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.
This last weekend I dropped in on a rifle class being taught by my longtime friend Georges Rahbani. It was the afternoon of the second day of the class -- and a wet, windy day it was! It poured most of the time and the wind gusts hit nearly 30 mph. Welcome to fall in Oregon!
Georges runs a qualification course at the end of his classes and asked if I'd like to shoot it with him. I didn't bring a rifle with me, but one of the students loaned me his AR-15. As things would turn out, it became an adventure in adapting to an unfamiliar gun (especially since it had been at least a year since I'd shot an AR-15!)
To start, this rifle had an ambidextrous safety and one of those 'ergonomic' grips. That grip places the hand further from the trigger (and safety), and with my short fingers made it more difficult to reach the safety when the command to fire came. What's more, the right-side safety paddle hit the base of my trigger finger which necessitated placing my trigger finger above the safety on that side, similar to the way a left-hander manipulates the safety on a non-modified AR-15. My first shot from the gun was a bit late as fumbled to get the safety off.
The sight was a Trijicon Reflex with a chevron reticle and polarizing lens. I've never used that particular optic, and every time I slung the rifle the polarizer's adjustment ring would rotate out of position and the scope would go dark. Whenever I brought the gun up to fire I had to quickly rotate the polarizer just to be able to see through the scope!
Despite the equipment issues I was doing pretty well. This is a course I've shot before and can often shoot it 'clean' with my rifle, but this time I was a couple of points down. That is, until we moved back to the 50 yard mark.
There are 15 rounds for score shot at that distance from 3 different shooting positions: squat, sitting, and prone. The target was a standard IDPA silhouette, and at that distance experience has proven that I can quickly put every one of those 15 rounds into the 'A' circle. I was confident that I'd at least tie Georges.
Imagine my shock when we went up to the targets and those 15 rounds were just above the circle in the 'B' (or 'minus one') zone! At 50 yards I don't miss my target by 5 inches, even with iron sights. I turned to the gun's owner and said (or maybe I screamed) "where is this thing sighted??"
As it turns out, he'd sighted the Trijicon to be dead-on at very close range. According to the ballistics calculator, that makes it about 4.5 inches high at 50 yards. Combine that with a difference in sight offset, and it explained why my shots went out of the 'A' zone.
Sighting his rifle for the range which at which he is most likely to need to use it (he lives in a suburban neighborhood) is a prudent choice; I, however, zero my guns at a longer distance, because in the rural area where I live longer shots are the norm. I have to deal with predators of both the 2- and 4-legged variety, and so I may have to shoot anywhere from my living room to across a field. I've shot so much that at the shorter ranges I automatically compensate for the sight offset, while at the longer ranges it's "point of aim, point of impact". Our context of use is different, and so our guns are different. My mistake was not taking that into account when I grabbed his gun!
Shooting an unfamiliar gun with unknown ammunition and not asking the owner about important things like how he sighted it in is a sure recipe for a disaster. Still, despite the handicap every single one of my rounds landed on the torso of the target. That's because I have a good grounding in the fundamentals of shooting a rifle, and I've shot enough that I understand my own balance of speed and precision at any likely distance. Had I not developed those skills ahead of time, it's likely my performance would have been substantially worse.
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.
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 ]=-
(Editor’s note: Today I’m pleased to bring you another Ed Harris article - this time all about the .30-06 cartridge. As you’ll soon learn, Ed is a HUGE fan of the ’06 and has probably done more experimenting with it than any ten people you’re likely to find. In it are Ed’s recommendations for bullets and loads for an incredibly wide variety of uses. As always, any reloading data is used at your own risk; always start 10% below the listed charges and work your way up, watching carefully for pressure signs.)
America's Greatest, The All-Around .30-'06 By C.E. Harris (Rev. 7-8-94)
The most popular deer camp discussion for generations has been that of the proverbial "All-Around Rifle". What would be YOUR choice if you could have only one rifle? Forget the apocalyptic, "Red Dawn" scenarios and consider only the present, and the realistic future. For me, the answer is plainly obvious. A .30-'06 bolt-action, because there's not much a skilled rifleman and handloader can't do with it.
Some years ago I was invited with a group of gun writers to a "bring your own rifle" hunt in Texas. One of the scribes was intent on doing a survey of what the "experts who could pick anything their heart desired" did, in fact, choose. The fellow doing the survey had built his own wildcat, just for the occasion. Of the dozen or so "experts" in attendance besides our wildcatter, one was a fancier of the .270 Winchester, and the rest of the rifles in camp were all .30-'06 boltguns. Now THAT would have made an interesting article, but the wildcatter, who had embarked with other ideas, never wrote it, a shame to be sure.
My gun rack currently holds six .30-'06 rifles, if you don't count the half-dozen or so extra barrels for my switch-barrel silhouette, target and bench rifles. My first .30-'06 was a DCM M1903A3. My second was an M1 Garand. My third was a custom Winchester Model 70 target rifle with Hart barrel and stock by Roy Dunlap. I'm sure my early exposure to highpower rifle competition, ROTC, handloading, DCM ammo, a particularly fine lot of TW54 Ball, and some even better LC63 National Match ammo had something to do with my love for the .30-'06. But, 30 years later, as I inspect and care for the brass I've hoarded, it still makes sense.
The variety of factory loads in .30-'06 is greater than for any other American cartridge. When handloading options are added, the possibilities are simply staggering. To keep it simple, five classes of .30-'06 loads cover all possible uses for a rifle. These are: small game and gallery loads; light varmint and target loads; service rifle loads; long range loads, and big game loads. There is, understandably, some overlap, as a "service rifle" load with match-type bullet becomes a fine "big game" load, with the substitution of a hunting-type bullet.
I recommend the .30-'06 handloader keep a limited selection of powder and bullet types which have flexibility for multiple purposes. One "reduced load" powder, one "service rifle" powder and one "long range or big game" powder will do it all. Similarly, for bullets, one light cast bullet plinker, a 160-180- gr. gas-checked target bullet, a "general purpose" 150-168-gr. jacketed hunting or match bullet, and a heavier 180-200-gr. target bullet for the serious hunting or long range shooter rounds out the whole menu. This enables you to produce economical, safe, and effective ammunition without accumulating odd lots of components which cause problems for storage or disposal later.
With this goal in mind, I'll describe each load class, and make some recommendations based upon my experience.
SMALL GAME AND GALLERY loads are quiet and low-powered, intended for use at 25 yards or less. I use them for indoor target shooting, and camp meat for the pot. They are also fine for easing the transition of youngsters from a .22 rimfire to a big game rifle. Cast bullets are best for this purpose. Light, jacketed bullets may be used, but require caution, to ensure that the bullet's bore-exit is totally reliable.
Most rifles produce 3/4" groups or less at 25 yards or in proportion to 100 yards. A few shoot ragged holes at 50 yards after load refinement. Light .32 revolver bullets can be used, but more satisfactory are heavier bullets from 130-170-grs. I cast these of soft backstop scrap, and shoot them tumbled in Lee Liquid Alox, without sizing or gascheck. I use the same NEI-52A, Saeco 322, or Lee .312-155-2R bullets I normally use, but without the gascheck. The Lyman #311291 and RCBS 30-150FN also work well for these light loads. Typical charges for plainbased loads are 5-6 grs. of Bullseye, SR-7625, W231, Red Dot, Green Dot or 700-X.
You can safely increase these charges up to 2 grains as needed to get best accuracy, but they will lead above 1300 f.p.s. unless gaschecked. Some individual rifles with smooth barrels shoot quite well up to 7 or 7.5 grs. of these powders, but best accuracy is usually obtained when velocities are kept subsonic.
I generally look for a velocity of 1080 +/- 30 f.p.s. These loads will usually shoot 2-1/2" to 3" groups at 100 yards using minor visual defect culls, which is OK for practice. The minimum safe load which will always exit the barrel for indoor gallery work is about 4 grs. of the above powders.
More caution is required when assembling subsonic loads with jacketed bullets, because there is some risk of the bullet becoming lodged in the bore at near-subsonic velocities. You should not attempt to use less than 6 grs. of the above pistol or shotgun powders when loading jacketed bullets unless you check the bore after every shot and keep your hammer and ramrod handy!
There are important safety considerations for all reduced loads. I don't recommend heavier charges with pistol powders (even though some manuals list them) unless the particular powder is bulky enough (like Red Dot), that an inadvertent double-charge fills or overflows the case so an error is immediately obvious on visual inspection. Extreme caution must be used with dense powders such as W-W231 in reduced loads, because even a double charge is hard to see with all that airspace, so an error is not apparent. If you use fast pistol or shotgun powders in reduced loads, ensure the charge is light enough that a mistaken double- load will only blow primers, rather than destroying the rifle!
Spitzer bullets generally give poor accuracy below about 1600 f.p.s. due to gyroscopic instability, blunt round- or flat-nosed bullets are best. The 100-110-gr. .32-20, .32 H&R Magnum and .30 M1 Carbine bullets are often suggested for small game loads, but in my experience won't produce 1" groups at 50 yards, my accuracy criteria. Any decent .22 rimfire will shoot 1" groups at 50 yards, and a center-fire small game load should do as well, right?
The most satisfactory jacketed bullet reduced loads are assembled using my standard 200-yard target charges used with gaschecked cast bullets. Accurate boltgun practice loads which will shoot "on" at 200 yards close to your normal 600-yd. sight dope with either 150-175 gr. pulled GI bullets or 150-200 gr. cast, gaschecked bullets are: 12-13 grs. of Red Dot, Green Dot or 700X, 15-16 grs. of #2400, 18-20 grs. of 4227 or 21-23 grs. of 4198.
My favorite jacketed bullets for reduced .30-06 loads are the bulk Remington 150-gr. .30-30 soft points. This is because I keep them around to load .30-30s, but they are highly accurate at minimum velocities and are also suitable for mild '06 deer loads with 35 grs of 3031 or RL-7, which approximates .30-30 ballistics.
The 123-gr., 7.62x39 spitzer FMJ bullets give good plinking accuracy above 1600 f.p.s., using the above listed "200-yd. Target" charges.. Grouping is improved by increasing the charge, not to exceed 27 grs. of #2400 or 30 grs. of 4227 which approximates 7.62x39 ballistics. With 150-gr. .30-30 bullets, do not exceed 25 grs. of #2400, which gives 2100 f.p.s., a nice deer load for youngsters, women, or elderly hunters with pacemakers who can't take the recoil of a full '06.
"SERVICE RIFLE" loads approximate the performance, and accuracy of military "ball" or "match" ammunition for target shooting over the National Match Course. It is important that the powder charge, bullet type, and ballistic parameters not vary significantly from arsenal ammunition, in order to ensure they function as intended in semi-automatic, quasi-military arms.
The ballistics of Ball M2 service ammunition, (2740 +/- 30 f.p.s.) with a 150-gr. spitzer, flatbased bullet are approximated in GI cases with a charge of 47.5 grs. of current Hodgdon or IMR 4895, or 50 grs. of IMR-4064 or Olin's W-W748. Accurate Arms 2015BR and 2495BR are also suitable using the charges recommended by them. In commercial brass these powder charges intended for GI cases may be increased 1 grain. These are fine match loads for offhand and 200 rapid in the M1 using the 150-gr. Sierra MatchKing or the new 155-gr. "Palma" bullets.
