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© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

Where can you find news about the gun world?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Cyber Monday shooting and self defense deals!


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

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

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

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

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Some bits of rifle stuff.


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

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

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

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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!

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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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




-=[ Grant ]=-
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FRIDAY SURPRISE: Free radicals.


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

He was me.

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

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

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

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-
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A self defense article for you to read.


I've mentioned Ohio-based self defense instructor Kelly Muir before. She's on the forefront of teaching self defense not as a series of barely related skills, but as an integrated response.

She's got a
great article up at the Personal Defense Network, one which I highly recommend that everyone read.

Her remarks about physical fitness resonated with me. Thanks to lots of heavy chores around the farm my strength level is pretty good, but because of my general lack of aerobic exercise (despite daily woodsplitting) my endurance isn't what it should be. According to my physician I'm also 15 pounds heavier than ideal, which is a lot on a short guy like me.

I think losing the extra pounds just became a higher priority.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Wrong Woman now has a blog!


Kelly Muir at
Wrong Woman has put up a blog to discuss the unique aspects of this new self defense program. Called Power Play, I can already tell that it isn't going to be your average self defense blog: her third post talks about serial manipulators and the language they use.

It was a bit of an eye-opener for me. This is something men don't normally deal with, and thus I'd never really thought about such nuances of interpersonal conflict. I've read studies that put the number of sexual assaults where the victim knew her attacker at something on the order of 80%. Now I've got a little better idea of how that happens.

It's this kind of insight that's going to put the holistic approach of Wrong Woman on the map. Mark my words.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Comprehensive self defense is becoming a reality.


This is such an exciting time in the field of self defense study! More and more reality-based courses are being offered, and we're finally starting to see true integration of all the pieces of the defensive puzzle: armed and unarmed, lethal and less lethal.

One the newest and most innovative approaches comes to us from Columbus, Ohio. Kelly Muir, an accomplished martial arts instructor, has put together the first truly integrated and comprehensive self defense course for women. Called
Wrong Woman, it teaches intuitive skills across the entire range of response.

The course starts with a Fundamentals class, where the students learn the basics of intuitive skill development. From there they can choose to take classes tailored to their particular interests: unarmed response, use of chemical/electrical tools, and firearms. Many of the classes are offered in both basic and advanced form and there's even a class devoted to risk assessment and decision making.

It's a great new building block approach to personal defense, where everything that's taught has the same basis and progression. As the student's life evolves she can simply 'plug in' the course that best applies to her current or anticipated situations.

My wife, herself a longtime student of defensive shooting, is anxious to take Kelly's course and is just waiting for her to come to the west coast! Those who are fortunate enough to live anywhere near Ohio should get to Columbus and
enroll in Wrong Woman. Be sure to check out the Wrong Woman Facebook page, too.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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A few updates.


- I wrote a few weeks back about
a new feline inhabiting my workplace. Some disagreement exists regarding the name of said feline - I think "ShopKat" is perfect, my wife prefers "Cali" - but the little furball is already doing good work. Mice infiltration is down, and she's managed to snag one or two rodentia herself. This is in stark contrast to the lazy cat at home, who spends all of his productive time curled up in front of the woodstove.

- Several people have asked if I managed to find a line of
shirts I like. So far readers have suggested two good candidates: the Overland long sleeve from Triple Aught Design ($$$ but made in the U.S.), and the Safari Shirt from Long Grass (made in South Africa, but not so much $$$.) I’ve not actually ordered either yet, but I'll get around to trying them in the next month or so. Thanks for all the suggestions!

- My wife came home with a big surprise recently:
Sparky's Root Beer, elixir of the deities, is once again available in Oregon. I can't tell you how happy and excited I was to find that I now have semi-regular access to my absolute favorite brew! I say semi-regular, as it's only carried by the local speciality food retailer, but the fact that I can get it at all is cause for celebration. My fellow Oregonians, gettest thou to your local Market Of Choice and try Sparky's for thyself!


-=[ Grant ]=-
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Friday Surprise: Why didn't I find this earlier?


When I talked about tools a couple of weeks ago, a regular reader emailed and said that his father had owned a service station in the 1960s too. He asked what brand, and I told him Texaco. He then forwarded a link to this shot of an abandoned Texaco station somewhere in North Dakota.



