure hold on target a bit like driving a well-worn 1951 GMC 2-1/2 ton flatbed farm truck. (For those who've never had the pleasure, imagine going down the street having to constantly move the steering wheel a half-turn in each direction just to maintain something like a straight line. Now try it in the rain. At night. Get the idea?)

I've seen more than a few front sights which also weren't secure in the dovetails, causing them to wobble a bit, and there are quite a few that don't have parallel sides. (Or worse, lack a straight top!)

The fixed-sight GP100 doesn't have any of these problems, which explains why their owners tend to be more satisfied with that model's performance.

There are solutions. The best is to replace the rear sight with the terrific
Rough Country sight from Bowen Classic Arms. It fits precisely, and the opposing screws that adjust windage and elevation also serve as lockdowns for those adjustments. (If you've ever adjusted the rear sight on a FAL rifle, you know the concept.) The Rough Country sights have the easy change capability of an adjustable sight, but once locked down are as rugged as a fixed sight. There is nothing better on the market, period. Absolutely the best.

The Rough Country sight has a superb sight picture, and is available with a plain black blade, a white outline blade, an "express" (shallow "V") blade, and a blank blade - so that your friendly gunsmith can provide the notch that you feel is best.

The front sight can also be replaced with a Bowen unit. The Bowen front blade is precisely made, with perfect dovetails and parallel sides. It comes as a "blank" - it must be machined to shape and height, then blued, before it is of any use. It is an expensive part, and the additional machining adds to the cost, but if you're looking for the absolute best GP100 sight picture it is the way to go.

Outfitted with decent sights the GP100 really comes into its own, easily keeping up with the best from the competition. If you've not been happy with the way your GP100 shoots, take a hard look at those sights - my bet is you'll find they aren't terribly great!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On rimfire ammunition and accuracy

Serendipity, that's what it is. Last week a consistent topic kept coming up in a variety of places: the necessity (or lack thereof) for "accurate" .22 long rifle ammunition.

"I don't shoot groups, I hunt {insert favorite furry tidbit here}."
"You can't shoot really accurately in the field anyway, so better ammo isn't worth the price."
"The ammo already shoots better than I can, so I just buy whatever is cheapest."

I believe such comments to be shortsighted. First, though, a bit of information for those not intimately familiar with the vast array of rimfire ammunition.

The .22lr is the most popular (by a huge margin) cartridge in the world. It is available in a bewildering number of forms, from the very cheapest to the "ohmigod, I could buy a good steak dinner for that amount of money!" In general, the more accurate the ammo, the more it will cost.

The odd thing, however, is that not every .22 gun (be it rifle or pistol) will necessarily shoot the most expensive ammo into the smallest group. Rimfires are notoriously finicky; you can, quite literally, take two different .22 rifles, of the same model and vintage (and very close to the same serial number) and each will have very different ammunition preferences. Sometimes the most expensive will in fact shoot the best; other times, a less expensive fodder will do the deed.

In terms of consistency, however, the more costly ammunition will win out - it simply won't vary as much from group to group, even if its absolute accuracy isn't as good. In other words, a cheaper ammo may produce a smaller group occasionally, but the more expensive stuff will shoot the same size group all the time. In the aggregate, the more expensive the ammunition, the more likely it will shoot better in any given gun.

There's no guarantee that you'll set records with more costly bullets, but it's a dead certainty that you won't with WallyWorld specials!

Back to the subject at hand...let's say that you have a rifle that at its absolute best is capable of shooting the magic 1 minute-of-angle (MOA) group (which is, for all intents and purposes, 1/2" at 50 yards.) What this means is that the group it shoots with its best ammunition choice will fit into a circle measuring 1/2" in diameter. Clear so far?

Assuming that the actual center of the group is at the actual point of aim, any shot fired will fall a maximum of 1/4" from the point of aim; this is known as 1/4" radial dispersion. If one shot lands at the extreme edge of that dispersion, and the next at the opposite side of that dispersion, the distance between them will be 1/2", which is the group size. See how that works?

Now, let's say that some other ammunition shoots 4 MOA in this rifle (2" at 50 yards.) Any shot that is fired will now land within 1" of the point of aim. That's still not bad; certainly not enough to even get you in the door at an Olympic training village, but enough to nail pop cans off the fence.

Or is it?

A standard 12oz pop can has a diameter of 2.6", or 1.3" on either side of the center. Aiming dead on that center point, with our 4 MOA ammo, means that the worst shot of the bunch only has .3" to spare to knock the can off the fence. In other words, with that ammo your aim and hold has to vary no more than .3" if you expect to hit the can with any given shot!

Will the better ammo give us an edge? You tell me...with 1 MOA ammunition, the expected radial dispersion is .25". That means that any given shot, holding absolutely dead center, now has a margin of error of 1.05". In other words, your aim and hold now has a bit over an inch of leeway to hit with 100% certainty. I'd say that's a significant advantage, wouldn't you?

Shooting is all about being able to trust your skills, but you can't get to trust your skills until you first can trust your equipment. If you practice by popping cans off the fence, how will you know if that miss was because of your skills, or because of your equipment - and is it the ammo, or the gun?

Someone will no doubt be yelling at his (or her) monitor that not every shot will be at the outer edges of the variables. In other words, an ammo that shoots 4 MOA will distribute shots all over that circle; not all of them will be in the center (otherwise it would shoot better than 4 MOA), but likewise not all of them will fall on the edge of that circle. This is true.

The trouble with this line of thinking is that we don't know where any given upcoming shot will fall. We know that it may hit in the center of its expected circle, or it may hit at the edge, or somewhere in between. We don't know where it will hit until it does; if we expect to hit the target with every shot, we have to assume the worst and prepare for it, looking on anything else as a wonderful happenstance.

It's all about probabilities. Let's take our 4 MOA ammo; it's possible that, say, 80% of its shots might fall within a 2 MOA circle. This means that 80% of the time, you have a bit over 1/2" of leeway on that pop can. Put differently, if you can aim and hold within 1/2" of center, you'll hit the can 80% of the time. If you're happy with 80%, great! (Yes, I'm aware that you can increase the hit probability by simply decreasing the distance to the target. If you're going to shoot everything from 20 feet away, you may feel free to use the worst ammo in the worst gun, and never have the need to improve your skills. Everyone wins - sort of.)

Personally, I'm not enamored with those numbers. Look at it from my perspective: I like to hunt small game with my .22 rifles, both for pest control and dinner. I'm an old farm boy who has a close relationship to the animals around him; if an animal is to die by my hand, I require that death to be as humane - quick and painless - as is possible. For me, that means headshots and instant incapacitation. If you eat small game, you know that head shots are necessary simply to maximize the amount of usable meat from the ammo. Squirrels aren't all that big to begin with!

Further, a missed shot is a lost animal; unlike targets and pop cans, they usually don't wait around for you to try again. I want 100% hit probability if I can supply the necessary foundation (sighting and hold.)

A small animal's head often has a kill zone of around 1-1/2" (even less if forced to take a frontal shot.) If I were to use ammunition that only shoots 4 MOA, that would require me to have absolutely zero error in both sighting and hold to make a clean kill at 50 yards. (Actually, it has negative error - meaning that even with perfect performance on my part, I cannot expect the ammo to deliver a clean hit 100% of the time.) At 25 yards, it doesn't get a lot better - my total allowable aim/hold error for a clean kill is a whopping quarter-inch! Can you do that from a field shooting position? Really? Every time?

Switching to the better ammunition gives me a big edge. At 50 yards my self-induced error allowance is now a half inch, and at 25 yards it is almost 3/4". It means that the chances of a successful clean kill are significantly improved by using the better fodder.

Higher quality .22lr ammunition isn't just for benchresters and group junkies. If one is just starting out, it means faster and surer skill development. For the hunter, it means greater yield and more humane treatment of the animal. In my mind, it's worth the price.

The only thing left is to get a whole bunch of different kinds of ammunition and test them all in your gun. You'll learn just how much you'll have to pay to get the accuracy you really need - not the accuracy someone insists you can settle for!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Illustrating the concept

A reader sent me
this link to an old Richard Davis "Second Chance" video. The video has Davis shooting a fellow - who is wearing one of Davis' vests, of course - with a .308 rifle and himself with a .44 magnum revolver. The reader's comment was "if this doesn't show an energy dump, I don't know what it shows."

I agree. With the second part of the statement, at least. Going back to our
"Stopping power" series, as I pointed out the term "energy dump" is nonsensical - energy isn't "dumped", it is used to do work.

What is the work in this case?

First, I can guarantee that the bullet itself was grossly deformed in its contact with the vest material. It takes energy to deform the bullet, and that energy only comes from one place: the bullet itself.

Second, there is a huge amount of work being done by that slug. It is trying to part and sever the fibers in the vest material, which are quite tough and designed to resist such force. The bullet does manage to defeat some of the fibers - which is why it's buried between the layers of cloth - but the energy required to do that job, again and again (there are many layers in a vest) rapidly depletes the bullet's stored energy. The result is that all of the energy is used up doing the work of penetrating the vest.