Prior to the introduction of the 168-gr. Sierra MatchKing, the 125-gr. spitzer was favored for 200-yd. offhand and sitting rapid-fire stages of the National Match Course. These are highly accurate, and ideal for the reduced scale courses for use by junior shooters, to reduce costs and minimize recoil. The charges for 150-gr. bullets, listed above, function the M1 rifle and are accurate. They also make dandy woodchuck loads.
WITH 168-SIERRA OR PULLED GI MATCH BULLETS a charge of 46 grs. of 4895; or 48 grs. of 4064 or 748 approximates .30-'06 M72 match ammunition (2640 +/- 30 f.p.s). With 168-gr. match bullets, these charges may be increased 1 grain, but if the 180-gr. Sierra MatchKing is used (a GREAT 600-yd. bullet for the M1) they should be REDUCED the same amount. I do not recommend slower powders or heavier bullets for the M1, because heavier charges of slower powders operate the mechanism with more force than service ammunition, and may damage the operating rod or other parts. You are free to use the "long-range" loads below in your Springfield or M1917, and they also work well for hunting loads in bolt- action rifles, using soft point bullets of the same weight.
"LONG RANGE" loads are heavy target loads for bolt-action match rifles, intended for use at the 600-yard stage of the National Match Course, and for longer ranges, such as 1000 yard events. The loads which follow are for use in bolt-action rifles only. (Semi-auto and slide-action rifles should be used with the "service rifle" charges listed above).
I consider it routine for all long-range target loads in boltguns to uniform the flash hole diameters with a No.2 long center drill, and the primer pockets, using the Whitetail Match-Prep tool. In addition, I neck turn all cases to 0.011-0.012" neck wall thickness, and check-weigh all cases to +/-3 grains to ensure uniform powder capacity. I used to check cases to +/- 1 grain, but while this is appropriate for a small case like a .223, in the '06 it is "measuring with micrometers while cutting with axes! Uniforming flash holes, primer pockets and neck wall concentricity gets you the most improvement. Weighing cases is only used to isolate the extremely "heavy" or "light" ones.
These can still be used for load development, or for slow-fire standing stages. Don't pitch them. In boltguns cases should be fire-formed in the particular rifle they will be used in, and then neck-sized only, using a Jones sizer with .330" ring or Lee collet and dead-length seater.
It is entirely unnecessary to weigh every powder charge if you use a good powder measure and consistent technique, but you should always verify the measure setting with a scale when you set up. My favorite powders for long range loads in the .30-'06 are either IMR or Hodgdon 4350. Accurate Arms has their own brand of 4350, which works well using the loads they recommend. With Hodgdon or IMR 4350 powder, using commercial cases with an average weight of 185 grs., and either Winchester WLR or Federal 210M primers, I use 56 grs. with the 180-gr. Sierra MatchKing, 54 grs. with the 185 Lapua, or 53 grs. with the 190s at 600 yards. For windy days at 600 and for 1000 yards I use 52 grs. with a 200-gr. Sierra MatchKing.
Overall cartridge length is 3.40", or adjusted to clear the lands upon chambering by 0.010" to 0.030". You should avoid "jamming" bullets into the rifling, but "jump" should not exceed 1/10 of the bullet diameter. These cartridge exceed magazine length and are intended for single-loading only. If using these charges for hunting loads with softpoint bullets, to be magazine fed, reduce the charges 1-1/2 grains. Powder charges should also be reduced 1/2 grain for each 5 grain difference in average case weight to compensate for heavier military brass.
Some people like slower powders such as 4831 for long-range loads in the .30-'06. While I have found that 58 grs. of H4831 works well with a 200-gr. bullet, it doesn't group as well for me as 4350 with the lighter 180-190-gr. bullets. Always pick the best grouper over whatever the chronograph says. If grouping is equal, for matches pick the bullet which is the better wind bucker. The 200-gr. Sierra Matchking is the best choice in .30- '06 boltguns for 1000 yards or for windy days at 600.
"GAME LOADS" for deer and larger game can be based on the target charges above, with seating depth and powder charge adjustments for magazine feeding of hunting-type bullets. While heavy bullets are preferred for elk, moose or bear, the average hunter after deer will be best served with one load, which he knows well. I want my hunting loads to approximate factory ammunition, so if I run out and must buy a box somewhere, I'll not have to check my zero, and scare all the game away.
With a 150-gr. spitzer soft-point, 52 grs. of IMR-4064 or W-W 748 in commercial cases approximates the factory 2800 f.p;.s. velocity. With a 165-gr. boattail, 56 grs. of 4350 is a dead ringer for Federal's Premium load. With the 180-gr. Nosler Partition, 55 grs. at 3.30" overall cartridge length, in commercial brass, approximates the 180-gr. Federal Premium load. With either load reduce charges a grain if using GI cases. For larger game such as moose, elk, or bear, the "long range" loads above work well with premium big game bullets of the same weight.
In semi-auto or slide-action .30-'06 hunting rifles the "service rifle" charges listed above should be used. These are somewhat less than maximum, and provide very satisfactory game loads with a hunting bullet of the same weight.
Summing up, the .30-'06 is the most versatile American center- fire cartridge, and has not been improved upon. If you have leftover pistol or shotshell powders around, you can load .30-'06 practice loads with it and have alot of fun for not much money. If you keep Red Dot or 700-X around for loading skeet and trap loads for your 12-ga., or if you have #2400 or 4227 around for loading .410 skeet loads or a magnum caliber handgun, you don't need to buy another powder for reduced loads. The same is true if you keep 4198 around for your .222 Rem.
Of all the rifle powders, 4198 is the best reduced load powder for the .30-'06, from 1300-2000 f.p.s. because it bulks up well, and is not position sensitive. If you don't load need to make minimum subsonic small game or gallery loads (4198 doesn't work for these) and you don't already have other suitable powders available, and want to buy the best rifle powder for moderately reduced rifle loads, 4198 is my recommendation.
The "Real .30-'06 powders" for full loads are 4895, 4064 and 4350. IMR-4895 replaced IMR 4676 for military ball ammunition about 1944 and was the standard propellent for military .30-'06 Ball and Match ammunition. It is adaptable to a variety of cartridges. If you want just one rifle powder to use for everything 4895 is "it". Some target shooters feel that "long grain" powders like 4064 and 4350 give better grouping than "short cut" powders like 4895, which are preferred for machine loading. Even though coarser powders don't measure as well, they are highly accurate. If this is your choice, substitute 4064 for the 4895 and you won't be disappointed. For maximum loads in .30-'06 boltguns it's hard to beat 4350. I've tried other powders, but I keep coming back to 4350, because its consistent and always predicable, just like my .30-'06.
That's why I like the .30-'06. It's like an experienced old horse that always knows its way back to camp, so you can just do the job and relax. What else do you want in a rifle?
I recently read an ongoing discussion about red dot sights on defensive rifles, and it got me to thinking about their utility to the defensive shooter.
First off, I like red dot sights when I'm shooting. My eyes are unable to focus cleanly on the front sight of a 16-1/2" barreled AR-15, and the red dot makes it easier for me to shoot. Not that I can't shoot with irons, only that it takes a little more effort. Red dots are a great invention, and they’re fun (and almost obscenely easy) to shoot.
Despite that, none of the rifles that I use for serious purposes carry red dot sights. Why? For the same reason that most building codes don't allow battery operated smoke detectors in new construction.
Hard wired smoke detectors have been required in new buildings for nearly thirty years (depending on the locale.) It's not that battery operated detectors don't work, but rather that they require maintenance. It's not a whole lot, mind you: check the batteries twice a year, replace once a year. Despite not being a huge burden, it often doesn't get done and the consequences are dire. Hard wired detectors eliminate that maintenance and guarantee that the devices are always ready to operate at any time. They should still be tested, but the risks associated with not doing so are reduced to nearly zero.
The cost (in terms of effort and attention) of keeping a battery-operated detector operational is therefore higher than that of the hard-wired variety. Not a lot, but it's enough that lives are routinely saved. Because of that cost, the predictability of operational readiness is lower with the battery operated detector than with the hard wired variety. (This predictability is the reason the trucks and engines in your local fire station are hooked into "shore power" when they're not in use, even with trained firefighters there at all times to check them.)
The same principle applies to the red dot sight. Yes, some models have batteries that can last years, but that means one has to remember to check them frequently. There is a risk it that the batteries will have failed since the last check, or that the electronics may have failed even if one has been extremely vigilant about the batteries. Though I handle my handgun on a daily basis, it's often many months between the times I pick up the rifle and thus many months can elapse between the necessary maintenance checks.
Here in rainy Oregon, we have increased risks due to the climate: when in use, optics occasionally get obscured by water drops and we're often discovering that a device's waterproofing has failed. I could go on, but you see the point: unpredictability.
Iron sights suffer no storage degradation nor do they suffer unexpected or unpredictable failures. Unless they're damaged to the point of not being usable (in which case I can tell before I fire a shot that they're not working), there is no doubt that they'll be there and ready to work when I need them. They're predictable, and predictability is a Good Thing in defensive firearms.
It's not Luddism, just an admission of the increased difficulty of keeping a complex device ready for use at all times and under all conditions. I want the rifle to be ready, now, regardless of the last time I checked the batteries or remembered to turn it off/on or any electrical/mechanical faults it may have suffered since I last shot the thing. I'm not claiming that I'm "just as good" with irons as with the scope, only that the mechanism of the iron sights is more reliable under more conditions for a longer period of time.
I can hear the refrain now: "but guns break, too!" Yes, they do. We accept that as part of the risk of using the things, but I see no reason to compound that risk by an order of magnitude (maybe several) for what is really a small benefit.
I like red dots, I like shooting them, my eyes thank me when I do, but for the gun that has to be capable of being run hard without warning or preparation? Give me iron sights.
(Editor’s Note: Today Ed candidly talks about the Ruger Mini-14, a gun with which my wife and I have a love-hate affair. She likes the size, the handling, and the appearance, while I like that it uses a round which I already have in abundance! When we went looking for a rifle for her, we acquired and quickly disposed of several examples as we couldn’t find one that was both accurate and reliable. Now that Ed has identified the cure for its accuracy woes, and Ruger is finally making reliable high-capacity magazines, perhaps it’s time for us to revisit the Mini!)
When I was at Ruger I tested hundreds of Mini 14 rifles of all configurations, conducting audit shoots of normal production, as well as R&D testing of the full-auto AC556, AC556 and the experimental XGI rifle in .308 Win, and assisting in the development of the Mini Thirty in 7.62x39.
To be COMPLETELY honest I was disappointed with its accuracy when compared to the M16A1 and A2 rifles, with which I am very familiar. The Mini 14 gives reasonable performance for an American-made rifle in its price range, and is safe, serviceable and reliable. It just isn't all that accurate. You can find individual rifles which shoot well, but these are statistical aberrations.
We tried to test a large enough sample of rifles to pick "good" ones, then painstakingly took them apart and gaged every part to see if we could tweak tolerances or make design changes which would significantly improve accuracy without increasing production cost. It couldn't be done. We did learn a few things, however.
