Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hunter Arrested After Shooting Man He Thought Was A Squirrel

This episode--and there have been too many like it-- shows why the Four Rules are everybody's responsibility all the time. Also it appears the shooter had been drinking, which is not okay.

Innocent until proven guilty, but if it played out as the news report indicates, holy cats.

I am pleased that the shootee survived. They don't always.

Guns don't kill people, morons do: Detroit leaders urge an end to celebratory New Year's Eve gunfire (via

Here is a link to an astonishing news story.

Perfectly amazing. Detroit's police chief and other leaders are urging the public not to fire guns in the air to welcome the new year. What kinds of morons do they have in Detroit, that people need to be told that?

Oh, wait. I had this car once that... Never mind.

Anyway, for those in Detroit, here are the rules you need to follow to avoid being a danger to self and others when you have a gun in your hands. Firing wildly into the air is certainly a no go, violating at least two rules out of four.

If the good people of Detroit cannot be dissuaded from their cheerful custom, perhaps they could be persuaded to use blanks?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A new scout rifle from Ruger -- and it looks good

Check this out at Ruger Firearms News. It appears Ruger has repented of its lapse in building scout rifles, and come up with something interesting indeed. Until I get gun in hand I won't know all about it, but it is an M77 with--get this--a detachable box magazine holding 10 rounds, ear-protected front sight, rear 'ghost ring' peep sight and a rail for whatever long eye relief optic you like. The new stick is called the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle because Gunsite Ranch and Ruger collaborated on the specs.

Photo © Sturm, Ruger & Co. Used by permission

Now, this is a brand new announcement, dated today, and we have all seen guns announced that never materialized. I have high hopes for this one, though. We will have to wait and see about the questions of price, availability, reliability and accuracy, with reliability being a big concern. A number of manufacturers have muffed the question of making detachable magazines work properly in bolt actions. Ruger, though, has a company history of making things that work, so I look forward eagerly to seeing what they've wrought.

The new gun has something of the look and panache of the Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine. It is in some respects better engineered (basing this on the M77 Ruger action as versus the Smelly) and I would think it will shoot straighter. It appears to be a practical-minded expression of the scout rifle concept, a 'general purpose' compact rifle that will serve for many uses. The idea is that if you have a scout, you have most things covered that you would need a centerfire rifle for. Spec sheet is here.

P.S. If you're wondering where the Ching Sling fits on, stop worrying. The Safari Ching Sling needs only two attachment points, not three, so it fits via normal sling attachments, like those on the new Ruger Scout.

Update, 1-7-11: I found Ruger's instruction manual for this rifle on their site, posted as a PDF file. Perusing it will doubtless answer most questions about the gun and its workings. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Uncertain Future and the Second Amendment

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop
       --Herbert Stein

The priests and acolytes of big government, the inside-the-beltway crowd, are in denial. The government, the idol they worship and serve, is showing signs of weakness and decline. The social welfare state is unsustainable, doomed by the simple but strict rules of arithmetic. They cannot see this because they will not look at it squarely. So instead of realism and reduction of bloated budgets we have cries for more money, in an eerie echo of D.H. Lawrence. There must be more money!

There is, though, no more money after a certain point, even if you print more. At some point there is no more revenue to be had by squeezing distressed taxpayers. Business does not thrive when strangled. Investors hold back when returns appear uncertain.

The statist response is to blame businesses and investors. But this is not where the fault primarily lies. The problem is we can no longer afford our government. To the opponent of mega-government, the situation is oddly encouraging, for the long term, though the day-to-day reality is bleak. The system is falling of its own weight and the wisdom of limiting the size and scope of government is being reaffirmed.

It will be a rough ride for a number of years. Some people, maybe all, will be denied their government-paid benefits and all will feel the pinch of a disrupted and dysfunctional economy. The statist, for whom the government is the whole world, will feel the distress more keenly than anyone, for the thing in which he placed his faith is letting him down.

When we come out on the other side of this mess, it will be clear why government must be limited to a short list of enumerated powers and why fiat money is no good in the end. We may even turn our attention back to that old and dusty document that told us so, way back in our nation's first hours, the Constitution.

Our present troubles had their beginnings long ago, in 1913, with the 16th Amendment, which removed the Constitution's built-in limits on taxation. The first effects were relatively benign. The then-new taxes were minuscule. But giving government the power to tax as it pleases is like giving a sample of heroin to an addictive personality. He will always come back for more.