Again, the bullet's energy wasn't "dumped" - it was used. Understand the difference, and terminal ballistics won't seem so mysterious.

(Notice also the second myth busted in the video: that a bullet has enough energy to knock a man down. As you can see, even full-power .308 NATO, at near contact distance, isn't sufficient to knock over a man standing on one foot. Again, there is nothing mysterious at work - simply basic physics.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

The "Holster of the Week" Club

Last week I promised a story. I heard this from "the horse's mouth", and if you knew this particular horse the story would not surprise you...

Anyhow, I happen to know a fellow (I'll call him "Ted") who, back in the '70s
, was a Detective in a very large eastern police department. He had just been promoted from patrol, which meant that for the first time in his career he got to dress in plainclothes.

Ted and his more experienced partner were headed to lunch one day. They worked in a not terribly good part of town, and picked a restaurant in the vicinity of their last call. They pulled up in front of the restaurant, just behind a taxicab.

As they were exiting their unmarked vehicle a male climbed out of the cab ahead of them. He drew what Ted described as "a chrome-plated automatic", and started firing at another person who was still in the back seat of the cab.

(Allow me to digress as I explain that Ted, taking advantage of his now much looser dress requirements, had taken to wearing all manner of holsters. He alternated between a shoulder holster, crossdraw, strong side hip, appendix, and even ankle. He made the decision about which one to wear almost on a whim each morning. I'm sure you're beginning to see where this is going.)

Ted, who was exiting on the curb side of the vehicle, was in direct line of sight of the suspect. Being the gung-ho young cop that he was, he yelled "police, freeze!" as he reached for his gun. The perp turned toward the source of the command, and seeing two witnesses in suits raised his pistol in their direction and started firing.

Here's where the story gets interesting: Ted habitually reached for the spot where his uniform belt had always placed his gun. Of course, it wasn't there! I wish I could convey the level of comical panic that he did, but the gist is that he started patting himself all over, trying to find his gun while at the same time diving for cover behind his car door. "I couldn't remember where my gun was," he exclaimed to me. "I suddenly had the horrible thought that maybe I'd left it on my dresser!"

In the meantime his older and wiser partner simply drew his "snubby" revolver from the crossdraw holster he always used, and proceeded to drop said perp in his tracks. Ted found his gun just in time to help clean up the mess.

Ted told me that this incident convinced him to carry his gun in the same holster and in the same place every day. His advice to me was that I should do likewise - and I always do.

A firefight, gentle readers, is not the time to try to remember where you put your gun, or where your bullets are landing relative to your sights. Standardize on your load and your holster, and practice regularly so that you can quickly draw and reliably put your shots where they need to go!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 9

(For convenience, you can access all the installments at this link.)

Stick with what works

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

There is also the "Bullet of the Week" club. Some folks read the gun magazines assiduously, loading up with the latest and greatest "stopper" from the current issue. The next issue (or possibly a competing magazine) tells them about yet another new bullet, and off to their gunstore’s ammo shelves they go!

There are problems with this approach. Aside from the fact that one is unlikely to see any major performance differences between modern designs from major makers, there is a reliability issue. If you're shooting an autoloader (an affliction which elicits my sincere sympathies), you need to fire a minimum number of rounds - some say as many as 200 - of your chosen ammunition to ensure reliability. That's a lot of ammunition to buy and shoot every time you change loads!

Even with a revolver, you should shoot a some of that ammo to ensure ignition reliability in your gun, especially if you've had action work performed.

The other issue is with the sights on your gun. Fixed sights, as featured on both revolvers and autos, will not shoot all ammunition to the same point of aim, necessitating on-the-fly windage or elevation corrections. Trying to remember whether this week's ammunition choice shoots up or down, right or left, relative to the sights is hard enough. Imagine trying to do that with someone lobbing rounds into your personal airspace!

If you have fixed sights, you should regulate them to match the load you'll be using - then use that load, and only that load, for "serious" use in that gun. If for some reason you change the standard load for that gun, have the sights adjusted to shoot to point-of-aim for that load.

That's why I say "stick with what works." Pick a decent load that proves itself to be reliable in your gun, have the sights regulated properly, and just use it. Constantly switching between different bullets gains you nothing, and may in fact cost you in a dynamic self-defense incident. Pick one load, practice with it, and use only that bullet in that particular gun.

I go even further - I've standardized on one load for all my .38/.357 guns, and I've regulated all of them to shoot that load. That way, I don't have to maintain a huge stock of ammunition to fit a bunch of different guns.

I think this finally does it for the "Self defense, stopping power, and caliber" series. I'm just about "talked out"! I hope that it has given you some insight into the task of selecting a gun/cartridge for your self defense needs.

Stay safe, make sensible choices, and practice. It's all you can do - but, as it happens, all you can do is enough!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 8

(For convenience, you can access all the installments
at this link.)

"So, smarty pants - what caliber should I get?"

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

If you take nothing else from this series, take this: there is no such thing as "best" - there is only "suitability for purpose."

Why is that? As we learned in the first parts, there is a pretty large envelope - caliber, weight, and velocity - of performance criteria that have shown themselves to work well. Thus, any cartridge you select within that envelope is likely to do the job, as long as you do yours.

That's the most important part: that the gun in question enables you to do your job. It is the first place you should start. You need to be honest with yourself, accurately assess what you can and cannot handle. Remember that a self-defense scenario often will call for multiple, rapid, precisely-placed shots. Can you do that with the guns that you're considering?
Really? Be honest with yourself!

I see many people who are talked into a gun that is touted as a "better stopper", but who are unable to handle it to the standards given above. Most of this is technique, and technique can be learned, but everyone has some upper limit. Remember: only accurate hits count, and you should strive to maximize your hit potential. As we've explored, power is irrelevant if it doesn't get to something important!

Once you've passed that hurdle, the choices almost make themselves. In any given cartridge, if you pick a hollowpoint load in the middle of the caliber's normal weight range, you'll generally have most of what you need. There are exceptions, of course: at the lowest ends of the energy spectrum (say, standard .38 Specials) penetration becomes an issue, so you should tend to the heavier rounds. At the other end (the heavy magnums), the more powerful loads often need lighter bullets to limit penetration and enhance expansion.

For everything else, stay away from the lightest and heaviest bullets, pick a decent hollowpoint, and you'll most likely be just fine.

The most important part of this whole selection process is to practice with the load that you've chosen. If the cartridge/gun combination is "too much" for you to do so, that's a sign that you need to pick something else. You need to practice with your safety/rescue equipment, and if you can't or don't want to, then you will be less prepared to face a deadly encounter. The old trick of practicing with Specials while carrying Magnums on the street has been thoroughly discredited, because it doesn't allow the user to get used to the dramatic difference in handling between the two.

(This isn't to say that you have to do all your training this way; I do a lot of work with light loads when I'm diagnosing a trigger control issue, or to help develop a specific skill. When I've got them down, though, I switch to my carry load and train extensively with that.)

So, what do I carry? Most of the time, I load up the trusted and proven .38 Special +P 158 grain all lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoint. I've spoken with many people who have actually used this load against an adversary, and to a person they were all very satisfied with the ballistic effect. Massad Ayoob tells me that his research showed police agencies who switched from that load to hot autoloading cartridges did so not to get "better" bullets, but to get "more bullets." I'm confident in it's abilities, and in my ability to handle the cartridge from any gun under any conditions.

This is a conscious tradeoff. For instance, I really like the .44 Special. It's a great round, but in a concealable gun I just don't handle it as well as other calibers. In fact, a hot .357 Magnum from a Ruger SP101 is easier for me to control than a .44 Special from a small gun, and I consider the Magnum to be too much for delivering multiple, rapid, combat-accurate hits on target. I like the .357 too, but I have to admit to myself that if I want to shoot as efficiently as possible, it’s not the wise choice.

I've picked the most effective round that falls within my personal limitations and practice with it extensively. I think that is the most rational way to approach this whole topic!

Next time, we'll explore some less obvious considerations when picking your "ideal" self defense cartridge.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Series index: "Self defense, stopping power, and caliber"

Here's the whole series for your perusal!

Part 1: Introducing the Twin Tasks.
Part 2: If it doesn't get somewhere, it can't do something.
Part 3: Once it gets there, it has to do work.
Part 4: The bullet is more important than the caliber.
Part 5: More energy can be a good thing - as long as it actually does something useful.
Part 6: What would I want with a reputation?
Part 7: There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet.
Part 8: "So, smarty pants - what gun should I get?"
Part 9: Stick with what works.

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 7

(For convenience, you can access all the installments
at this link.)

There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet

What does that mean, you ask?

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

Still, many hold on to their belief in "magic bullets" hoping that there really exists something that will transform their .25ACP into an elephant killer. (I exaggerate, of course, but one ammo maker used to claim that their product for the little .25 had the same "one shot stop" percentage as a .45. That, my friends, is a true belief in magic.)