The long run average group size for standard Mini-14 rifles fired from a test stand is about 4-5" for ten-shot groups with M193 or M855 ammunition of "average" quality, producing an acceptance Mean Radius of 1.6-1.6" at 200 yds from a test barrel. The M16A1 or A2 do this at 200 yards from a machine rest. I believe the biggest factor in Mini-14 accuracy is irregular contact between the gas block and the face of the slideblock, welded to the slide handle (aka operating rod).
If you disassemble the rifle and inspect the face of the slide block and the rear of the gas block assembly, you may find that the face of the slide block strikes one side or the other of the gas block, rather than making a uniform and symmetrical imprint. This asymmetrical contact causes fliers. The fit-up can sometimes be improved by grinding 0.005-.010" off the face of the slide, so that with the slide fully forward, a .001" shim can be inserted between the slide block and gas block and be clear all the way around. This way the forward motion of the slide is stopped by the right locking lug in the cam pocket of the slide handle, rather than by the slide block slamming against the gas block, as is the case with the M1 Garand rifle.
I caution against removing the gas block, because these are installed in a fixture at the factory to insure proper alignment. There is a small bushing in the gas block which locates it on the barrel. You must be careful not to lose this. This is why the gas block screws are staked in place on newer guns.
The condition of the muzzle crown is important as well as the straightness of the barrel. Sometimes the barrels are bent when pressing the front sight on. Usually they catch this at the factory and they correct them if it causes fliers in the range, but since they only shoot indoors at 50 yards, for a 2" group, the accuracy standards are more in keeping for a plinking rifle than for the serious accuracy enthusiast.
The Mini-14 chamber conforms to U.S. dwg. #8448649, which is used for the M16A1 chamber. It has a .225" cylindrical ball seat with a slight freebore. I do not believe the GI chamber causes any inaccuracy in this type of rifle, because I have fired thousands of rounds in heavy test barrels with this chamber which gave fine accuracy.
For an accuracy load I suggest 21-22 grs. of 4198 (either IMR or Hodgdon) with the 52 or 53-gr. Sierra bullets loaded to 2.25" OAL, or 23-23.5 grs. of H322. The 52-gr. Nosler solid base also is quite accurate.
The Mini-14 Ranch Rifle was also made in .222 Remington for the export market to France, Belgium and Italy where civilians are not allowed to own firearms of military caliber. Overruns were sold in the U.S.
(Editor's Note: Ed Harris is back! He recently sent me a big archive of his older articles, and there are some real gems in there. I'll be featuring one of these treasures every other Friday! Today Ed talks about rebarreling a .22 rifle to turn it into a budget tackdriver. Some of you may remember that I love playing with .22 rifles, and you can bet I was taking notes as I read this!)
RE-BARREL YOUR 22 BOLT ACTION AND... Make an accurate smallbore silhouette or squirrel rifle! by C.E. 'Ed' Harris (Rev. 3-1-94)
The idea of an accurate, .22 rimfire rifle weighing 7-1/2 or 8 lbs. with scope, having the same sleek good looks and steady handling as my center-fire varmint rifles was very appealing. We could have used any quality .22 bolt-action for this project, but my Ruger M77/.22 rifle was a natural choice. It was available, and while serviceable, it was an ordinary grouper. Arlington, VA gunsmith Jim Coleman suggested a heavier barrel with SAAMI-dimensioned "Match-type" chamber, and pillar bedding and minor tuning up. The result is very satisfying, and more useful than the original rifle.
My customized Ruger is highly accurate, being capable of 3/4" 10-shot 50-yard groups with good high velocity and approaching 1/2" with the best match ammunition. (See the article "Getting the Most from Your .22 Rimfire" in the 1992 Gun Digest for more details). It weighs 7-1/2 lbs. with a hunting scope, or 8 lbs. with my 10X Unertl, handy enough for field carry when after squirrels or close-range woodchucks. It is now the most-used rifle in my gun rack. I am truly surprised that Ruger still hasn't offered a heavier-barrel M77/.22 with match chamber.
Rebarreling a sporter with a heavier barrel can be done economically if you can find a good used target rifle barrel. Used .22 target rifle barrels with bright, sharp bores, in serviceable condition, can be set back and rechambered successfully. These can often be found at gun shows for $10-40, depending upon local supply and demand, but some luck is involved.
If you know a gunsmith who rebarrels rimfire target rifles, ask him to save you a used Remington 40X, Winchester 52, BSA-Martini or Anschutz barrel. Even if it has been shot a lot, when cleaned up, carefully inspected, set back, rechambered to a SAAMI-dimensioned "match" chamber, and cut to a handy length, a used target rifle barrel will yield a stiff, accurate, 22-24" steady-holding sporter barrel which will group well.
Setting back the typical 26-28" target barrel to 22-24" barrel will remove all of a worn or eroded breech, and leaves plenty enough to cut and recrown the muzzle, giving a handy field gun which is heavy enough for proper balance. However, if you want a flyweight tack driver, this can also be done. My buddy Nick Croyle put a piece of used Hart target barrel on his M77/.22 and had Jim Coleman turn it to the proportions of a buggy whip, and that 5-1/4-lb. rifle with 19" barrel will shoot 1/2" , ten- shot bugholes at 50 yards with Eley Tenex, his squirrel load!
Rebarreling .22 rimfire bolt-actions with threaded barrels such as the Kimber 82, Remington 40X, or Winchester 52 are done much the same as a center-fire rifle, except that excessive tightening of the barrel must be avoided. Otherwise the smaller shank on the softer rimfire barrel (typically 1137 steel of Rockwell B80-90 hardness) may become constricted at the root of the thread where the barrel shoulder stops against the receiver.
For non-threaded barrels, such as Anschutz, the barrel pins must be removed to free the old barrel. The ends of the pins are often polished before bluing cheap rifles, and may be hard to see. They are obvious on Anschutz and other European match rifles.
The Ruger M77/.22 barrel is the easiest to remove, and is accomplished by removing two cap screws which hold the barrel retainer. The Ruger M77/.22 barrel is retained in the receiver by a V-block shaped retainer held by two cap screws. The retainer engages a 45 degree cut in the underside of the barrel. You can copy the old barrel fairly easily. The retainer slot can be rough cut with hacksaw and filed to final dimensions or machined in a milling machine or using the milling attachment in the lathe. The Ruger 10/.22 autoloader barrel is attached similarly, but requires careful attention to the chamber for safety reasons.
The barrel shank at the breech of non-threaded replacement barrels should be turned one half a thousandth of an inch (0.0005") less than the diameter of the barrel hole, so that it is a snug fit, without having to force it home. You should be able to insert the barrel by hand with slight resistance, pick up the action with the barrel in place, and shake it without loosening. A "forced fit" must be avoided because it may cause a constriction near the chamber which will hurt accuracy.
The looser fit of .002" less than the barrel hole, as found on factory Ruger barrels is normally satisfactory, but may influence accuracy if heavy stock fore-end pressure, common as the rifles from the factory) exerts pressure against the barrel. For that reason we prefer free floated barrels.
Nearly all .22 rimfire barrels require clearance cuts for the extractor and cartridge supports. These can be cut by hand with a hacksaw and finished with small files, but it is best if they are done in a milling machine, or using with a milling attachment in a lathe. Extractors and cartridge supports are semi-circular in shape, and factory clearance cuts are radiused, not straight as a file cut would be. These cuts are located by coating the extractor and cartridge support with lipstick or Prussian blue, and gently inserting the bolt and closing it only enough to "mark" the points of contact to show where the cuts are to be made, which then copy the factory barrel.
Best accuracy in bolt actions with a variety of ammunition requires the use of the .22 Long Rifle SAAMI-dimensioned "Match" chamber. Testing indicates that the "Match" chamber gives a truly dramatic improvement in grouping compared to the common "sporting" chamber. To prove to ourselves we took two match-chambered barrels of established accuracy and reamed them to the normal "sporting" chamber, with no other change. The average extreme spread of fifty consecutive 10-shot groups at 50 yards, firing ten groups each with five different ammunitions, actually doubled when a match chamber was enlarged with the sporting reamer!
Semi-auto .22 rifles can also be rebarreled successfully, but it is dangerous to use the tight SAAMI-dimensioned "Match" chamber in an autoloader, because it WILL slam-fire and blow case heads off. However, the typical "Sporting" .22 LR chamber is too large in diameter, and also too long for best accuracy. In an autoloader the "Winchester 52D-Type" chamber (discussed in my article "Building an Accurate .22 Autoloader" in the 1993 Gun Digest) is what you should use. If you plan to do all types of.22 rimfires, boltguns, autoloaders and handguns and only want to buy one reamer, get the "Winchester 52D-Type." JGS Precision, 1141 South Sumner Road, Coos Bay, OR 97420 can provide these.
If the barrel is to be pinned permanently in place, rather than using a Ruger-type retainer, first cement it in place with "service removable" (Blue #241) Loctite prior to function test firing to ensure the extractor slots line up and do not bind on the bolt. This permits brief test firing and removal for adjustments, if needed. Once feeding and extraction are proven reliable, use the existing barrel pin holes in the receiver as guides to drill and ream new holes for somewhat larger straight pins, or tapered pins to secure the barrel.
The Ruger M77/.22 magazine feeds rounds almost straight into the chamber and requires only minimal breaking of sharp edges on the chamber entrance. A crowning ball with 320 grit abrasive works well to just remove the wire edge. On other makes of rifles which tend to shave lead, chamfering of the chamber entrance must not be over-done, lest it cause bulged case heads, which may cause burst cases, risking personal injury!
I have have found that almost all .22 sporters group more consistently when the barrel is free floated. It is also necessary to ensure that the receiver is evenly supported. If the rifle shoots tight, round groups without significant change in point of impact as the barrel heats and after taking the action in and out of the stock several times, the bedding should not be changed. Otherwise, "pillar bed" the action exactly as done for a center-fire rifle.
This is done by machining through the stock screw holes with a 3/8" drill or end mill, and fitting brass or aluminum bushings which are epoxied in place. Using metal bushings avoid the possibility of shrinkage voids which may occur when trying to "pillar" the guard screw holes with bedding compound. Solid pillar bedding positively prevents wood compression when the screws are drawn snug, holds the action in alignment without bending or twisting, and ensures free clearance of the action screws in the stock so they work in tension, as intended, rather than applying a shear force to the receiver.
Scope bases must be firmly attached. We prefer either Ruger rings on the M77/.22, or Unertl Posa-Mount bases with Unertl external adjustment scopes. Scope rings for internal adjustment scopes should be lapped after mounting on the receiver, to correct for any machining irregularities in the scope bases or rifle receiver. This ensures that the scope tube is not bent or misaligned when the mounts are drawn up snug.
Lapping of scope rings is done by turning a bar of round mild steel, brass or aluminum to .998" diameter on centers and about 10" long. The lower halves of the scope rings are firmly attached to the bases in the normal manner, then lapped with 240 grit to obtain at least 2/3 surface contact.
As for choosing the scope itself, years of experience in the Virginia Blue Ridge on squirrels has proven the value of a 6X scope on small game rifle. For a hunting rifle we suggest having the parallax corrected for 50 yards, but smallbore silhouette shooters should have it optimized for the 75m turkey, which is the most difficult target. A higher magnification is OK for a pure silhouette rifle, but is harder than a 6X to hold steadily in a field position when you have been climbing ridges, is less bright on dark days or in heavy foliage, and usually has too small a field of view for tracking a fast-moving bushytail!
