© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

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

Ed Harris: How to Make and Load All-Brass .410 Shotshells

Ed Harris is back with another of his terrific articles! This time, it's about making your own all-brass shotshells in .410.

Shotgun lust: the Remington Versa Max.

Sometimes when I teach I learn something new. That happened to me just the other day!

The Streetsweeper shotgun: gone and unlamentedly so.

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

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

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

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-

A true story about my Ithaca Model 37 shotgun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ithaca Gun Company is expanding to South Carolina!

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

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

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

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-

What I did at SHOT Show, Part Three.

One of the booths I wanted to visit was Elzetta. I've mentioned before that my
flashlight of choice is their ZFL-M60 with a (discontinued) Malkoff MC-E module. This combination gives 500 lumens (!!) of pure flood light, enough to light up a room no matter which direction it's pointed. The beam is so soft that it has no hotspot and thus produces no glare when pointed at anything short of a mirror. It is, I contend, the ideal personal defense light.

The Elzetta light is also incredibly tough, more so than any other light I've owned. Here's a ridiculously over-the-top torture test between an Elzetta and a Surefire:

Having had (and witnessed) various Surefire failures, I can only say "that's why I carry an Elzetta!" If there's a tougher light on the market, I'd like to see it. This picture shows the light from the video (on left), along with the light that drove all the nails into the 2x4 on which it rests. Yes, it still works!

As I mentioned, the MC-E module was discontinued some time ago. This left a huge gap in the market, as there was no high quality flashlight with a flood beam available. This left me unable to wholeheartedly recommend any light when asked, as I truly feel the flood beam is a necessity in indoor environments. Turns out that Malkoff listened, and I learned that the Elzetta light can be had with the
Malkoff M60F module: 235 honest lumens with a very floody beam! It's not as pure a flood as my MC-E, but it's better than anything else on the market and the modified beam will probably be more versatile for more people. Elzettas are made in the U.S. and come from a fanatical company that takes their products seriously. Highly recommended.

There was an entirely new line of revolvers unveiled at SHOT, from a company called Sarsilmaz out of Turkey. I talked at length with their chief engineer, Mr. Oner Ozylimaz, and he told me that they made use of forged stainless frames, barrels and cylinders, but use MIM (metal injection molding) for most everything else - including, oddly, the cylinder crane. This gives the guns a two-tone appearance, as the MIM crane is black set against the stainless of the major parts.

The guns bear a superficial resemblance to the medium-frame Taurus, but I was unable to get him to let me look inside of one. The guns are all in .38/.357, are approximately of “K/L” frame size, and have rounded butts. Barrel lengths range from approximately 3" to 6", with all but the shortest having LPA adjustable sights curiously mounted on a plate that's screwed to the topstrap. The 3"-ish model had a simple drift-adjustable rear sight that I found oddly appealing. The guns are of roughly Rossi quality, both in terms of finish and action.

The guns themselves weren't all that exciting, though if properly priced they may be a solid alternative to brands like Rossi and Charter Arms. What
IS exciting is that a company outside of the U.S. decided that the revolver market was lucrative enough to justify the engineering and tooling costs (MIM molds aren't cheap) for a new line of guns. I don't think I'll own a Sarsilmaz, but I'm glad they're here!

Ithaca shotguns, if you didn't know, are a particular favorite of mine. Their Model 37 is a classic, an icon in the shotgun world. If you've never handled one you should; if you're used to Remington or (worse) Mossberg pumps, the Ithaca will make you smile the first time you operate the slide! Their actions are smooth, light, and are usually a cure for the person who has a tendency to short-stroke other pump guns.

Ithaca has gone through several owners and a couple of shutdowns over the last decade, but for the last few years has been making a comeback. Not only are they producing a full line of the traditional Model 37 in 12 and 20 gauges, this year they introduced an absolutely darling 28 gauge version - which none of their forebears, including the original Ithaca, ever did. It's made on a special small frame, and is light and very quick-handling. Fans of the '28' will want one, and I'm told they're being produced one at a time in their Custom Shop. The workmanship shows!

That's not the only new thing: they're now producing an over/under of their own design, which looks quite nice. (I'm not an O/U guy, it must be said, but the workmanship was solid.) They've also brought back an old favorite, the single shot single barrel Trap model. They've also spun off their home defense and police shotguns into an allied entity called Ithaca Tactical, and have quite a line of tough-looking door breachers and similar accessories to help them regain some of the police market they once dominated.

One product of Ithaca Tactical was sitting quietly on a back table but wasn't officially introduced: the Ithaca Tactical AR-15. This was the year of the AR-15 at SHOT, as you couldn't look in any direction without seeing some company declaring that they make the "best" AR-15 clones. The Ithaca version is at least different, being fully machined in their factory from aluminum billet instead of built on outsourced castings. Another AR is probably what the market doesn't need, but apparently they feel they need for one if Ithaca Tactical is to compete. OK, then.

I'm very big on keeping my knives sharp, and for the last decade or so have been using the Lansky system to do so. It's able to produce a decent edge, but I've never been happy with the quality of Lansky's components. I've looked at other sharpeners, but have never found anything that is as quick and easy as the Lansky - until this show!

Wicked Edge is a relatively new company out of Santa Fe, and their sharpening system combines easy operation with a wide range of quality stone, ceramic, and diamond hones, along with leather strops for a really polished edge. Pharmacist Tommy had with him a knife that he'd tried (with his Lansky) to get to a decent edge, without success. The Wicked Edge had no problem handling the odd shape and size of the blade, and in a few minutes it was shaving sharp (as proven by Tommy’s suddenly smooth forearms.) He's sold, and so am I. I'm going to order one as soon as I recover from the monetary impact of this trip!

Check back tomorrow, because there's more to tell!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings, Aug. 22 edition.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday Meanderings, August 15th Edition.

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Correlation seems to be high.


Happy Monday!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

AN ADVENTURE: Spent some time last week working on a project with Rob Pincus. You'll have to wait a while to hear the details, but a good and educational time was had by all. (Yes, Rob, it's still raining here.)

LUBRIPLATE COMES THROUGH: Got an email from Alex Taylor, a District Manager at Lubriplate. They're now selling the superb SFL #0 grease in consumer quantities in their online store! Comes in a 14oz can for $23.01, plus shipping. Glad to see them recognizing the firearms market; now let's see if we can get them to sell their FMO-AW oil in small quantities too!

THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN EVERY DAY: Remington recently announced that they've produced their ten millionth 870 series shotgun. I knew they were popular, but ten freakin' million? I would never have guessed anything close to that. The shotgun, it appears, is alive and well in America.

THIS IS JUST WRONG: I'll take some of what I just said back: certain shotguns are alive, but not well. Apparently trying to out-silly the S&W TRR8, Stoeger recently announced the availability of the Double Defense - a tactical side-by-side shotgun. Yes, a SxS with a fore-end rail. Black, of course. (Folks, I couldn't possibly make up something like this. It takes a marketing department to do so.)

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW: A University of Alabama prof has claimed to have invented a revolutionary sighting system that promotes "intuitive aim." Knowledgeable readers will recognize the concept as being eerily reminiscent of the Steyr "trapezoid" sights as used on the 'M' and 'S' series pistols, which have been available for a decade now. Hmmm...

-=[ Grant ]=-