Like many fables, the legend of the Magic Bullet has its roots in reality. As Arthur C. Clarke said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." In the bullet world, that advanced technology is the hollowpoint bullet.

The hollowpoint, as we've learned, is a good mechanism to control the penetration and wound profile of any given cartridge. Sometimes, it can work what seems like a miracle - transforming an otherwise unremarkable cartridge into a respectable "stopper."

One of the best examples of this is the .30 M1 Carbine cartridge. Many servicemen had experience with the little Carbine in World War II and Korea, and they either loved it or hated it. Those that hated it often complained about a lack of "stopping power" - enemies who were hit often didn't go down with alacrity. (Some even claimed that the rounds "bounced off" the heavy wool coats worn by the opposition. That wasn't true, and was easily shown as such, but when someone is running toward you screaming his head off a lack of convincing ballistic effect makes the distinction unimportant.)

The .30 Carbine, as it turns out, is a penetrator. Its sleek bullet usually went straight through the target, making a quick-closing wound and doing little damage along the way. (Sound familiar?) After the war, one of the ammo makers got the bright idea of stuffing a semi-jacketed hollowpoint into the casing. When they did that, the entire complexion of the carbine changed.

The penetration was now more controlled, and the expanded bullet had a much larger frontal area that did more damage along its path. So changed was the round that Jim Cirillo, the famous member of the New York Stakeout Squad, proclaimed it one of the two most effective weapons in their entire arsenal - the other being the formidable 12 gauge shotgun. High praise indeed!

He wasn't the only one who made note of the "enhanced" Carbine. The late Gene Wolburg, wound ballistics expert and one of the most knowledgeable people in the field, once said that his home defense weapon of choice was the M1 Carbine loaded with that semi-jacketed hollowpoint.

It may have seemed like magic to the servicemen who had bad experiences with the round, but the effect of the hollowpoint loading was simple physics. It did its job better - it just happened to be a lot better.

A "magic bullet", in contrast, appears to violate the laws of physics, or so skews its sales copy that you think it does. For instance, magic bullet purveyors play up the "energy" of their load, to the exclusion of everything else.

Energy is the result of multiplying the mass of the projectile by the square of it's velocity. Without boring you with the math, what that means is that a small change in velocity makes a big change in the energy of the projectile. In other words, if you drop the projectile weight you can up the velocity, which will make a big increase in energy figures. Sounds great, right?

As we've already studied, energy isn't everything. A light projectile might be moving very quickly, but when it contacts solid matter it loses velocity quickly. That translates into shallow wounds. (Remember the last installment, where we looked at the .357 Magnum? Same thing, only worse.) A projectile needs weight as well as velocity in order to penetrate well, and if you sacrifice enough weight for more speed, you'll fail at the First Task: reaching something important.

Exotic bullets that claim to do something others can't should set off your B.S. detector. Any cartridge that proclaims a "massive energy dump" as the wounding mechanism or pushes velocity over everything else is probably vying for a magic bullet award. Personally, I'm not going to trust my life to that kind of ammo!

What I'm getting at (and have been for this entire series) is that there is nothing mysterious, nothing magical about the way a bullet works. It has to get to something important, and it has to do rapid and significant damage when it gets there. That's it. Any claims that seem to skate around the topic should be looked at with great skepticism, for there is truly no such thing as a "magic bullet."

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 6

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

"What would I want with a reputation? That's a good way to get yourself killed!" - Jason McCullough, "Support Your Local Sheriff" (my favorite movie of all time!)

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

Let's take the mighty .357 Magnum, one of my favorite cartridges. The 125 grain semi-jacketed hollowpoint loads have the reputation of being superbly effective; some believe that they are the "best" manstoppers ever made. I've talked with people who have actually used them in real shootings, and they were generally very happy with the performance.

But there are also instances of stupendous failures. For those who hold that energy is everything, this may come as a shock. How could all that power possibly fail? Simple - if it doesn't do both of the Twin Tasks!

Let's consider what happens with the 125 grain Magnum loads. Leaving the barrel at nearly 1500 feet per second, the bullet enters the target with a huge reserve of energy. As the hollowpoint fills with fluid and starts to expand it uses up some of that energy to grow dramatically in diameter. The increase in diameter means more resistance in the tissues, which uses more energy and further slows the bullet. Because the relatively light weight of the slug doesn't have great momentum, and thus not a lot of stored energy, it doesn't travel very far before it finally runs out of steam. The result can be a shallow wound - one which doesn't reach something the body finds important.

This is the "ugly secret" that proponents of the .357 125 grain JHP don't want to talk about. Shallow wound profiles with these "barn burner" loads are not unheard of, and occasionally prove to not be as effective as expected. As one noted trainer once told me, when they work they’re superb - but when they fail, they fail spectacularly!

Suppose you've decided that you'd prefer something a bit more predictable, but want to retain the performance level of the round - what’s the solution? Simply go to a slightly heavier bullet, one which carries a tad less velocity and a bit more momentum. Winchester, for instance, has the 145 grain Silvertip bullet, and Speer is now making a 135 grain Gold Dot Magnum load. Both are obviously designed to retain the Magnum's reputation as a fight-ender, but do so on a more consistent basis.

This is a good illustration of the tradeoffs involved in cartridge selection. Speed isn't everything; bullet size isn't everything; bullet weight isn't everything. It's a combination, a concert of all of those (plus good handling qualities as defined by the shooter) that make a round effective. One can't simply say "I've got a Magnum" or "I carry a .45" and smugly claim that one has the "perfect" self defense gun. While it may work, there is always the chance that it may not; handguns, after all, are underpowered things.

Through intelligent selection, you can dramatically improve the performance envelope of your chosen gun, regardless of the cartridge it shoots.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 5

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

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

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

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want the bullet to expand, it doesn't happen by magic. Somewhere the energy has to be found to deform the metal used in the bullet, and that energy can only be found in the bullet's own movement. If there is too little to start with, there won't be enough to carry the bullet on its path.

If the cartridge has insufficient energy the expanding bullet will stop forward movement too rapidly, resulting in very shallow wounds that may or may not be effective. This tends to explain the lack of expanding bullets for the venerable .38 Special cartridge - there just isn't enough energy to drive a bullet deeply into the target
and expand it at the same time.

How do we get around this problem? Well, the first alternative is to simply switch to a cartridge with more energy. In the case of the .38, we could bump up to the .357 Magnum. The .357 certainly has enough energy! Of course, that energy reserve comes at a price: greatly increased recoil and muzzle blast, which reduce the shooter’s ability to deliver multiple combat-accurate shots.

The other alternative is to make a higher energy version of the cartridge we already have. This time-tested approach results in what's know as "+P" ammunition, which is the designation for a cartridge loaded beyond what is considered "normal" pressure. The idea is to increase the energy delivery of that cartridge to accomplish a specific task. Generally, it works pretty well!

You'll see criticisms on the internet of some +P loadings, usually centered on the idea that "it's not much of an increase in power." If you consider what we've explored in this series so far, you'll realize that it doesn't have to be a "lot" - it just has to be "enough"! If a cartridge at normal pressure can't quite deliver an expanding bullet to where it needs to, but a +P version does, then that is sufficient for the task at hand.

Remember: if the energy doesn't do something useful, then it is wasted from our perspective.

Get away from the idea that you need vast increases in power for defensive applications. You simply need
enough power to perform the Twin Tasks. Is it better to have a large reserve amount of energy on tap? That's a question that only you can answer, after being honest about your own abilities and needs. Everything comes at a price and needs to be considered relative to the goal at hand.

In the next installment we'll bring together the things we've discussed, and look at the tradeoffs you need to consider to pick your "ideal" self defense cartridge.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 4

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

The bullet is more important than the caliber.

We know that our bullet needs to do damage to whatever important thing it manages to find. How, exactly, is that going to occur? It just so happens that most animal tissue (including that of the violent felon who has just attacked you) is remarkably elastic, and consequently difficult to damage. Most tissues have a tendency to "close up" around puncture wounds, in the same way that they close up after a hypodermic needle withdraws. If they didn't, every time our doctor gave us an injection we’d spring a leak!

The upshot (pardon the pun) of this is that our bullet needs to die-cut or crush the tissues in its path rather than sliding cleanly through. The reputation of the old .38 Special 158 grain round nose bullet as a "widow maker" was well deserved, as it often went in one side and out the other with very little blood loss. That smooth, aerodynamic profile travels through water-filled tissue about as cleanly as through air, for all the same reasons. It neatly parts that tissue in a way that facilitates immediate closure and minimal blood loss. In our self-defense scenario, that's what's known as "A Bad Thing."

In fact, round nose (or "ball") ammunition is an unremarkable performer in just about any caliber; "they all fall to hardball" is right up there with "the check is in the mail" for statements you should never believe, no matter how authoritatively (read: arrogantly) delivered.

If we can get a bullet to cut or crush a non-closing hole in the target, we stand a better chance of doing the kind of work necessary to cause that target to stop in its tracks.