For hunting a 2-minute dot at the center of the crosshairs provides a highly visible aiming point, in poor light, but one which does not obscure small game targets at realistic ranges. An additional 1/2 minute dot centered 7" below the crosshairs provides correct 100-yard holdover for standard velocity target, or sub-sonic hollow-point hunting ammunition. Set the second dot at 6" if you favor high speed ammunition. Dick Thomas at Premier reticles can provide this service on most scopes for a reasonable charge, with about 3-6 weeks turnaround time. (Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, Premier Reticles has stopped offering aftermarket reticle services, having transitioned to manufacturing scopes exclusively a few years ago - see my SHOT show recap for a discussion of their new product line. At this moment the only place I know that can provide an aftermarket reticle such as Ed describes is the T.K. Lee Company in Alabama.)
Many people have wanted the address of Jim Coleman, who built my rifles, I guess because they have seen the copious volumes of accuracy data featured in American Rifleman and the Gun Digest. I am happy to do this, but point out there are plenty of competent gunsmiths who can do this work. I am pleased with what Jim did for me, but I have no financial stake in this whatever.
James C. Coleman can be reached at Coleman's Custom Repair, 4035 North 20th Rd., Arlington, VA 22207, telephone ( 703) 528-4486. It is best to query him by phone first to see what his current work load is, as he is a one-man shop.
Now that you have some ideas on how to make a really serious rimfire, we better warn those bushytails to jump fast and stay hidden!
In the last installment I bemoaned the current fad of attaching AR-15 buttstocks to anything that doesn't move. I'd like to have the adjustability, mind you, but without the wobble and general unsightliness of the AR stock. I was passing by the ATI booth, and found that in addition to their AR-style collapsible stocks (they're big in that market), they also make a more traditional looking collapsing stock that incorporates both a cheekrest and a very thick recoil absorbing pad.
Called the Akita, they have models to fit a wide variety of guns - including my beloved Ithaca Model 37 in 20 gauge! Comes in black, earthtones, or a faux woodgrain finish. It will give me the adjustability my short arms need without the Mall Ninja look I despise, and i think I'll be buying one or two!
Notice how the cheekrest covers the extended portion of the Akita stock.
If I had to pick the biggest crowd pleaser of this show, I'd have to say it was the new Colt Model 1877 'Bulldog' Gatling gun. Colt is now making replicas (technically, I suppose, it's simply a long production hiatus) of the smallest production Gatling gun. Fully functional and authentic in every way, they're limiting the first run of these beauties to 50; ironically, that's almost three times the number that were originally produced!
I had a good chat with John Buhay, the man in charge of the program (and the person who assembles every one of them.) They went back to the original Colt blueprints, but those proved to be incomplete and in places actually inaccurate. It was necessary to find one of the existing originals, take it apart, and reverse engineer some of the parts. Getting their first prototype to work took a year and a half! The result, though, is that the parts of the new guns will interchange with the originals. That's testament to his team's desire to make them exactly like Colt did originally.
Well, not exactly! The new guns have far better finishing than the originals could ever hope to have, and they're stronger too. The majority of the gun is produced from brass castings, and by using more aluminum in the alloy and less of the original lead they were able to dramatically increase the strength and wear resistance of the brass. These guns are stronger, and will last longer, than the originals.
It takes 200 man-hours to make one Bulldog. The main casting, of brass, weighs in at 110 lbs. After machining away everything that doesn't look like a Gatling, they end up with a part that weighs 40 lbs! After all the machining is done the parts are polished and assembled. The polishing is amazing - not a flat spot or radius change anywhere, and it reflects like a mirror. Gorgeous!
The MSRP is $50,000, and I'm told virtually all of the first run are spoken for. Given that an original recently sold for over $300k, I'd say it's something of a bargain!
The business end of the Colt 1877 ‘Bulldog’ Gatling gun. Technically, it’s a revolver - right?
It’s a small world! I was in the press room one day waiting for a podcast interview when I noticed the fellow on the other side of the table had a badge indicating he was from my neck of the woods. We started talking, and it turns out that his company produces a product that has become a staple of hunters here in the Northwest: The Target Book For North American Game. It's a largish book of targets to help the hunter understand ballistics, trajectories, sight-in distances, and aiming points for a wide range of animals.
The targets cover 95 different cartridges and their trajectories, showing how to aim and sight in to reach a specified "kill zone" with that cartridge. American Hunter magazine once called it "ballistics for dummies", and the creators are proud of that appellation! They wanted a product that would help the average hunter take advantage of ballistics without having to dive into the technicalities, and The Target Book does just that.
You can get it at Cabela's, Sportsman's Warehouse, and Wholesale Sports or directly from the publisher: Percentage Tags, Inc. in Salem, OR.
I'll end this SHOT Show review with something surprising. If you've hung around here for more than a couple of minutes you know that I'm not a huge fan of the 1911, so it takes something really special to get me to even look at one. At SHOT I found the booth of Cabot Guns, and I've got to admit that their guns are special.
I had a long talk with Ray Rozic, the fellow in charge of their operation, and he showed me their products inside and out. He's a tool and die maker, and the parent company's major business is doing super high precision machining for the aerospace and medical fields. There is more than enough talent there to build anything to any tolerances desired, and we spent a lot of time talking about metrology (the science of measurement), heat treating, tolerance stacking, and a lot of other technical trivia. In just a few moments I realized that I was in the presence of someone who not only knows what precision is, but is capable of delivering it. He also enjoys showing off what his team can do!
The quality of machining on their guns is stunning. I actually had to break out a magnifying glass to examine the detail work on the National Standard model he handed me; it was that good. The breechface, for example, is smooth - not a bump or blemish on it. Slide to frame fit was perfect, as was the barrel lockup, and with zero lube on the rails the slide cycled like it was running on linear bearings. The barrel bushing (their own design) is perfectly fitted and even tiny details, like a reversing radius on the disconnector slot in the slide, have been given attention and are done to perfection. Flats are flat, the rounded surfaces have no flat spots or changes in the radius, and the trigger breaks crisply and cleanly. That's just the beginning.
This kind of quality doesn't come cheap; this particular gun sells for $5,950.00, but given the level of workmanship I saw I think it's a fair price. It's gorgeous, and people who I trust tell me they shoot superbly.
If I were ever to purchase a new 1911, Cabot is the one I'd buy.
Yes, I’m using a magnifying glass on this 1911. The machining is that good. Photo by Tom Walls.
Ray Rozic of Cabot filling me in on one of the details I observed. Photo by Tom Walls.
I hope you've enjoyed my SHOT Show Spectacular this week. But wait, there’s more! Tune in tomorrow for a special Saturday edition of The Revolver Liberation Alliance, where I'm going to be talking about the food I chose to sample on my trip to and from Sin CIty.
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.)
Editor’s note: today I’m pleased to bring you another great article from Ed Harris, experimenter extraordinaire. This time he’s built a couple of rifles for some common .32 caliber pistol rounds, making for handy and quiet woods rifles. Enjoy!
Tiny Handgun Cartridges Are Also Small Game Rifle Rounds! by Ed Harris Gerrardstown, WV
After fooling around with a pair of chamber inserts using .32 S&W Long and .32 ACP ammunition in the .30-30, I thought about building a light “walking rifle” which would be handy and quiet. I wanted something more effective than a .22 LR, something which could also approach the ballistics of the .32-20 Winchester. The .32 S&W Long and .32 H&R Magnum cartridges are ideal for such use, but the only factory produced rifle is the Marlin 1894 Cowboy which is neither inexpensive, nor very handy. I wanted something which carried more like a fly rod than a wrecking bar.
Because I frequently carry a .32 revolver or .32 ACP pocket pistol around our country place, I wanted to use those same rounds in a light small game rifle. I would have two barrels made to compare results obtained with the .32 ACP and .32 Smith & Wesson Long. My reasoning was that for very light, quiet “.30 cal. CB cap” loads, that the tiny .32 ACP case would have advantages, whereas the larger .32 S&W Long or H&R Magnum case would had more capacity if I wanted more energy.
My gun safe contained a seldom used H&R .410 single-shot, on the tiny pre-war action, which weighed 4 pounds. John Taylor made two rifle barrels for me, chambered for the .32 ACP and .32 S&W Long (which I later rechambered to H&R Magnum). The .410 barrel remained intact, and the entire package cost less than a new Marlin Cowboy lever-gun. I opted for an 18” barrel chambered in .32 ACP for the most-handy configuration and a 26” barrel in .32 S&W Long for optimum sight radius and minimum noise.
The .32 ACP barrel was fabricated from a pulled-off M1 Garand barrel, cutting off the muzzle behind the gas port and the breech at the chamber neck, turning the OD, fabricating and beam welding on the shotgun underlug and fitting the ejector. The bore is of standard 4-groove .30 cal. Government form with ten inch twist and was chambered with a custom reamer resembling the front half of a .30 M1 Carbine chamber. It headspaces on the case mouth instead of the semi-rim.
The .32 S&W Long barrel is rifled to normal .32 revolver specs with six grooves, right twist, one turn in 16 inches with a bore of .302 and .312 groove diameter.
Firing indoors and comparing both barrels with iron sights, I am satisfied that any handgun ammunition averaging an inch or so over a series of 5-shot groups at 25 yards is adequate for hunting small game. I managed to do so fairly easily with several loads to prove the concept. Winchester .32 S&W Long 98-grain LRN, and .32 ACP Fiocchi and RWS 73-gr. hardball all averaged just under inch groups at 25 yards.
Lead 98-gr. LRN factory loads from the .32 S&W Long 26 inch barrel gave 884 f.p.s. From the 18 inch .32 ACP, Fiocchi 73-grain hardball clocked 943 f.p.s., and RWS hardball was 1214 f.p.s. Fiocchi 60-grain JHPs, which gave 1200 f.p.s. from a 3.5 inch Beretta pistol, screamed out at 1463 f.p.s. in the 18” H&R.
Handloads were next. My goal was not high velocity, but subsonic, quiet small game loads approximating the .32 Long rim fire (from .32 ACP brass) or standard velocity lead .32-20 loads (from .32 S&W Long brass). These objectives were met handily using the Saeco #325 98-grain SWC and the #322 122-gr. flatnose .32-20 bullets.
The RCBS 32-90CM is a good choice for a common production mold suitable for either caliber. Those not casting their own bullets can buy commercial Meister 94-gr. LFN bullets of .312 diameter. These have the same profile as the flat-nosed factory bullet for the .32 Colt New Police and works well as a heavy .32 ACP bullet. Its ogive length enables a .98” overall cartridge length when taper-crimped in the .32 ACP and when so seated its base does not protrude so deeply into the case that it bulges cases.
Velocities of the .32 ACP cast bullet loads with the 94-grain Meister and 1.7 grains of Bullseye fired from my Walther PP, CZ27 and Beretta 1935 pistols approximate the performance expected from a 4” revolver using the same bullet in the .32 S&W Long with 2.5 grains of Bullseye. When fired from the 18” .32 ACP rifle, the minimum 1.7 grain charge which reliably functions my WWII-era Euro auto pistols approaches the velocity expected of standard .32-20 Winchester factory lead bullet loads fired from a four-inch barreled revolver.