The picture is hosted at a
site called shorpy.com, and that link encouraged me to spend the next hour looking at the historic photos that are Shorpy's raison d'être. Shorpy is sort of a cross between a photo album and a blog, and with thousands of photos in their archive I’m going to need a lot more spare time! All pics have a small preview like this one, and clicking on any of them brings up a high-res version. Neat!

Very cool site that has become one of the few on my "daily read" bookmark.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Another interview!


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

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

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

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

-=[ Grant ]=-
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FRIDAY SURPRISE: The Wright stuff.


Whenever I buy a durable good, I make some hard decisions about what and where I buy. I start, as I've often mentioned, with quality; I buy not necessarily the most expensive, but not the cheapest either. I'm looking for value, that ill-defined but instantly recognizable point at which price and quality are optimized.

Of course there are other variables to consider. I'm growing more aware, with every passing day, of the social impact in the ways which I spend my money. No, I'm not talking about being a "green consumer" or other trendy tripe, but rather acknowledging that where my money ends up is important. The simple fact is that not all spending is equal in terms of economic or social value.

Assuming that I can get the level of quality that I seek, I prefer to buy American products wherever possible. Not just assembled here, but from American materials by companies whose home base is the United States. Perhaps even more importantly, I prefer to spend my money with the smallest possible company that can meet my quality, value, and origin expectations. That's not always possible, of course, but I'd rather have my money going to a privately held, family business than a faceless multinational corporation.

Why? Because I believe that such companies make better long-term decisions regarding their products and customers. I've witnessed, time and time again, the quality of a product decline precipitously (usually from being 'offshored') because a huge corporation is focused on quarterly profits and not on pleasing its customers. The social impact of lost jobs is an enormous problem, not to mention the decline in the real wealth that principally comes from making things.

Craftsman tools are a good example. Once the benchmark for decent U.S. made tools at an affordable price, in recent years Sears has cheapened the brand by importing more and more of their products from Asia. I've been in Sears stores where it was actually difficult to find an American tool, yet prices have not reflected the lower cost of the imported items.

Which, finally, brings me to the topic for today: I need some new tools. Not want, not desire, but actually need.

My general tool sets are a mish-mash of various manufacturers, conditions and levels of quality. I'm missing some pieces, and others I need but have just never bothered to pick up. I'm tired of wrenches that don't fit well and poorly made sockets that round nuts off instead of taking them off. It is an area of my life that is in stark contrast to what I insist on for my business, and it's time that changed. This summer I decided to finally use some of my savings to replace much of my crappy tool collection with quality examples, tools that I can use for decades to come. As I've said before, if I have to spend money I want to do it one time only.

Needless to say, I'm not spending any of that money at Sears.

I researched tool companies based on the principles I've outlined above. Quality first, American made wherever the quality is acceptable, and from a company who understands that their business comes from satisfied customers. As it happened, only one company met all of my criteria.

Wright Tools.

Wright has been in business in Barberton, Ohio
since 1927. It is still owned and operated by the Wright family, and they're proud of the products they produce in America, from American steel. No other tool company can make that claim, and their pride shows in the quality of their tools; they are simply superb.

Once I'd decided that this company truly deserved my business, I had to find a place to buy Wright wrenches and sockets and all the other stuff I need. I ran into a little problem: there isn't a stocking Wright dealer anywhere near me!

It was then that I found an online hardware company in Kansas City called
Harry J. Epstein Co. Like Wright they're a family owned business, and also like Wright they pride themselves on the quality of their product. For a retailer, that product is the service they deliver, and Epstein definitely delivers.

They have a neat retro-look website that clearly identifies the country of origin of all their products. (Love their animated/illustrated shopping cart!) The site has a very good selection of products that they keep in stock, but where they shine is how they handle special orders.

Most mailorder companies don't do special orders, and in fact it's hard to find a local retailer these days who will. Epstein's is the exception, and having used their service I can tell you that no one, and I mean do mean no one, gives the level of personalized service that they do. This is rare in today's world and should be celebrated!

Between Wright's products and Epstein's service my toolbox is slowly getting the makeover it sorely needs. For someone who doesn't like spending money, I'm a pretty happy camper.

-=[ Grant ]=-
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Monday meanderings.


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

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

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


-=[ Grant ]=-
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