The amount of disruption that a handgun bullet delivers to the target is dependent on its shape/construction and on the overall diameter (caliber.) A shape that encourages efficient travel through the target is to be avoided; a shape that is non-aerodynamic will generally produce the kind of result that we seek. All other things being equal, flat-faced bullets usually beat pointy bullets.

(Personally, I pay more attention to bullet construction than caliber. Hunting and shooting experience, plus a lot of research with those more knowledgeable in the field of wound ballistics, has convinced me that there is more variation in effectiveness within calibers than between them. In other words, you're more likely to see performance differences by changing your bullet type, rather than changing calibers. )

This isn't news to any old-timers out there! Hunters in bygone days were always told to use flat-pointed bullets over round-nosed varieties, because they delivered more "shock" to the quarry. That was their non-scientific way of explaining why the bullets obviously performed differently, and what they lacked in technical understanding was more than compensated by their acute observations.

Of course there just isn't a free lunch; those flat bullets don't usually work in autoloading actions, and they make speed reloading of a revolver more difficult. There is an answer: the expanding bullet. We can actually enhance the terminal results by using a bullet (usually a hollowpoint of some sort) that grows in diameter as it goes through the target.

A hollowpoint bullet works because, as it enters the target, it expands to a greater-than-caliber frontal diameter and assumes a very flat-faced shape. This means that the bullet can crush a much larger hole than normally possible for the caliber, ensuring the kind of target damage necessary to complete the task at hand.

There are, of course, issues in making these things perform as desired: first, the work of deforming the bullet takes energy. This energy can only be come from the bullet itself, which means there is that much less available to enable the bullet to continue its travel. Second, the resulting increase in drag from that wide face also uses energy at a tremendous rate, and thus also drastically limits penetration. Because of these factors, shallow wounds from hollowpoint bullets are not at all unheard of, both in hunting and in self defense.

The solution is to a) use a different cartridge that has enough energy to spare to begin with, or b) increase the energy of the existing cartridge. We'll tackle those issues next time!

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 3

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

Once it gets there, it has to do work.

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

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

It may not be self evident, but kinetic (moving) energy is either used or conserved (stored.) In the case of a bullet, it starts being used simply by fighting the friction caused by traveling through the air. Unless it encounters a target, the bullet will use all of its energy in flight and gravity will pull it to the ground. We're interested in using that energy for lawful purposes before it's wasted in the atmosphere!

I usually refer to the second Task as "doing work", because that's exactly what is expected of the bullet. From the perspective of the target, the kinetic energy in a bullet can only do one of two things: it can be used to do work, or it can be wasted beyond the target.

(There is no such thing as an "energy dump" in a target, no matter how many times you see that nonsensical term. The energy does some sort of work, whether doing damage to tissue or pushing the bullet through the air. The bullet may use up all of the energy available, and stop inside the target, but it doesn't "dump" anything. The energy in such an event is depleted in expansion/deformation and in forward movement, both of which are work. Whether or not the work performed was useful to the goal depends on what it encountered along the way, which brings us back to the First Task.)

As the bullet traverses the target, its energy is used to push it through material more dense than the air it previously encountered. The amount of energy used in this endeavor is dependent upon the shape of the bullet; the more streamlined the projectile, the smaller the frontal profile, the less energy is expended in pushing it through the target. Conversely, the "flatter" the bullet profile, the more energy is necessary to move it through.

Think of a rowboat paddle - easy to move through the water edge first, much harder face first. If the bullet expands in the target, some of the energy is used to deform the bullet itself, and the rest is used to push the much larger, flatter profile through the target. In some cases, it uses up all its energy trying to get through the target and never makes it out the other side. This is why, as we touched on in Part 2, penetration can be controlled through the use of an expanding bullet.

At some point, we hope that the bullet finds something that the body deems immediately necessary for function - and disrupts that functioning. That item could be structural (skeletal) - where disruption causes collapse; It could be electrical, where interruption of signals causes instantaneous nervous system malfunction; or it could be vascular (plumbing), where large leaks cause a loss of pressure that eventually results in unconsciousness.

Whichever system is compromised, the bullet needs to use some of its energy to do the necessary work of disruption. This is why I say that the bullet has to do rapid and significant damage to something when it arrives; if it gets there, but has so little energy left that it is incapable of inflicting necessary damage, then it is nearly as if it had not gotten there to begin with.

(This is not to suggest that the bullet's wound in such a case is benign or trivial! Remember, we have a task for that bullet to accomplish; if it doesn't do so in the necessary time frame, then it is useless to us. The classic example is the attacker shot with a .22 but still able to complete his assault. He might die of peritonitis a few days later, proving that the wound is not unimportant. However, it didn't complete our goal of stopping the criminal before he could harm an innocent, making it irrelevant to our situation. Keep the goal in mind!)

Now that we understand the Twin Tasks, we'll take a look at the mechanisms by which all this might be accomplished. Until next time!

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 2

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

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

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

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

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

Let's start by pointing out that the user of the bullet must be capable of putting it on a course that will lead it to something important. If the cartridge in question presents too much of a challenge for the shooter to handle with the requisite accuracy, it doesn't make any difference how "good" the cartridge is! Since a single shot is unlikely to incapacitate an attacker, a shooter needs to be able to control their gun for multiple, combat-accurate shots.

This is only given lip service by trainers and enthusiasts; they'll repeat the mantra "a hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45", then in the same breath give some arbitrary limit on "acceptable" calibers for self defense. Folks, there are people in this world who do not wish to, or simply cannot, practice to become proficient with a "correct" caliber. When the time comes that they need the weapon, wouldn't it be better that they possess a bullet that they can send where it really needs to go? Of course!

Step One, then, is pick a cartridge that is within your ability to control for random strings of fire - two, three, four rounds at a time.

Once the bullet is in the air, it has to negotiate all obstacles to reach a vital organ of some sort. This requires that it get through any outer shell (clothing), past the skin (which is a lot tougher than you might believe), and alternating layers of bone and muscle. It has to have what's known as 'penetration'.

Penetration is dependent on several things: the weight of the bullet, the diameter (caliber), the velocity, and the shape. If we were to take two bullets of different weight, but of the same caliber and shape and traveling at the same velocity, the heavier one would penetrate further. We can do the same comparison for any of the factors, as long as the others remain the same. If we had two bullets of different shapes - a round nose and a wadcutter - with everything else the same, the more streamlined bullet (the round nose) would penetrate further. Simple, right?

When we look at expanding (softnose or hollowpoint) bullets, which increase their diameter at some point in the target, the situation changes. The increased frontal are of the expanded bullet acts like a parachute, slowing it more rapidly and reducing penetration. Sometimes penetration can be reduced so much that the bullet will not reach anything important, and we're back to that unreliable psychological incapacitation thing again.

Remember that too much penetration can be as bad as too little. Having a bullet that sails through the target without doing much work, or (worse) encounters another (possibly) innocent target beyond, is not a good thing. Hence it behooves us to have a bullet which demonstrates sufficient penetration, but not an excessive amount.

It's not uncommon to find a cartridge that, when loaded with streamlined, roundnosed bullets, goes through multiple targets - but when loaded with expanding bullets stops inside the desired one. As it turns out, this behavior has major benefits in terms of terminal effects, which we'll cover next time.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber

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

What follows is a layman's understanding, backed by research of available literature and years of hunting and shooting experience, of the practical mechanics of wound ballistics. It is not intended to be a complete and exhaustive study of the subject. Instead, I hope to give my readers - who are, in all likelihood, laypersons themselves - a solid base of information to help make good decisions when choosing self defense ammunition.

Let's start by understanding that in a self-defense scenario our goal is simply to cause the perpetrator of a crime to cease immediately his/her antisocial activities. That's it - we want the miscreant to quit doing whatever it was that caused us to draw our gun in the first place. The closer to "immediately" that this occurs, the better for all concerned.

There are two mechanisms by which this can be accomplished: psychological incapacitation and physical incapacitation.

The first - psychological incapacitation - is the least predictable of the two. Some people will stop and run when grazed by a well-thrown rock, others will soak up all manner of chemical, electrical, and physical deterrents without so much as flinching. Since it's all in the mind, and minds vary significantly (especially when intoxicated in some form), we cannot count on delivering a reliable jolt to a criminal's psyche. We must instead focus on doing enough physical damage to cause cessation of action through reduction of motor skills.

On this subject has been constructed all manner of measures, each attempting to quantify the unquantifiable: "One shot stops." "Knockout index." "Wound channel volume." There are more, and none of them ever seem to agree (at least most of the time) on what actually works.

Well, folks, hunters have known something for a very long time, and it has been proven in the field again and again: to reliably put the brakes on a living entity, a bullet must do what I call The
Twin Tasks.

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

That's it. Either, by itself, simply won't deliver the results we seek (at least, not in the physical sense.) If the projectile fails at either of these tasks, any success that occurs is in fact a product of psychological incapacitation, which we already know to be both unpredictable and unreliable.