Trying to drive a non-expanding cast bullet intended for small game to supersonic velocity in a rifle is a waste of powder. This is not a 100-yard rig, but a woods “walking gun.” Its iron sights have a hard 50 yard zero, coupled with reliable 4 moa grouping (2 inches at 50 yds) and greater striking energy and penetration than a .22 LR. It shoots clear through critters, making reliable kills on raccoon, groundhog, wild turkey or the occasional marauding feral dog. The rig is practical in its simplicity.
The 26 inch long .32 S&W Long barrel is noticeably quieter than the shorter .32 ACP. After initial testing I rechambered it to .32 H&R Magnum and shot it again. My reasoning was that doing do would enable using HRM brass and factory loads, but wouldn't significantly hurt the grouping with my .32 S&W Long revolver ammo. After rechambering, the tiny 4.5 lb. rifle still shoots one-inch groups at 25 yards with .32 S&W Longs using either the 94-gr. Meister .312" LRN or the LBT .312-105FNBB with 2.5 grs. of Bullseye.
The longer chamber permits seating heavier bullets out in S&W Long brasss to increase powder capacity. With the 122-gr. Saeco #322 bullet for the .32-20, seated to 1.32” overall length in .32 S&W Long brass, crimping in the top lube groove using either 2 grains of Bullseye or 6 grs. of #2400, either load will shoot an inch and half at 50 yards with iron sights over a long series. The same loads fired in a relined English rook rifle I built later approach an inch when using an old Unertl 6X Small Game scope.
Some .32 H&R Mag loads listed in manuals caused ugly looking fired primers in the converted H&R shotgun because of its large shotgun firing pin and un-bushed breech face. I found this a useful indicator of chamber pressure, so I use no load which causes hard opening or smeared primer cups upon opening the rifle when using standard small pistol primers. Firing trials quickly reveal when a load is “too hot,” because hard opening occurs before primer cups noticeably flatten compared to firing the same loads in my revolver. Federal factory .32 H&R loads rub a shiny ring around the firing pin indent, but the action opens with little effort. I therefore presume that a load causing hard opening is over 20,000 psi.
My general purpose load for use in modern .32 S&W Long revolvers and the single-shot H&R uses either the 115-gr. Ideal #3118 or 122-gr. Saeco #322. I cast these of soft scrap, 10BHN, tumble in Lee Liquid Alox, size .314, and load in .32 S&W Long cases with Federal 200 primers and 2 grains of Alliant Bullseye at 1.32" OAL. This gives not quite 850 fps in the rifle and 720 fps in various 4-inch revolvers. It is accurate in both the Ruger Single Six and S&W Model 31. An added benefit is that this load pokes out the front of the cylinder of my old I-frame S&W .32 Hand ejector, which keeps me from putting this warmer-than-factory load in the old gun.
A flat-nosed, solid lead bullet, with large meplat at subsonic velocity is fully adequate in energy and penetration against feral dogs or coyotes. My testing of the Saeco #322 at 850 f.p.s. gave 30 inches of water penetration. If you want a bit flatter trajectory to reach out to 100 yards at the expense of a bit more noise, you can increase the charge to 2.5 grs. of Bullseye in S&W Long brass or 3 grains in H&R Magnum brass. It shoots well at a little over 1000 fps in the rifle and 800-850 fps in the revolver.
I have not fooled much with slower powders, because specialized rifle-only loads defeat the purpose of using the same ammo in both the walking rifle and revolver. I briefly tried #2400 in H&R Magnum loads, up to a nominal “case full” in the .32 Long case. While faster, it was very much louder and less accurate than my mild loads with Bullseye.
The final journey in my search of “Bunny Gun Nirvanna” was in obtaining a real English rook rifle and having it lined to .32 S&W Long. I located an Army & Navy Cooperative Society rook rifle in .255 which had been inexpertly rechambered to .25-20 Winchester. With some botched scope block holes and jackleg barrel restamping, I was able to get it cheap. I sent it to John Taylor to have it relined and rechambered to .32 S&W Long, then upon its return it went to Connecticut for Lucas Geiger to do a full exterior restoration. I now have a plain walking rifle for rough use, and a pretty art piece for yard and range shooting. Both shoot equally well, an inch and a half or less at 50 yards with my chosen loads, with low noise which doesn’t disturb the neighbors. Now to walk the garden!
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!
2012 is shaping up to be a very interesting year. Lots of stuff I can't yet discuss, but suffice it to say that there are intriguing things afoot on several fronts. Stay tuned.
One thing I can talk about: I've had requests for a lever action rifle class, which I plan to work into my offerings this year. I've watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of articles and blogs about handling the lever action, and I'm surprised at how poorly conceived most of them are. The lever action is different from other types of rifles and needs to be handled on its own merits. Trying to make it into an AR-15 is just as silly as doing the opposite, and this new class will teach techniques and procedures tailored specifically to the lever action. I'll have a section for this class added to the training page sometime in January.
Speaking of training, I'm still open to booking classes for 2012! Check out my training page for the courses I'm offering, and read the page about hosting a class. Remember that no class happens until someone steps up to the plate to hold one -- maybe that someone is you?!
If you like the writing of Ed Harris, and if you like the .45ACP, you won't want to miss this Friday's blog! (Trust me, it's not what you're thinking. No, I'm not giving you any more clues -- you'll just have to wait until Friday!)
I had several things about which I wanted to write, but frankly I just can't muster the enthusiasm today. Some of them involve idiots outside our ranks who want to restrict our freedoms, while a couple more involve idiots inside our ranks who want to argue because they want to argue.
Instead I've decided to look at the lighter side of shooting. Presenting, for your edification and amusement, a couple of satiric YouTube videos which are so close to reality that some are apparently finding it difficult to discern the difference. First is the "Most Tactical AR-15 EVER!:
But wait, there's more! He's also done the "Most Tactical Loadout EVER!”, where he captures on video -- for the first time -- the super-sekrit Gecko45 reload using crossed, duct-taped magazines.
Seems a lot of people are interested in the lever action as a home defense weapon. Any choice of defensive armament has pros and cons, so let's consider the lever action chambered in a pistol cartridge. Some of these are true of all long guns (rifles, shotguns) while some are specific to the one under discussion.
Pro: Good power level, likely to stop a threat with a minimum of shots. Pro: Not overly powerful like a full sized rifle cartridge, less likely to over-penetrate target. Pro: Good magazine capacity - nine rounds is the norm. Pro: Generally ambidextrous operation. Pro: Simple manual of arms for the less dedicated in the household. Pro: Long sight radius results in better accuracy than a handgun. Pro: Low recoil level makes it easy for everyone to shoot. Pro: Increased lethal range over a handgun.
Con: Harder to maneuver in confined spaces than a handgun, is easier to take away in a struggle. Con: Harder/slower to reload, on the slim chance that it be necessary. Con: Requires some practice and dexterity to operate lever efficiently. Con: Slower to deploy/employ than a handgun. Con: Missed shots will penetrate typical exterior walls. Con: Difficult to use with flashlight. Con: Hard to run efficiently one-handed.
These are just off the top of my head; I'm sure you can come up with others.
Is the lever action right for you? That depends on the circumstances; in cases where the long gun makes sense the lever action is often a good choice.
If you live alone (or with your spouse), and won't be faced with the need to travel through your house to gather up loved ones, the long gun is ideal for defense of a barricaded position. If you have kids at home, and thus a very real need to bring them into the safe room which you control, the long gun is less than ideal. (Of course you can mix and match: use a handgun to get the kids back to safety, and switch to the long gun once you're in your safe position.)
If you live on acreage, especially if you have livestock that is subject to predation, a long gun might be an excellent choice as a "perimeter defense' tool.
If the long gun is appropriate for the intended use, the pistol caliber lever action has some advantages over the other choices in the category.
Compared to a regular rifle cartridge the pistol caliber lever action has less recoil, less muzzle blast, and substantially greater ammunition capacity. It's more than powerful enough for any plausible defensive use, enough so that it can even be used for hunting deer.
Compared to a shotgun it's easier to shoot. Even the light 20 gauge, of which I'm a huge fan, is substantially harder on the shooter than the lever action - there’s more recoil and the manual of arms is a little more complicated (you don't have carrier releases on lever actions, for instance.) I've found that the pistol-caliber lever action is a gun that even the least experienced and most sensitive shooters like to use. If you have non-enthusiasts in your household, having a gun that they actually like to practice with will go a long way to helping maintain their proficiency!
Again, the lever action isn’t perfect for everyone or every situation. It is, however, a compelling choice for many.
This actually happened: last night I had a dream that I was living in my grandfather's beach residence. This was unusual inasmuch as I haven't seen that place since I was about five or six years old (my grandfather sold it shortly thereafter) and have only vague recollections of what it looked like.
Oddly, I remember his neighbors and their house more than his. My dream had me in my grandfather’s garage, engaged in firefight with a group of invaders who had seized the neighbor’s house. There were four of them - a man, woman, and two teenage boys - shooting at me as I vainly tried to get the police on the phone.
At one point I ran out of ammunition for my AR-15 and frantically searched the garage for more. I found one of those reddish brown bakelite magazines for an AK-74 (did they ever make them for the AK-47?), fully loaded, which I shoved into the magazine well of my AR. Strangely I got it in and it worked, and I resumed the imaginary firefight. The dream ended with my wife calling my cel phone, wondering why I was making so much noise!
Normally I wouldn't bore you with such a story, but this whole melding of the AK and AR came immediately to mind when I opened my RSS reader this morning. There I found The Firearm Blog reporting that Russian arms maker Molot - a subsidiary of Izhmash, home of the AK rifle - is going to be making AR-15 rifles!
A number of job shops in this country have been building AK rifles for some time, though no major manufacturer has seen fit to do so. I suppose it's only fair that if we're building their guns, they should build some of ours. I doubt, however, that my magazine fantasy will be a part of their plans.
What's next - Rossi building double rifles in .416 Rigby??
A personal item: I hate this whole getting older thing. This last week I stacked our winter's firewood supply in the woodshed - all five cords - and managed to do some soft tissue damage to my right elbow. The last time I remember doing this was about five years ago, when I was doing a lot of hammering during a kitchen remodel. My wife, however, tells me I did the same thing last year when I stacked wood for the winter. That's another part of getting older I can't stand: the memory lapses!
Anyhow, my elbow is quite painful and I'm none too happy about it.
Last month a Colt Paterson revolver sold at auction, setting a new record for the price of a single American firearm: $977,500. Yes, you read that right - within spitting distance of a cool million. Somehow the S&W I'm carrying at the moment seems tawdry in comparison.
For those who have asked, the Kindle version of my book is available NOW!
Just as I was going to press with today's blog post, The Firearm Blog put up news of a new rifle: Advanced Armament Corporation's "Honey Badger", a subsonic .30 caliber rifle built on the AR platform. Tacticool rifles are getting common enough to bore me to tears, but I'm glad they named it what they did because it gives me the opportunity to link to one of my favorite YouTube vids: the (famous) "Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger"!
The Firearm Blog (one of the few blogs I read religiously) brings us good news: Alexander Arms (AA) has decided to stop gouging people who want to make 6.5 Grendel rifles! Apparently Hornady submitted the cartridge to SAAMI to be standardized, but AA refused to relinquish their trademark. That recently changed, and now the 6.5 Grendel is available to anyone who wants to use it.
This is great news; I'd once considered building an AR-15 in 6.5 Grendel but was put off by the insanely high price tag that AA had attached to all things bearing the name. Les Baer, miffed at that very situation, essentially duplicated the round and named it the .264 LBC-AR (try saying that three times, fast!) It didn't catch on.
Now that the 6.5 Grendel can be made by anyone, without paying royalties, I hope to see many rifles so chambered. The round would make the AR platform more usable for a wider range of shooting activities, and the availability of factory ammunition should speed its acceptance. With proper bullets it would make a nice deer round with good accuracy and downrange energy. Though nothing is ever perfect, the 6.5 Grendel is as well-balanced a round as exists in the AR platform.
Take a look at this old LIFE photo essay about a gun safety class in an elementary school back in 1956. I wish to call your attention to frame numbers 5, 6, and 7 - can you identify that rifle? (I can, because it was the rifle I used as a kid. I still have a very soft spot in my heart for it.) Make your guesses in the comments!
It's a tricky task to attach a sling to a rifle where any alteration could adversely affect the value. For instance, what if you have a very old but heretofore unaltered Winchester lever action which you want to take hunting? How do you attach a sling to the butt stock without drilling a hole? I'd never thought about it, but the answer appears to be a butt stock cover such as those produced by these guys. (I could personally do without a lot of the embellishment, but the workmanship appears to be first rate.)
In response to my recent paean to the lever action rifle, Ed Harris sent some of his thoughts. As always, interesting reading from one of the most knowledgable guys in the shooting world:
If I had to “bug out,” riding my mountain bike around EMP-killed vehicles, getting out of Doge carrying only what I could in my ruck and pockets to get beyond the moderate damage radius before the fallout starting coming down, a lever-gun and revolver combo isn’t the world’s worst choice.
I have no plans to stand and fight off the whole world. If you attempt that by yourself, in the words of the late clandestine operator, Harry Archer, who ventured in dangerous climes on behalf of our country and lived to retire and die peacefully in front of his TV, “you’ll never live to shoot-‘em all.”
I just want to protect myself and my gear, put time, distance and shielding between me and any threat, escape, evade, “shoot and SCOOT” if needed, put meat in the pot and get the job done.
A compact, sturdy, fixed sight, double-action .357 revolver such as the Ruger SP101 is an affordable compromise. It is simple for anyone in the family to use. It is accurate enough within 25 yards, “hell for strong,” rugged, highly portable and has impressive ballistics for personal defense. It can use either .357 Magnums or lower powered .38 Special ammo.
Round out the package with a Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 Magnum. It offers adequate combat accuracy for “short range” (less than 200 yards in the infantry sense) and ten rounds magazine capacity. The magazine tube can be topped off without taking the gun out of action. Rapidity of fire is good. It is a natural pointer. The carbine is light in the hand, quick to the shoulder and fast to the first shot and follow-ups come easily. Teamed with a sturdy, concealable revolver, the combo is hard to beat.
The sad truth is that back East it is difficult to find someplace to practice with a military caliber assault rifle. Sure you can get a .22 LR upper for your AR, but it just isn't the same. Most indoor ranges will let you fire any rifle chambered for handgun ammo, so my most-used center-fire rifle these days is my Marlin 1894C carbine in .357 Magnum.
A .357 lever action is manageable by females and youngsters. It has low recoil and is fairly quiet when used with standard velocity lead .38 Special ammo. It is a fun camp gun which works great for small game, feral dogs and groundhogs. When firing .38 Special standard velocity (non +P) lead bullet ammo from a rifle, velocity remains subsonic, producing a mild report little louder than a .22, which has advantages for discreet garden varminting.
Its potential for home defense with .357 ammunition, is nothing to sneeze at. A .357 levergun with proper ammunition is fully adequate for deer within 100 yards and with peep sights is more accurate on silhouette targets out to 200 yards than your average AK. But leverguns are familiar and nonthreatening in appearance, so they "don't scare the natives" as a "black rifle" often does.
The Marlin lever-gun requires better sights, but you can install these yourself. The most rugged iron sights are the XS ghost ring peep. If cost-conscious stop right there and you will have a good outfit. If you have trouble seeing iron sights well, or want to improve your longer range and low light performance, add a XS Lever-Scout rail. This accepts a variety of quick detachable optics, such as a hunting scope or military reflex sight, leaving the peep sights available for backup.
New leverguns cost less than "black rifles." Use the money you save to buy a Dillon RL550B to load your ammo! Used .357 lever-guns sell for about 60% in stores of what a similar rifle would cost new. In most places the Marlin 1894C .357 Microgroove rifles sell for about $100 or more less than a similar used "Cowboy" model with Ballard rifling, because people think that "Microgrooves won't shoot lead."
In my experience of over 25 years, the 1894C with Microgroove rifling shoots lead bullets just fine, as long as you stick to standard pressure or ordinary +P .38 Specials at subsonic velocities.
Microgroove barrels handle jacketed bullet .357 Magnum loads best. The 158-gr. soft-point is what you want to use for deer from the rifle. The 125-grain JHPs are best for personal defense from the revolver, or for varmint use in the rifle. Jacketed bullet .357 magnum rounds are expensive. You will actually need and use very few of them, so just buy a several boxes of factory loads for contingencies.
Standard velocity .38 Special, 158-grain lead semi-wadcutters are the basic utility load for both rifle and revolver. This is what you want to set up your RL550B to assemble in quantity. Bulk Remington .358 diameter 158-grain semi-wadcutters assembled in .38 Special brass with 3.5 grains of Bullseye approximate the velocity, accuracy and energy of factory standard velocity loads. Velocity is about 750 f.p.s. from a 3 inch revolver, and 950 f.p.s. from an 18 inch carbine. Ordinary lead plinking loads shoot into 4 inches at 100 yards from the Marlin. Jacketed soft-point .357 magnums shave an inch off of that. If you buy powder and primers in bulk, component cost to reload free gleaned brass that you have saved with a plinking load is about 10 cents per pop. If you cast your own bullets from free scrounged scrap lead you will save a nickel. Jacketed bullets cost 15 cents eachInstead buy a good quality 4-cavity bullet mold such as Saeco #358. Buy only a few boxes of full up magnum factory loads for serious hunting and conserve them.
My “Cowboy assault rifle” has a Trijicon Reflex II sight Model RX09 with A.R.M.S. #15 Throw Lever Mount fitted into an XS Systems Lever Scout rail. XS mounts are dimensioned to accept Weaver bases. Fitting the military M1915 rail base requires that you to determine which cross-slot you will locate your optic onto. You want the optical sight at the balance point of the rifle.
After you have located the proper cross slot to position your sight, adjust the slot width and depth with a square Swiss needle file to enable the mounting clamp crossbar to press-fit snugly into it. Retract the thumb clamps and slide the A.R.M.S. mount over the front of the rail. The rear mount clamp tightens against the angled sides of the rail only. You want no “slop” after you have fitted the crossbar slot depth and corners.
After fitting, the A.R.M.S. #15 thumb-lever mount offers quick-disconnect with perfect return to zero. I can use the tritium illuminated, no batteries required ever, combat optic or backup ghost ring peeps at will. I zero 158-grain .357 magnum loads to coincide with the pointed top of the Tritium-illuminated chevron at 100 yards. Standard velocity .38s hit "on" at 50 yards. Holding the legs of the chevron tangent to the top of a 12-inch gong at 200 yards I can hit with magnums every time. Placing the chevron across the shoulders of an Army E silhouette I make repeat hits out to at 300 if I do my part.
Maybe I shouldn't have watched, "The Road" again...
This morning I read the news that Governor Moonbeam Brown in California signed off on legislation that prohibits the open carry of handguns (even if unloaded) by the general populous. Given that some of the more vociferous proponents of OC were from CA, it would seem that their “in your face” methods may have backfired.
While I don't live in that state and thus may not be intimately familiar with the timelines involved, it seems that OC came onto the legislative radar when local news outlets got wind of the movement via confrontational videos posted on YouTube. From there it was a short step to getting lawmakers to deal with this major "problem".
Over the weekend I had a talk with a relative who was interested in the possibility of rechambering his rifle to something a little more potent than the .30-06 it currently fires. I found myself recommending the .35 Whelen. His eyebrows darted skyward, amazed that I wasn't recommending some sort of SuperTinyShortenedUltraPowerful Magnum.
Though I've never owned one, I have passing familiarity with the Whelen. It is just a good, effective caliber that's not going to beat the shooter up nor destroy half the animal being shot. Someone once told me that it was "superbly balanced", which I understood to mean that it occupied a serendipitous intersection of power, accuracy, and shootability. It's capable of taking any North American game and doing so without excessive chamber pressure or throat erosion.
(The short-action version, the .358 Winchester, shares those same attributes and is one I've wanted for a while now. Someday I'll find a Savage 99 in .358, though I'd settle for a Browning BLR.)
This is evidence that I've come full circle on rifle calibers. When I was younger and convinced that more power was the answer to everything, I thought fire-breathing Magnums were the way to go. As I've grown up and gotten some experience under my belt I've come to appreciate the cartridges that have been well tested over many years and lots of game: the .30-30 Winchester. The 6.5 Swedish Mauser. The .30-06. Yes, the .35 Whelen.
There are more, but you get the idea. As I said recently on my Facebook page: Sometimes newer is in fact better. Sometimes not. The key is knowing why.
I've mentioned once before that the .357 Magnum is a surprising cartridge. Its performance from a handgun is legendary, if not always deserving of the status, but when stuffed into a rifle it turns into another beast entirely.
Over at The Truth About Guns they took a variety of loads and fired them from a revolver and a rifle, as well as comparing them to the venerable .30-30 cartridge. While the .357 will never replace the .30-30, and their data proves it, it's remarkable how much the little cartridge gains from the longer barrel of a rifle. They're showing a (rough) average 40% increase in velocity and just about a doubling of energy with every load tested; Magnums or Specials, there is a huge performance gain.
(Their results with the S&B 158gn suggest a very weak loading; my handloads, which are not at the maximum of any reloading manual, perform as well from a revolver as the S&B does from a rifle!)
The .357 Magnum makes for a decent short-range deer rifle (say, 50-75 yards) and a remarkably effective arm for things like coyotes up to about a hundred yards - perhaps a touch more if the individual rifle has sufficient accuracy. I've used mine on live game and never cease to be amazed at what it can do.
Recoil is extremely mild compared even to the .30-30, a cartridge not known for excessive recoil. In the hands of a decent shot there's no reason it can't harvest deer. Keep the shots under roughly 75 yards, which is typical of woodland hunting, and the .357 rifle will bring home the venison.
My experience has been that the 158gn JSP is as light as you should go. At the velocities achieved in the longer barrel, a bullet designed for handgun use is a little fragile. I've seen the 158gn JSP fragment on frontal shots of things like coyotes when it hits bone; a better choice would be a 180gn JSP, which seems to be a little tougher.
A 158gn hollowpoint simply explodes when it hits flesh, and I shudder to think what a 125gn HP screamer - already known for occasionally expanding a little too rapidly when fired from a handgun - would do out of a rifle. It might make a dandy pest control round.