Keep in mind that as the bullet traverses the target, it may repeat the Tasks; in other words, it may encounter more than one thing the body finds important. The more times that it does, and then completes the second Task, the faster the incapacitation is likely to occur. (Note that I didn't say "will", only "likely to". Handgun rounds are underpowered things, and with them nothing is ever certain.)

Within certain limits, it doesn't really matter what the caliber is or what the bullet is made of or how fast it travels, as long as it does
both of the Tasks. That's why there seems to be such a wide range of calibers, weights and velocities that have shown "good" results in self defense shootings, and why arguments about "stopping power" rage on the gun forums: there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat.

Remember, as long as both Tasks are accomplished, the envelope of "how" they are is large enough to encompass a variety of approaches.

The reason that the "heavy and slow" and "light and fast" bullet camps exist is because, generally, their choices just happen do both of those Tasks on a fairly regular basis. Arguing about which is the "better" approach is really quite silly, because when they work it's because they did both Tasks, regardless of the actual mechanism; when they fail, it is simply because they didn't do one (or both) of the Tasks, again regardless of their physical attributes.

It's at this point that someone invariably chimes in "but my cousin is engaged to a girl whose brother-in-law heard about a guy who saw someone shot fifteen times with a 9mm, and the victim was still able to walk into a French restaurant, order a 5-course meal, eat, chat with the sommelier, and stiff the waiter before finally collapsing on the sidewalk while waiting for his cab! That's why I carry a .467 Loudenboomer Ultra Grande - if it hits them in the pinky the hydrostatic shock wave will knock them down!"

I'm exaggerating, you understand, but if you regularly haunt the gun forums you'll recognize that it isn't all that far off.

Yes, small caliber bullets fail. Guess what? Large caliber bullets fail, too. As someone once told me, "put on your big-boy pants and deal with it!"

A good friend gave me a first-hand account of a battle incident wherein a fellow absorbed several solid torso hits and was still able to jump from his vehicle and cross a road before finally collapsing.

The gun in question? A .50 caliber heavy machine gun. Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes, folks, nothing works.

Our job is to choose those calibers and bullets which seem to do the Two Tasks fairly reliably, and prepare to deal with the times that it just isn't enough. With handgun rounds, those times are more common than the gunshop commandoes would have you believe.

In the next installment, we'll take a layman's look at the physics involved.

Click here to go to the next article --->

Or, you can access the series index
at this link.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings

Tam alerts us that today is the "official" birthday of the revolver - courtesy of The Great One, Samuel Colt. (I'm surprised, yet gratified, that she acknowledges someone whose last name is not Browning or Wesson!)


As long as I'm doing the link-love bit, over at Michael Bane's place there is something of a brouhaha regarding his assessment of the new Ruger SR9 pistol.
Read the first part, then read Michael's response. (Be sure to read the comments on each - that's where the fireworks happen.)

One of the commenters has invoked Massad Ayoob's name as some sort of "proof" that Michael's opinions are "wrong." In the interest of full disclosure, I know Mas Ayoob on a personal basis, and I've done work for Bane. I've read their reviews, and what it comes down to is that they are both opinionated people with very definite tastes and preferences in firearms. That they have different points of view with regard to this particular gun is simply evidence that nothing appeals to everyone. I trust them both, and my feeling is that it's sad they couldn't find a new, innovative Ruger
revolver to disagree about!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ignition troubles

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

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

For the most part there is nothing wrong, from a quality control standpoint, with this ammunition. It must be remembered, though, that many foreign ammunition companies do not have the range of cartridge components that we do. Since much (if not most) of their production is often military contract, they are known use the same components for their commercial products - said components to include primers.

Military specifications, regardless of country, usually require a certain level of slam-fire resistance, which necessitates heavier primer cups. Those thicker, harder primers can be more difficult to ignite in firearms that expect to see a "civilian" (more sensitive) primer. It's no wonder, then, that ignition problems with Fiocchi and S&B ammunition are being seen; it's not that the ammo is "bad", but rather that the components used are intended for guns with more robust firing systems!

If you're using foreign ammunition, and your stock firearm is proving to be a bit unreliable, don't blame the gun. Try some "normal" (read: American produced) ammo - I'll bet it returns to 100% function.

(You say that using U.S. ammunition will cut into your shooting activities because of the cost? Well, it's time to learn how to reload your own - it's easy, fun, and economical!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Why revolvers?

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

Why revolvers? Because I like them! I like their lines, their reliability, their accuracy, their power; I like their history, and that they are prototypically "American" firearms. (I like lever action rifles for that same reason.)

I like revolvers because they can be made to fit the hand in a way a slab-sided pistol never can. I like them because of their almost Zen-like operation: the cylinder goes 'round, the gun discharges, and when the operator wishes, the process is repeated. I like them because you can see what's happening; because they are easy to load and unload.

I did not come to these opinions quickly or easily, you understand. When I was a kid, all the other kids wanted a Colt "Peacemaker" and a Winchester '94. Not me - I looked in the Sears catalog (yes, they carried guns when I was a kid) and dreamed of owning a .45 auto and an M1 carbine. I was definitely a contrarian from the start!

It wasn't until my advanced years that the lure of the revolver affected my soul. (Though, as I've related in past posts, it was more of a challenge to my ballistic manhood than an intellectual appreciation. Introspection came later.)

Oh, the best thing about revolvers? They aren't made of plastic!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Following the safety rules religiously

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

As you may know, Orthodox Jews have a rather rigorous set of rules that they follow. According to their tradition, there are 613 commandments in the Torah (their Bible, which consists of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) Imagine trying to keep track of, let alone follow, 613 commandments!

To make the job easier and to prevent the unintentional transgression of a commandment, they have a concept called
gezeirah, which is explained as "building a fence around the Torah." This idea, which goes back roughly 800 years, refers to the additional precepts that one should follow to avoid even coming close to violating a commandment itself. They supply a sort of early warning system; if you know that you've broken the lesser rule, you know that you're in danger of violating the more sacred one.

Now I'm not saying that everyone should run out and become Orthodox Jews (you'd have to give up Saturday morning cartoons and pepperoni pizza, for starters), but the concept of a "fence" around a core set of rules is as good for keeping us physically safe as it is for safeguarding their spiritual well-being.

So, if our overriding precepts are the Three Commandments of Gun Safety:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

What kinds of rules might constitute our "fence"? Well, they might include the "Seven Rules of Dry-Fire":

- Select the proper time and place (alone, no distractions, safe backstop).
- Remove all live ammunition from your training area (including those in your own gun and the gun that you will use for dry fire).
- Go into “practice mode” state of mind. Say out loud: “This is practice time, I am going to practice now.”
- Perform practice.
- When practice is over, go into “reality mode.” Say out loud: “Practice is over, this is real.”
- Put the gun into the condition in which it is normally kept.
- Put the gun away immediately (secured).

The NRA has a poster of 10 or 12 firearms rules that could constitute another fence, and I'm sure you'll find more. Some may be very general, others may be specific to the range you're using or the particular shooting activity in which you're participating.

These additional rules don't relieve you of the need for always following the Three Commandments, and are never to be considered any exception to any of them. They are a
supplement. They provide one extra guard, one extra layer of security, before you're put into a situation where the "fail-safe" of the Commandments is all that stands between you and grievous injury. They set up an attitude, a frame of mind, that makes an accident all the less likely.

For instance, I have my own fence: my shop is a sterile area, meaning that there is no live ammunition in the shop area proper. (Need I mention that there are no exceptions?) I still follow the Three Commandments, mind you, but following the rule of no live ammo in the shop area makes the constant handling lots of guns even safer.

Now go and sin - ballistically speaking - no more!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On safety

A reader alerted me to
this thread over at GlockTalk, where a debate about the first of Jeff Cooper's "Four Rules of Gun Safety" is raging. Specifically, the argument centers on the allowable "exceptions" to Rule #1: "All guns are always loaded" (or, alternatively, "Treat all guns as if they were loaded." Cooper himself said "All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.” That comes directly from an article he wrote in 2003.)

I feel entitled to comment, inasmuch as the observance of said rule by gunsmiths has been invoked as one of the "exceptions." I take exception to that exception, and in fact take exception to the very notion of exceptions! Allow me to explain, and perhaps start some exceptional controversy of my own.

To be blunt: I don't like Rule #1. In fact, I believe that it is not just unnecessary, but that it actually sets people up to have accidents. I don't believe it makes anyone safer - I contend that it has the opposite effect.

It boils down to this: people do stupid things with guns that they perceive are unloaded. (Re-read that line, focusing on the word "perceive.") Once people have convinced themselves that a gun is unloaded, they treat it differently. That is where accidents occur.

The trouble with Rule #1 is that it encourages such shoddy behavior.