This performance cements my view that the .357 Magnum revolver/rifle pairing is perhaps the most versatile set of guns one could ask for. You can shoot Specials from the handgun as target and plinking fodder, higher energy +P loads as defensive rounds, and Magnums for defense and handgun hunting. Those same loads in the rifle can be used for everything from small game to deer.
It’s hard to conceive of a wider range of activities from just two arms. I’m not usually one to play the “what if TSHTF” scenario game, but if I were restricted to one handgun and one rifle I’d be quite comfortable with a 4” .357 revolver and a matching lever-action carbine.
Of course a lever-action .357 Magnum makes a dandy defensive arm too, but that's another topic for another day.
I believe (though I can't find it right now) that I've written about this before: the .357 Magnum coming out of a rifle is a very different beast than the same round coming out of a handgun. One 158 grain load I tested a while back gained nearly 400 fps velocity out of an 18" Marlin rifle barrel compared to the same load in a 4" Dan Wesson tube, traveling nearly 1600 fps.
I've actually used it on animals, and within its range -- say, 75 to perhaps 100 yards -- it's quite effective up to deer-sized game. I've heard some claim that it's suitable for elk "with proper shot placement", but I'd say that's more alcohol-fueled optimism than ballistic fact.
Regardless of such speculation it does make a great small to medium game round, though I've found it difficult to get bullets under 158 grains to hold together at the velocities the rifle can generate. Forget the light hollowpoints; the absolute minimum I'd consider would be a 158gn jacketed softpoint, and even that often disintegrates when it hits flesh.
Someone once told me that the .357 turns from Jekyll to Hyde in a rifle. That's not terribly far from the truth!
Up to this point the only rifles chambered for the .357 have been lever actions from Rossi, Marlin, and Winchester. The lever action is a great platform for the round, but I'm looking forward to getting my hands on one of the Ruger bolt actions. If nothing else, the stainless construction and synthetic stock would be a better choice for our damp Oregon weather than walnut and blued steel! Fitted with a decent 2.5x scope it could be a great all-around rifle for the farm and ranch, one that I wouldn’t need to worry about when the elements turn against me.
Last weekend I was on the range for the first time in I-can't-remember-how-long, helping out with a rifle class taught by my friend Georges Rahbani. One of the rifles on the line was an old Colt SP1, complete with skinny barrel, A1 sights and stock, and the teardrop forward assist.
I'd forgotten how light and handy those original guns were. My main AR is a mid-length Rock River with a very heavy barrel, and the SP1 felt like a feather in comparison. I was so taken (or would that be re-taken?) with the gun that I think I'm going to build a 'retro' AR-15.
There are companies that specialize in making vintage-style uppers and lowers, the stocks and handguards are readily available, and the only issue is the skinny barrel. They’re a lot harder to find, especially if you want anything other than the 1:12 twist. I’d love a 1:8, but would settle for 1:9. Finding one of any decent quality is another matter.
If nothing else, I’m sure Pac-Nor could do something for me if I hand them enough money. It’s that last part that bothers me!
I've worked on many Colt Police Positives in .32-20, and it's a cartridge which has always intrigued me. I'm not one to believe that it would make a good defensive tool, but there is more to shooting than just that!
I've often thought that I'd like to have one of the long-discontinued Marlin 1894 CB in .32-20; it would make a great farm & varmint cartridge in the hotter loadings, and loaded to moderate velocities would make a dandy squirrel gun.
Tempering this is the realization that I don't need yet another cartridge to reload, having too many as it is. The thing about the .32-20 is that it's just so darned (pardon the expression) cute. I don't know why this is, but the cartridge reminds me just a bit of the scraggly tree in the old Peanuts Christmas special: "all it needs is a little love."
I've been bombarded with emails over the last couple of days about (yet another) lever action rifle adorned with a red dot scope. I've heard it called everything from "tactical cowboy" to "poor man's Scout Rifle", but all such sobriquets miss the point.
The lever action rifle, as historically outfitted, needs none of that nonsense.
Please understand that I'm all for moving forward. I'm a technology junkie; I love what is new and demonstrably better. Sometimes, though, we spend a lot of time and energy to re-create something which we already had in simpler, more reliable form. Just because something is a change doesn't mean it's really a step forward.
The red dot scope affixed to the old lever action is a case in point. The lever action has traditionally been fitted with a buckhorn or semi-buckhorn rear sight, the operation of which seems to be a mystery to everyone under the age of 40. Buckhorn sights were designed for fast acquisition in poor lighting conditions, but were capable of delivering higher precision when necessary. They were the reason that the lever action was regarded as the premier reactive hunting arm, as contrasted with the bolt action which was viewed as a more contemplative, proactive piece.
Today the red dot sight is touted as being the ideal reactive tool, but in my experience really isn't any better than the good old buckhorn. It's no faster, it's no more accurate, but it does add weight, complexity, battery dependency, and a disturbing tendency to drift out of zero with no apparent provocation.
(In nearly every rifle class over the past several years, at least one of the ubiquitous red dot sights brought by students has proven itself incapable of being properly zeroed. I don't want to point any fingers, but the usual suspect starts with 'E' and ends with 'ech'. If you simply must have a freakin’ red dot sight, at least make it an Aimpoint. Rant off.)
My suspicion is that people are looking to technology to make up for improper handling of the lever action. I've watched lots of people live and far too many on YouTube, and very few (if any) illustrate an understanding of the dynamics of the gun in action. The lever action should come to the eye immediately, and one should be capable of triggering a suitably accurate round at almost the instant the butt touches the shoulder. It takes a bit of practice and requires proper handling techniques, but it’s hardly rocket science.
In the not-too-distant past we called it ‘snapshooting’, and it combines manipulation, continuum of sighting, and an intuitive comprehension of the balance of speed and precision. That can’t be gotten from a holographic sight, no matter how much money one spends.
One of these days, when I have some free time, I'll delve into this in more detail. For now I remain firmly in the traditionalist camp until a real improvement on the old design has been demonstrated. It’s not that I’m averse to change, but if I’m going to spend the time, effort and money to make a change I want some benefit from it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check the Facebook message that just popped up on my iPhone. Could a real Luddite say that?
You may have noticed that there was no Friday Surprise last week. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday that I noticed there was no Friday Surprise! Apparently I simply lost track of what day it was, one of the risks of working by and for oneself.
I need your help. I'm looking to scope a few old .22 rifles, and would like to find some vintage scopes to do so. What I'm looking for are the Weaver Model A4 (4x power, 3/4" tube) or the '60s vintage Bushnell Custom jobs with the integral full-length dovetails (also 4x magnification.) Yes, I've tried the usual places (eBay, etc.) and for such a common item they just don't show up very often. They're not exactly high dollar attractions, and I suspect that's the reason no one bothers to list them on the auction sites -- not enough return on investment.
Should you happen to possess one of these, and should its optics be in excellent condition, and should you wish to part with it, drop me an email.
Speaking of .22 rifles: there are tons of inexpensive autoloading .22s in the marketplace, and if they're not Ruger 10/22s no one seems to take much notice. I've talked to more than one person who bought a Mossberg or Savage or Marlin .22 auto at a gunshow and sold it off immediately because it "didn't work right." They usually end up going to Wally World (or the local equivalent) and getting a 10/22 on sale, secure in the knowledge that the Ruger will work where those "cheap guns" wouldn't.
I've salvaged several of those gun show rejects, and with only one exception (where I had to replace an extractor) they were returned to proper function simply by cleaning the bolt. A .22 rifle is a dirty beast, and over decades of shooting the extractor and firing pin channels become caked with goo (a technical term used by gunsmiths.) By pulling the bolt from the gun and getting rid of that sandy, greasy mess you can solve 90% of functioning problems.
Cheap .22 rifles are to be celebrated, not feared. They're easy to fix and loads of fun, even if you can't buy carbon fiber geegaws for them.
I have more than a passing acquaintance with Fabrique Nationale's Fusil Automatique Léger, more commonly known as the FN-FAL. I've owned a number of examples, from 'pre ban' milsurp guns to commercial examples to kit guns built on commercial receivers. Over the years I've fired literally tens of thousands of rounds of 7.62x51 through those rifles, many of them in training venues, to the point that at one time I'd become something of a local curiosity: "hey, that's the guy who shoots .308 all the time!" Putting eight or nine hundred rounds of full-power thirty-caliber fodder through a rifle in a weekend, multiple times, will do that for you.
In addition to my own experience I've been pleased to make the acquaintance of four gentlemen who actually carried the FAL (or its inch-patterned variants, the L1-A1 and C1-A1) in service of their respective countries - at least two of whom were presented with the opportunity to use them in live fire against people who were (presumably) trying to kill them.
From all this I've come to a conclusion about Dieudonné Joseph Saive's most enduring design, and it's sure to displease the romantics in the audience: the FAL ain't all it's cracked up to be.
From an ergonomic standpoint the FAL is from a decidedly earlier era in arms design. The safety/selector is difficult to operate from a firing grip, while the horizontal-style takedown lever has a disturbing tendency to unlatch the receiver if one does try to operate the safety from a firing grip. The rear sight on most examples wobbles, making it difficult to attain decent precision from the gun, while the horrid triggers (which even with the best gunsmithing never get really good, just less horrid) don't help matters.
The gun gets very warm - hot, actually - in any sort of sustained fire. Shooting a fast-paced 60-round qualification course, which I've done more times than I can remember, makes the gun unbearably hot. (Unbearably as in "I've sustained burns from trying to hold onto the gun". It reminds me for all the world of the original HK P7, which was notorious for frying digits in as little as four magazines of rapid fire.)
The worst part of the FAL, and this is sure to annoy fans of the gun, is that it's just not all that reliable - certainly nowhere near what people make it out to be, largely because of flaws in the piston design. If the gun is not assembled exactly right the piston will bind in the extended position and keep the bolt from closing. This is because the front of the piston is carried on the barrel, in the front sight block, while the back of the pistol protrudes through a snug hole in the upper receiver. If those two pieces aren't perfectly aligned the piston travels at a slight angle relative to the bore and binds at the most inopportune time, the return spring not being strong enough to work it loose. This is particularly the case after there has been some carbon buildup in the gas block, which reduces the tolerances in the system's expansion chamber.
The piston is also subject to bending, causing the same problem. If the gas pressure isn't properly adjusted for the ammunition lot, too much gas pushes the piston too hard and bends it slightly. When that happens, the piston once again binds in the frame boss and brings the gun to a sporadic halt in chambering.
I realize gas piston AR rifles are all the rage these days, but anyone who's had to fight with an FAL gas plug in order to do the necessary cleaning of the piston will understand why I continue to be less than enthusiastic about the things.
The FAL is not a tremendously accurate gun, at least in its off-the-shelf military configuration. I've shot only one FAL that could be justifiably called 'accurate', and it was a heavy-barreled Israeli 'FALO' once sold by Springfield Armory as the SAR-48. It is a wonderful gun, will easily keep up with the best AR-10 pattern rifles, and the owner is quite unwilling to sell it. (Of course I've only been asking him for the past 15 years, so maybe one of these days he'll tire of my blandishments and agree to sell the thing to me!) Other than that one, all of the examples I've shot have been 'rack grade'. Not bad, certainly suitable for infantry work, but not something that really interests me in a Whelenist sense.