Follow me here: "treat all guns as if they were loaded" tacitly admits that there are, in fact, two states for a firearm - loaded and unloaded. If there were not an unloaded state, it would not be necessary to admonish someone to treat a gun "as if" it were in the loaded state, would it? If unloaded guns did not exist, the statement would make no sense. Therefore, the phrase itself establishes that there exists such a thing as an unloaded gun. Clear so far?

While Rule #1 logically admits that there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, it asks us to pretend that it doesn't really exist. This is important, as the rule only makes sense if the state of being 'unloaded' exists, but it implores us to make believe that such a state doesn't really exist. This situation is called
cognitive dissonance: holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. It's a state of mind that humans don't tolerate all that well.

If one accepts the fallacy that an unloaded state doesn't exist, it becomes clear in the mind that the remaining three rules apply only to loaded guns. After all, the first rule says that there is no such thing as an unloaded gun; therefore, the other three rules can apply
only to loaded guns, because - remember! - unloaded guns "don't exist."

Here's where that cognitive dissonance thing comes back to bite us. The human mind cannot maintain two contradictory concepts ("there is such a thing as an unloaded gun, but it doesn't exist because all guns are always loaded") without resolving them in some fashion. The way that most (if not all) people apparently resolve this is to apply the rules to all guns,
unless they've convinced themselves that the gun in question isn't loaded.

In other words, to resolve the logical conflict that Rule #1 establishes, the mind translates it to say "treat all guns as if they are loaded,
unless you've verified that they aren't." The other three rules are tossed right out the window, because they obviously don't apply to unloaded guns! A statement that everyone knows is untrue, which this is, will simply be ignored.

See how this comes about? If not, re-read the preceding paragraphs.

That, gentle readers, is the crux of the problem! The sad side of Rule #1 is that it implies once you've verified a gun is unloaded, the rest of the rules don't apply to it; you may handle it differently. That's when the accidents come, and is why I say that people do stupid things with guns that they
think are unloaded.

Proof? Easy: it is axiomatic that all gun accidents occur with unloaded guns. Those are guns that people had convinced themselves were not in the loaded state, and therefore didn't fall under the rest of the rules. No matter what the experience or training level of the person involved, "I thought it was unloaded" is the first excuse out of their mouths when something bad happens.

Need more? Here's an interactive proof: go into any gun store, and watch as customers (and often the counter clerks) sweep muzzles over everyone in the store. Now complain to a clerk about the shoddy practice; I guarantee the first thing you'll hear from his or her mouth is "don't worry, it's not loaded."

Still not convinced? Ask Massad Ayoob to tell you the tragic story of a well regarded and highly experienced competition shooter who accidentally killed his wife - with an "unloaded" gun, of course. My contention is that he followed Rule #1 like most people, but that its logical failings caused him to treat the gun differently because he was sure it was unloaded. The result was sadly inevitable.

This is why the forum debate runs so many pages, and ultimately devolves into the attitude "of course, Rule #1 doesn't apply to
experienced shooters, who understand what the exceptions are." I'm sorry, folks, but I believe that any safety rule that implies or encourages "exceptions" - experienced operator or no - is a "rule" that should be thrown out.

One of the best shooting instructors I know - Georges Rahbani - has done just that. He acknowledged the problem and dealt with the issue by eliminating what I'll call "Traditional Rule #1" from his curriculum. Instead, he teaches that
any and all guns, loaded or unloaded, are treated to the same standards, which he calls The Three Commandments of Gun Safety:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

There are no exceptions, and thus less chance for the accidents that usually result from them.

The big difference between his rules and Cooper’s is that if you forget everything except the first one, you’ll still be safe. With Cooper’s rules, if you forget all the others accidents will still happen and people will still get hurt. The goal of gun rules should be to prevent injury or death, to the shooter or others; if one follows these rules, whether the gun is loaded or not, it will reduce that risk to the lowest probability.

As you might guess, in my line of work the chances of a negligent discharge are somewhat higher than usual. Consequently, my interest in the safety rules is higher than usual! The online debate mentions that gunsmiths must, out of necessity, violate the Traditional Rule #1 and thus don't need to follow the other rules.

Not in MY shop, bunky!

I follow the Three Rules as codified above. I don't point a gun (any assembly capable of igniting a cartridge) at anything I'm not willing to shoot. That means, in my case, a solid concrete wall in the back of my hillside shop. Because of that, I know what my target is, and what the backstop is. Finally, I don't put my finger into the triggerguard until my sights are on target (the gun is pointing at that backstop.) Yes, all the time and every time; I'm rather fond of my various body parts, and desire to retain them in full operating condition!

I think that's enough pot-stirring for one day. Next time, we'll see how an ancient religious principle can help to reinforce the constant observance of the safety rules.

-=[ Grant ]=-

The case for DAO

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

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

However, let's say that you're having a
Jack Bauer kind of day and are now facing just this scenario. Mightn't that be just a tad bit stressful? Wouldn't that make you even more nervous, knowing that you'll be trying the toughest possible handgun shot under the worst possible conditions? With all that adrenaline now flowing through your system, is this really the time that you want a light, short trigger pull that is very easy to accidentally release? Not me, bunky!

This is the reason for DAO: light single action triggers are great on the calm shooting range, but pose a liability risk for unintentional discharges under stress. As Massad Ayoob says, single action triggers are great shooting tools, but lousy threat management tools.

Now I I know what you're thinking: "OK, but I promise I'll never use it!" I'm sure you mean that sincerely, but It's been well established over the decades that people tend to do in combat what they do in training.

It's human nature to practice what we're already good at, and to do that which is easiest for us. At the range, it's not uncommon to watch someone shoot a revolver at, say 50 feet and become disenchanted with their groups. At that point, they usually switch to the easier pull of the single action, and shoot that way. This imprints their subconscious to use single action when they are unsure of their abilities, and this may be what they revert to under stress.

Once that act of thumbing back the hammer has become habit, another problem crops up: the Hollywood-inspired (and reinforced) act of cocking the gun to show the bad guy that you "really mean it!" I'll refer you back to the second paragraph, with emphasis.

(Yes, I know you'll promise not to do that either. But if you've told your subconscious that cocking the hammer is accepted shooting technique, do you think it'll ask your conscious mind for permission when the time comes - especially if decades of TV and movies has told it otherwise? Of course not! "Besides", your subconscious thinks, "if
Tyne Daly can do it, why can't I?")

Removing the SA capability eliminates the chances of any of this happening. (If you make the conscious decision to carry a gun with SA capability, I recommend that you attend the
Lethal Force Institute's "LFI-1" class, where you will learn how to defend that choice - and counter any false claims that may arise from it - in court.)

From a gunsmithing perspective, I've found that eliminating the SA capability can, on some guns (Colt and Dan Wesson), give a bit more leeway in terms of honing the double action. Without the need to worry about the single action sear, the double action can be tuned far more radically than is otherwise possible. In S&W and Ruger guns, reducing the DA pull to the barest minimum (as some request) will result in an unconscionably light SA pull - often below 32 ounces. Eliminating the SA notches means that this ceases to be a worry.

Speaking for myself, I didn't start to shoot DA well until I'd gotten rid of the SA capability completely. True story:  one day (many years ago), shortly after transitioning to shooting only revolvers, I was participating in a match (Bianchi type.) I was having trouble with missing those little round steel plates they use for one stage, and it was making me madder and madder. At one point the buzzer sounded, and I drew the gun (a Python) and cocked it for each plate. I downed all of them, but my happiness was shattered by a taunting voice of a 1911 partisan that said "hey, Grant, I've got a gun that does all that for me!"

After that I removed the SA from my revolvers and started shooting DA exclusively. It wasn't long before I was beating the guys (including the loudmouth in question) who were shooting 1911s with crisp single action triggers. It can be done!

If you have any doubt as to how accurately a double action can be shot, go watch your local PPC match - there's one just about everywhere in the country. You'll see lots of folks shooting DAO revolvers at up to 50 yards and producing groups that can be covered by your hand. That should be good enough for any defensive use, and you too can do it with just a bit of practice!

-=[ Grant ]=-

How NOT to spend your training dollars

I admit up front that I'm not a professional firearms/tactics instructor. I do some assistant teaching now and again, but I'm no Clint Smith. However, I have been a student, I have been involved in the teaching side of things, and I am a general all-around busybody. As it happens, those are better qualifications than some "instructors" I've met!

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

This topic came to mind recently when I read a review of a "tactical carbine" class someone had taken. The student - gushing with praise over how great the class was - had a long list of things that the class had "learned" over two whole days. My assistant teaching experience happens to be in that type of rifle class, and I know for a fact that there is no way to adequately cover even half of his long list in a single two day class. Note the term "adequately."

Just getting proper explanations (lecture portions) of the techniques he listed would take a couple of days, let alone a single repetition of each technique by each student. (A single repetition, you understand, doesn't even begin to develop a skill.) In this case, the sheer quantity of techniques presented would have necessitated a "demonstration only" type of curriculum for many of the techniques. Heck, just doing a proper sight-in procedure with a dozen (or more) students will take a good portion of a day, and sight-in was one of the things he listed!

Beyond that, even those things that were actually treated to live fire would not have allowed time for any feedback from the "instructor." Without feedback, without critique, how do you know how you've done - and how to increase your skill? Isn't that why we train in the first place?

The student who runs his finger down a checklist (see why I use the term?) of things he "learned" in a class will come away impressed - but no more capable. There is a difference between developing a skill (which is what you should be doing in a shooting class) and simply being exposed to the topic (which is undoubtedly the experience of this fellow.) Sadly there are some, both teachers and students, who don't know the difference.

It's that old quality vs. quantity equation all over again. In the immediate area we have a couple of shooting schools; one is of the checklist variety, while the other is more concerned about what their students actually retain. The former trades on quantity, while the latter is concerned with quality. Guess which one I recommend when locals ask me where to train?

When you're shopping for schooling, what you really want to know is if the teacher covers his/her material thoroughly, and is concerned that the students actually make progress - not how many items are on the checklist. It make take a little more effort to find such a school, but your effort will be rewarded.

Unless, of course, you just want to compare your checklist against your buddy's. In that case, there are lots of places that can take your money, and they're a lot easier to find!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Are ammo prices keeping you from learning?

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

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

If you plan to carry a handgun, or if you keep a shotgun for home defense, training - proper training - may make the difference between a successful outcome and a tragedy. Isn't that worth the few extra dollars that the necessary ammunition is going to cost? I sure think it is!

By the time you add up travel, lodging, registration fees, meals, and incidentals, that little extra the ammo costs really isn't a big deal. Spend the money - it's important to you, and to your loved ones, that you not miss that class!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Allow me to elaborate...

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

The point I was trying to make, and apparently didn't, is that the only reliable Minis I have seen were using factory magazines. I have actually encountered many examples that wouldn't run, and changing to factory mags made them work properly. All is not perfect in Ruger-land, though - in my experience, there is still a large percentage of Mini-14s that are not reliable, even with factory magazines.

The other side of the coin is that I have never seen a reliable Mini using aftermarket mags. Ever. Aftermarket Mini-14 magazines consistently cause Minis - every one I've ever seen - to choke.

Bottom line: factory mags alone will not ensure that any given Mini will run well. However, using non-Ruger magazines is a virtual guarantee that you will have trouble making the thing work properly. (I won't even get into their renowned lack of accuracy, but that isn't the fault of the magazines!)

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

(Oh, by the way - the cheapest I've been able to find Ruger factory 20-round mags is $55.00. That's three times the cost of good quality AR-15 mags. Wow!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

"It's perfect for the little lady" - NOT!

If you're here, it's probably because you like (or at least appreciate) our friend the revolver. My feelings, of course, are well known: I believe the revolver to be the single greatest firearm that one could ever hope to own. I believe that people who shoot revolvers demonstrate themselves to be of above average intelligence, more refined sensibilities, and generally better looking than those who do not. (I exaggerate, of course. Except in my own case, where these things are certainly true. I tell my wife so every day.)

However, even in my zeal I cannot recommend the revolver to every single person; it is not the best choice for everyone or every circumstance. I've said this before, and I'll probably being saying it again and again as time goes on.

I particularly cringe whenever I see some fellow buying (or hear someone recommending) that the revolver is always the "best choice" for a woman, hinting that women are incapable of operating a semiauto properly. Sometimes the revolver is the best choice for a female, just as it sometimes is for a male - though not always, and not even most of the time!

Not being a woman, I've been at a loss to explain my discomfort in any terms other than "that seems stupid to me." Luckily, over at the View From the Porch,
Tam does a good (and concise) job of explaining just why.

-=[ Grant ]=-

More on the Dan Wesson .22

In response to Monday's blog post about .22 accuracy, a couple of readers asked about the loads that had proven to be accurate in the Dan Wesson .22LR Model 15-2.

Before I answer, you need to keep in mind that your individual DW may not like the same ammunition mine does. With that understanding, my DW likes the Remington Match Target (subsonic, LRN bullet) and the Remington "Golden Bullet" bulk pack. Of the 23 different rounds I tested in the gun, these two came out on top in their respective categories (target ammunition and hunting ammunition.)

This is quite surprising to me, as Remington rimfire ammo is not generally held in high regard by experienced rimfire shooters. It is often criticized for lack of accuracy and consistency, but in this gun those two loads work extremely well. The "Golden Bullet" also exhibits excellent terminal effects on small game (ground squirrels) as well as being accurate.

Oddly, the Federal Gold Medal Match - a terrific load that shoots well in just about everything - doesn't do well in this gun. Why? Who knows? That's the joy and mystery of the rimfire addiction!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Accuracy from your .22

I've been shooting a lot of .22LR on a recreational basis lately, and am reminded how fickle this round can be.

Many people seem to be unaware that you can't put just any old .22 round into a gun - be it rifle, pistol, or revolver - and expect it to function correctly, let alone hit where it is aimed!

It is not unusual to find that any given .22 firearm will not function with certain ammunition. I've seen guns that didn't have enough firing pin energy to detonate certain brands of ammunition; autoloaders that wouldn't load and eject certain bullet shapes or velocities; and guns that would shoot tight groups with some ammo but shotgun-like patterns with everything else.

This would all be a lot easier if it were predictable by gun brand and/or model - sadly, it just isn't. You can take two identical guns and one will shoot incredibly accurately with a specific round, while the other gun throws them every which way; I've seen it happen with a pair of Ruger 10/22 rifles.

Some guns are more picky than others regarding their ammunition preferences. The Dan Wesson Model 15-2 in .357 is renowned for its accuracy, but the same gun in .22 is regarded as very inaccurate. I suspect that this reputation has more to do with ammunition that with any fault of the gun. I have one, and had to test many different .22 rounds before I found a couple that it would shoot well. The difference wasn't minor, either! With most ammunition it will shoot 3- to 4-inch groups at 25 yards; with its preferred ammunition, it will quite literally put a cylinder full into one ragged hole at the same distance. There seems to be no middle ground with this gun!

Bullet velocity also plays a role. Generally, it is assumed that the higher velocity rounds don't shoot as well as their slower brethren - but not always! My personal Marlin 39A, for instance, has a surprising preference for the hyper-velocity Quik-Shok round, which is widely considered to be a very inaccurate load.

The moral of the story is that you have to test - and sometimes test again, and keep testing - until you find the round(s) that shoot and function well in your individual guns. When you find that/those loads, buy a case (or two or three...!)

-=[ Grant ]=-


"Stainless" doesn't mean "won't rust"

I hear the advice all the time: "buy a stainless gun, because they won't rust." This kind of comment is what prompted General Norman Schwarzkopf to say "bovine scatology!"

Yes, stainless will in fact rust under the right conditions. What are those conditions? Generally, if you get moisture trapped in a place where it doesn't evaporate normally (say, under a grip panel or inside the action), you have a situation that is ideal for corrosion. The situation is worse in very corrosive (salt water, perspiration) or very humid conditions.

That's not the only thing; even if the frame of your gun is stainless, there will be some parts in the action that aren't, or are made of a much less resistant stainless. It's not unusual to find springs, some screws, cylinder parts, and more that are made of plain carbon steel. These are just as susceptible to rust as they would be in a blued gun.

I see quite a number of stainless guns that have corrosion. One commonality of those I've encountered is that, since the rust is usually hidden (and less likely to be found because of the belief that stainless "doesn't rust) it usually does more damage. Stainless corrosion tends to be deeper, leaving surface pitting that is more serious than it might be on a blued gun.

If you live in a harsh environment - near the ocean, or in a very humid climate - or if you perspire heavily, you should treat your stainless gun more like a blued equivalent. Take the grips off every time you clean the gun and look for any signs of corrosion; use gun oil on the entire surface of the gun; clean the bore immediately after shooting; take the sideplate off occasionally and lubricate the interior; and always remember that the term is "stainLESS", not "stainFREE"!

-=[ Grant ]=-

"What revolver should I buy?"

If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked that question...!

On every forum, in my daily email, and in the phone calls I receive is a common query: "of the guns available at a dealer, which one should I buy?" These folks are looking for some guidance beyond the simple choice of caliber and barrel length - this is more along the lines of "who makes the 'best' revolver?"

The answer I give? Ruger. This, from an admitted revolver snob who's known for working on Colt Pythons!

The GP-100 and SP-101, which are the most popular models, are mature designs. Their design is simple and rugged, and their construction has not changed due to fashion or cost-cutting.

The actions respond nicely to gunsmithing work; a well tuned Ruger can have a buttery-smooth, perfectly linear double action pull that will rival any of its competitors. The SP-101, in particular, has an action that is many people feel is more "shootable" than its nearest competitor, the S&W "J" frame.

Speaking of the SP-101, it has another advantage over its competition: superb sights. The rear fixed notch is wide and deep compared to other guns, giving the little SP a much nicer sight picture.