Over the years the weaknesses of the FAl design have prompted me to divest myself of many examples that just didn't measure up, none of them proving to have the combination of reliability, ergonomics, and accuracy that I want. Even my favorite FAL was only average in accuracy, but it least it ran - and with a FAL, that's half the battle.
One veteran of a military force known for their pragmatism once told me "there's a reason we dumped the things." Much as I like the FAL - and I do - I understand the sentiment. Living with a FAL must be a little like living with a British sports car; I'd say that it’s like living with an Italian car, but the Fiat convertible I once owned was more reliable than the average FAL!
I'm sure there are those who will disagree with me, but I've got a lot of trigger time behind a lot of different incarnations, and they all share the same faults. The fact is that the more you shoot a FAL, the more flaws you'll expose. It was a great design in its day, but that day has passed.
A large percentage of accessories produced for the AR-15 comes under the heading of "tacticool" - fashionable, but of dubious value. Every once in a while, though, someone comes up with something that screams "now why didn't I think of that?"
AXTS Weapons Systems has introduced a slightly modified AR-15 lower that addresses the issue of manually locking the action open. With a normal AR, to lock the bolt back you have to find and manipulate a tiny bolt catch with your left hand, while operating the charging handle (designed for left-handed use) with your right hand. Whether you're trying to clear a double feed under fire or just locking the action open as an administrative task, it's a juggling act. If your hands are a little on the small side, like mine are, it's even more awkward.
The A-DAC Lower Receiver adds one internal part: a plunger that goes between the magazine catch and the bolt catch. When the magazine catch is pressed, the bolt catch is activated. With this system, locking the bolt back is simply a matter of pressing the magazine catch with the right hand (like we always do) and operating the charging handle with the left hand (which we always do.) The procedure is now consistent with all the other ways that we normally handle the AR, and consistency is a big contributor to efficiency.
The Firearm Blog has an article and a video about the lower. (The comments show a certain lack of comprehension: the magazine catch is not transformed into a bolt release, only a bolt catch, and the gun still functions completely normally for those people who aren’t aware of the modification. From a training standpoint, I don’t see a downside. I do agree with the rants about the stupid 'action' music, but then again most of the shooting shows on television do the same cheesy thing. I'm talking to you, 'American Guardian'!)
My only concern is whether the plunger can get bound by oxidized lubricants or dirt, thereby activating the bolt catch inadvertently. Time will tell; I'll give the system a year or so, and if this concern proves to be unfounded I might just buy a couple for myself.
Sadly I have no mil-dot scopes in my inventory; several scopes with rangefinding reticles, but no mil-dots. This app is therefore useless for me, but looks pretty neat and will probably be of great value to those who do have appropriate optics.
I must admit that I feel my inner Luddite surfacing when considering things such as these. A huge benefit of the mil-dot is to allow rangefinding in the scope, without having to use externally powered systems or devices. Will the shooter become as familiar with his equipment as his technologically backward counterpart? What happens if he leaves his iPhone at home, or if the battery dies?
Not that I'm throwing stones, as my glass house (well, glass-faced iPhone anyhow) contains the superb Ballistic FTE. I love that app, though it has come at the expense of memorizing my rifle's drop table at various distances. In the old days, which is now a scant five years ago, I'd tape the drop table to the stock for quick reference. Ballistic FTE has made me lazy, and I don't even have a table made for a couple of my rifles - let alone having one taped to their stocks. What happens if I leave my iPhone at home, or if the battery goes dead?
Miss, I suppose. My inner Luddite is laughing at me.
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.
It comes as no surprise to long-time readers that I'm a fan of the 6.5mm rifle caliber. Though I've only owned a single such rifle - a 6.5-284 screamer - the ballistic advantages of this particular diameter intrigue me to no end. It seems to be a "sweet spot" in rifle calibers, where drag coefficients and sectional densities combine to make extremely efficient cartridges. Their stability in flight, ability to resist wind, and deep penetration are the stuff of legend.
I've wanted a 6.5 Swedish Mauser for the longest time, but I wouldn't turn my nose up at the modern short-action version, the .260 Remington. I'd love to have a Mannlicher in 6.5x54 (with the full stock for which Mannlicher is most famous, of course) but have never been able to justify the high tariff. If I see a rifle, nearly any rifle, in 6.5mm I usually salivate! (Well, perhaps not for a Carcano. It's not the cartridge I mind, it's the rifle in which it is usually encountered. Mr. Whelen would not have found it at all interesting.)
Given this fascination, it should not be a shock to learn that I relish the idea of a 6.5mm cartridge chambered in an AR-15. I actually considered buying a 6.5 Grendel upper not too long ago, but held back because of the high cost. The Grendel is a proprietary cartridge, for which barrel, rifle, and ammunition makers must pay a royalty to the owner: Alexander Arms.
I'm all for free enterprise, but that particular enterprise is far from free. The royalties necessary to use the Grendel cartridge have kept prices much higher than, say, the unrestricted 6.8SPC round. I wondered why someone didn't simply clone the Grendel cartridge and give it a different name.
Someone finally did. As The Firearm Blog reports, Les Baer has cloned the Grendel cartridge and has released it as the .264 LBC-AR. (Who came up with that mouthful?) It is a functional equivalent of the 6.5 Grendel, and I hope it catches on. If it does, my AR may finally reach the 6.5mm nirvana I've long sought.
Last week I heaped scorn and derision on AR-15 foregrips ('Pharoah's Beards'), and feedback suggests I need to expound on the subject.
The issue with foregrips is that they limit how you interface with your rifle. That's a fancy way of saying that they get in the way; instead of the hardware (the rifle) allowing flexibility in use, it becomes more specialized - less flexible. The rifle no longer responds to the user's will, rather the user now must adapt to the accessory's limitations, in addition to the rifle's.
As long as the AR-15 is being shot from a standing, squared off position, the Pharaoh's Beard feels like a great invention. A real incident, however, may demand more. The shooter may have to contort himself into a stable firing position because of the surrounding cover; the opponent may be at a radical angle (in any direction) from the defender's point of view; rapid fire from a compromised 'stance' may be needed as the defender rapidly moves relative to the attacker.
When any of those things happen, the changed body position requires a modified relationship to the rifle. With a plain forearm, the support arm simply moves to the necessary position and the shooting commences. With some sort of foregrip hanging off the rifle, one of two things will happen: the shooter will doggedly maintain a grip on the thing, all the while trying to get his body to do things that it isn't structurally capable of doing, or the shooter will realize that the grip isn't working, and try to maneuver around it to get to the best placement. Sometimes he can, more often he can't, because that accessory is taking up the very space he needs. Bottom line: less-than-optimal shot placement and less-than-optimal response times.
Most people test these things in a range-perfect stance of some sort; they don't push themselves or their equipment. In such undemanding circumstances, foregrips seem to work well. The further from that ideal world, the less well they work. You can decide for yourself if that's meaningful to you.
I see this frequently with students in class. Georges Rahbani, who I've mentioned many times in this blog, runs his 'Fighting Rifle' course as a triad: three separate 2-day classes, based on real-life encounters, that rapidly ramp up critical survival skills. The first class has the students working on fairly traditional range platforms: standing, kneeling, etc. Foregrips seem to work in that environment, because they're designed to facilitate just this kind of handling. The environment isn't asking much of the shooter, which is important to understand.
By the time the second class rolls around, students discover that they're not in Kansas any more. The environment now asks much more of the shooters; the concept off 'ideal' is dispensed with, and 'field expedient' becomes the new paradigm. As that occurs, the students who showed up for the first class with gizmos and gadgets on their rifles find themselves hurriedly removing them during breaks.
Why? Because they've discovered that their options are limited, not increased, by added hardware. They've learned that the situation dictates their response, not the other way around. The more universal their equipment, the easier they can adapt their response to the situation; the more specialized the gear, the less they're able to do so. Conceptually, this is the same thing I said last week; substitute 'gear' for 'technique', and the same lessons apply.
There is also an issue with attitude, with perception of the rifle's role. Georges asks his students: "Is your rifle a fun toy, or a serious tool?" If it's strictly a recreational object, a ballistic tinker toy, go wild - hang whatever you want on it. (Tacticool accessories, it must be admitted, are a heck of a lot of fun and building just the "right" configuration can be an enjoyable hobby in itself. Machined aluminum is like bacon - it makes everything better!)
Otherwise, save that money and use it to buy more ammo. You'll be better off.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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”.
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.
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.
As I've mentioned from time to time, shooting .22LR "seriously" can be a frustrating experience. It is almost expected that two identical rifles will have very different ammo preferences - and, unlike centerfire cartridges, the differences are often astounding.
For instance, I have one rifle that shoots it's favorite load into an average 5-shot group of .275" at 25 yards (from prone.) However, that same rifle shooting it's least favorite load struggles to maintain 3" at that same distance! What's more, once you find that one load that shoots well in that one gun, the next batch (lot) of that same ammo may not. It will never be as bad as the best to the worst comparison, but the variance can be enough to put the next best (or sometimes the third best) in the top spot - until you change lots again, of course!
Finding the gun's favorite load is strictly a matter of trial and error. It's not usually even a matter of the type of load; for instance, a gun might shoot one particular 36 grain high velocity hollowpoint load very well, but the next maker's similar fodder won't be even close.
Those who are serious about their rimfires, therefore, tend to do a lot of ammunition testing. When I acquire a new .22, I'll run as many as 20 different kinds of ammo through it, keeping careful notes about the results. This takes time, and if not done correctly results in meaningless data!
As you probably know, .22 ammunition is externally lubricated. That is, each bullet has a coating of some kind of lube to keep it from fouling the bore. Each maker uses a different lube, and sometimes they'll use different lubes within their own product line.
The problem is that residual lube from one load can affect the next few rounds using another load. Case in point: some time back I was testing a new rifle with a couple of different loads. I had just finished with Wolf Match Target, and loaded in some much cheaper Federal stuff. The first 5-shot group with the Federal was absolutely astounding - an honest .175" group at 25 yards! I don't know which amazed me more, the rifle or the ammo, but I wanted to do it again!
I loaded another magazine, "assumed the position", and shot another group. This one was slightly larger, which I attributed to me. I repeated the procedure, and this time the group had almost doubled in size. The next one was even worse.
What accounted for that first group? After thinking about it, and reading some information from Steven Boelter (whose rimfire experience dwarfs mine), I came to the conclusion that perhaps there was some residual lubricant from the Wolf ammunition which was "contaminating" (but in a good way) the Federal load. Testing my hypothesis was easy: I shot a few magazines of Wolf, then switched to the Federal. The first group of Federal was, again, under .200" for 5 shots. The following groups deteriorated rapidly, just as they had the first time. A repetition of the sequence duplicated the results. It seemed that the Wolf lubricant affected the Federal rounds in a good way, but as it was rapidly depleted from the barrel the groups suffered.
From this I adopted the rimfire shooter's testing procedure: when switching loads, first clean the bore (a quick brushing will suffice.) Then, shoot 1 round of the new load for each inch of barrel length to "season" the barrel to the new ammo before firing any groups that will count. This is Boelter's recommendation, and I've found it to be sage advice. Remember: only after the seasoning rounds have been fired do you shoot any for score or analysis.
Those first few rounds may group better, or worse, than the shots following. It doesn't matter, because the groups made after the seasoning process are the ones that tell you what the load really, truly does in that gun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.