The GP and SP guns, because of their stud grip frames, have trigger reaches that fit people with small hands very well; the GP-100, fitted with the "compact" Ruger grip, has a shorter trigger reach than a S&W "L" frame! This is great news for those of us with smaller-than-average mitts.

The downsides? Fit and finish on Ruger revolvers is not up to the level of, say, older S&W guns. (Of course, new S&W's aren't up to the old S&W's either, so that's hardly a condemnation!) Rugers have lots of sharp edges, and their finishes are not terribly pretty - but, if you're having custom work done anyhow, these are things that can be easily rectified.

Rugers don't get the credit they deserve; if you don't like the new MIM-internal lock S&W models, and want something of better pedigree than the Taurus line, take a hard look at Ruger. You might be surprised!

-=[ Grant ]=-

What is it with the reloading press fanatics??

Funny thing...the other day, my favorite gun blogger (Tamara K.) posted this rant about brand fanaticism over at her blog. Yeah yeah, I know I mentioned it before, but the subject popped up again this week in a different context.

You see, I'd popped in to a couple of the reloading forums to ask a question about dies (I'm considering new ones.) Reading through some of the past posts on the boards would lead one to believe that there is a Reloading Press Jihad going on! Take a look for yourself sometime...the subject is getting very close to joining religion and politics as something one does not discuss in polite company!

The invective, blind loyalty, outright falsehoods, tall tales...the only thing missing is "let's take it outside, fella!"

This is particularly interesting to me, for as it happens I've owned a progressive press from each of the three major brands. The Dillon and Lee presses I used for more than 30,000 rounds each, while my new Hornady is a baby - only about 10k so far. This gives me sufficient experience, I think, to quote a perennial South Park line: "I've learned something today!"

You see, no currently available progressive press is of terribly high quality when compared to, say, a Star Universal or an RDP Reloading Tool.
They simply aren't. Anyone who has ever used one of the latter can easily see that the design, material choice, and construction quality of even the best presses made today pale in comparison. It seems to me that arguing about whether Lee, Dillon, RCBS, or Hornady is the "best" is a little like arguing who has the best deck chair on the Titanic!

The only thing keeping me from buying a used Star is simply the availability of parts and accessories. I'm waiting for someone - maybe Spolar, or Ponsness-Warren, or even Redding - to build a progressive reloading press of equivalent quality to what was available just a couple of decades ago. I'd love to own a truly high end, built-to-outlast-me progressive reloading press with modern features and factory support. Until then, these arguments about reloading presses are about as interesting as watching paint dry - and you can take your pick of blue, red, or green!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A bit of opinion about MIM parts

Heard about "MIM" parts? MIM is an injection molding process for metal parts, and it has been revolutionizing many industries. In the revolver business, both Smith & Wesson and Taurus have made use of MIM parts. Like any new process, however, there are those who decry the new technology; some gunsmiths spread the misinformation that MIM parts can't be worked on, and refuse to take in guns using MIM parts. Adding fuel to the fire are a few well-publicized parts breakages, most notably with 1911 autopistol sears.

Is there something inherently wrong with MIM parts? No, but the story is a bit more complex than that.

I have some experience with MIM parts in revolvers; I'm not at all averse to the use of MIM parts, where appropriate. Note those last two words!

MIM is just another metalworking method, like forging and casting. Like those well-established metalworking methods, it has strengths and weaknesses. Far too few engineers apparently understand them.

First off, a steel MIM part can be treated like any other steel part; it can be welded, soldered, blued, hardened, and tempered. This is important to understand, as there is a perception out there that the parts are not "real" steel. They are!

The advantages of an MIM part do not generally include raw cost; the material is expensive, and the molds are horrendously expensive. The benefits come in the area of post-fabrication. The MIM part, as noted, can be heat treated - the benefit is that they don't need to be, as the hardness of the part can be engineered in when the part is made. The parts come out ready to use; no additional surface finishing is generally needed. Finally, the parts can be made in shapes that would be extremely expensive or nearly impossible to economically machine.

The downsides? Cost, as already noted. Additionally, the tolerances for an MIM part generally need to be larger; it's hard to hold them to .001" in all dimensions (though they're getting better all the time.) Another problem is that the technology doesn't work all that well for parts that are more than about 3/8" thick (again, this gets better on an almost monthly basis), nor on stressed parts that are very thin.

There are other, less obvious pros and cons of MIM parts, but you get the idea - MIM, like anything else, is a balancing act.

Now here's the part that those of you who aren't fond of MIM should understand: the problem isn't with the technology, but with the engineering behind the part itself.

As noted, MIM on a per-part basis is pretty expensive, but since they can be engineered with specific traits they can eliminate some expensive secondary operations - hardening, for example. Here's the problem: let's say that you are building 1911 sears, and MIM seems a good method for producing them. You decide that the sear has to have a certain hardness (so that it doesn't wear), and since the surface finish is good "as produced" you think you're home free.

The trouble is that the MIM part is the same hardness all the way through, since that's how it was engineered. This is great for reducing sear face wear, but with hardness comes brittleness - and that thin edge is quite brittle. What you need is a surface hardening of some sort for wear resistance, with the underlying material left softer for strength. You COULD do that with an MIM part, but if you did you'd negate one of the primary benefits of the method: the elimination of secondary operations. So the company chooses to continue to use the MIM part as designed, and which is a poor choice for the application. No wonder some people don't like them!

The bottom line: if you have trouble with MIM parts, it's not the part's fault - it's the fault of the engineers in the company that designed the part. (Frankly, I wouldn't want to buy an entire gun from a company that botched the engineering that badly, regardless of whether or not I replaced the parts in question. I'm funny that way!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

On reliability...

Forgive my deviation from revolver centrism, but a recent rifle class in which I assisted brought to mind a topic which is just not understood amongst gun owners: "reliability."

What is "reliable"? You'll hear all kinds of definitions, all kinds of criteria. My definition is deceptively simple: the next time you pull the trigger, the gun will function perfectly. That means zero, zilch, nada, nyet failures. Every single time, regardless of how many rounds you've just shot. Not just "bang", but feed, fire, eject, and feed again.

Sounds like I'm easy to please, right? You'd be surprised at how few guns actually do perform to this standard. I expect a reliable gun to do this after a full weekend of shooting, regardless of the number of rounds I've shot, as well as right after cleaning. Every single time, without exception.

Note that I don't specify any particular number of rounds, because I've encountered instances where reliability was defined by some arbitrary round count, such as 500 - and when the gun crapped out on the 501st round, it was still deemed to be reliable since it had met the number! Sorry, not in my book.

One test I've heard (for autoloading rifles) is "six magazines of duty loads, fired as quickly as you can change magazines." Sounds great, right? I've seen an AR-15 which would only pass such a test one time, yet the owner decided it was reliable because it met the test criteria! The fact that it couldn't perform the feat again did not dissuade him in his opinion.

The only caveats are that 1) the gun be maintained according to the maker's recommendations and 2) fed ammunition which conforms to industry standards for that caliber. Anything else - such as the ever-popular mud wrestling test, making it into a popsicle, and other such activities - can be considered the ballistic equivalent of a Harlem Globetrotters game: entertaining to watch, but no indicator of an ability to win the NBA finals.

I've seen more than one gun which happily ate a magazine of ammo after being dropped into a mud puddle, but couldn't be counted on to function perfectly at any unannounced time. Mind you, it malfunctioned maybe once every 400 or so rounds, but sooner or later it would fail. Reliable? Not by my definition.

You'll run into many people who will tell you that this is "no big deal - I've got lots of guns that will do that." At the risk of offending someone - believe me, it's not my intention - I will quote Hugh Laurie, playing the namesake character in the TV series 'House': "everyone lies."

When I say "every time you pull the trigger", I mean
EVERYTIME. When I say zero failures, I mean ZERO. One fellow of my acquaintance is known locally for his promotion of a particular gun, which he insists is "absolutely reliable." This is a fellow with a good reputation, someone that other people consider honest and, presumably, look up to. Trouble is, he lies - I've seen his gun fail, and I know others who have witnessed it too. Yet, he continues to insist that his gun is "perfectly reliable." In one class, I met someone with an HK 91, supposedly the epitome of functionality; of course, the owner insisted it was "reliable". It suffered a FTF the first day, and an FTE the second. The owner continued to refer to it as "reliable".

If your gun will not function with ammunition that meets industry-standard specs, then it is unreliable. I had an encounter with a gunstore commando a while back; he was going to loan his "custom built" AR-15 to another employee. He gushed that his pride and joy was the most reliable gun he had ever seen - then, almost in the same breath, told the other fellow not to shoot Winchester ammunition in it, as "it won't feed Winchester all of the time." Even if it functioned 100% with everything else (though I doubt it), that it wouldn't work with one specific brand means that it simply wasn't reliable. (Back to revolvers - if your wheelgun won't fire every brand of ammunition in its caliber with zero misfires, it's not reliable!

My favorite rifle instructor, Georges Rahbani, always says that you are only as good as you are
on demand - the same goes for your gun!

-=[ Grant ]=-