Indeed, the limitless power to tax was not enough for the government grown addicted to the power to wield money. Washington thus began to run up an enormous debt, for various causes, projects and programs. The debt is now of a size that boggles. The debt's guarantee? Why, the government's power to take as much wealth as it likes, in future taxes.

Of course the Constitution, as originally ratified, was not perfect. Its framers knew that and provided a process to amend it. Not all amendments are improvements, though. A limit on taxation was important in the scheme of checks and balances, something that became clearer, no doubt, in hindsight. Removing the restriction led to a vast growth of government and that in turn led to our present distress.

Let there be no mistake: Excessive government is the root cause of our malaise. The distributed decision making that characterizes a healthy economy is disrupted. Our system increasingly resembles the centralized planning model, which is notable for its history, which is a long string of failures.

Money taken out of the economy as taxes does not, for the moment, participate in the free, distributed decision making of laissez-faire, but is doled out according to government rules, some of them bizarre. It is money lost to the private system that distributes money for business and financial reasons, aiming at profit, growth and sustained business.

The system of free enterprise is, itself, now set about by so many government requirements, rules and restrictions as to make government like a partner in business, but an unproductive one, driving decisions and practices in ways that do not necessarily benefit the enterprise. A great deal of unproductive labor is expended on complying with rules on many topics, from taxes and reporting to whom you may fire and why.

In short the parasite has grown so large it endangers its host. The key social question in the 21st century is what it was in the 18th. How shall we free ourselves from excessive and intrusive government? Fortunately for us, the system is now poised to fall of its own weight. Unfortunately, it is going to cause a lot of distress for all, as it crumbles.

But it is very fortunate our country's framers realized it was important that the people be able to look out for themselves, if problems arose that disrupted the good order of society. As this is a guns and shooting publication, I will look at the Second Amendment's significance in light of social malfunction, but the Constitution contains other guarantees that are at least as important. These include the states' right to create their own money backed by silver or gold, and the freedom of speech and press, so we can keep one another informed of what is going on.

Of course the committed statist is uncomfortable with gun rights, gold money and the freedom to exchange and publish information however people see fit. These things make him uneasy because they reflect a viewpoint alien to him. I refer to the view that in a great many matters, people can do without a lot of supervision.

The Second Amendment and Social Disorder

Fortunately the courts have recognized the obvious in regard to the Second Amendment. It addresses two rights not one. The states may have militias and the people may arm themselves. To hold that it says the first but not the second thing is to make of it an empty tautology, equivalent to saying soldiers have weapons. As this is the case in all lands no matter how dictatorial, it makes no sense to say it in a declaration about human rights, which the Bill of Rights plainly is.

In a collapse of good order, the states retain the power to call up the citizenry and repel threats to society. As a citizen you may repel threats to you personally. Both these rights may be useful if things get as bad as they potentially could.

As an aside: Most state militias are inactive at present. This may mean that, for the purposes in view in the Second Amendment, the states are not now fully free and secure. But the right to call the people to arms remains, and that is the important thing.

Of course the rabbly bands of yahoos who today call themselves militias, but are not sanctioned by their state governments, are bogus within the constitutional frame of reference. As it is useless to tell them that, it is probably best to view them tongue in cheek, and hope they will accept the genuine call to service, should it ever come. They do, however, show us a useful lesson. An armed band of sorts can be gotten up with very little in the way of administration and finance. This may be valuable to know.


I have no desire to encourage the person with no knowledge of guns to buy one. Guns in the hands of tyros are unsafe. For the person schooled in the requisite safety lessons, or willing to acquire this knowledge before buying a gun, perhaps some thoughts are in order on the subject of general preparedness.

Like anyone else, I hope matters won't come to shooting. Who would ever want that? If a cataclysm is averted the following will not be useless, however. For example, you are certain to need spare parts whether there is a national emergency or not. The idea of preparedness simply suggests they should be  in your gun bag, not at the gunsmith's shop.

  • Reliabilty is paramount. If you have a gun but it doesn't go bang every time, get that rectified before anything else.
  • Spares parts and tools. In reciprocating actions the parts most prone to failure are firing pins, extractors, ejectors and their associated springs and fasteners. This is a broad generalization but it holds up pretty well from what I've seen. Detachable box magazines go bad with fair regularity. Perhaps the best plan is to ask a gunsmith which parts are most prone to go bad on your gun and ask him for one of each.
  • Ammunition. Your gun won't work without it. Enough said.
  • Cleaning supplies. You can use motor oil and your shirt tail but there are better things to use.
  • Knowledge. I don't own a military pattern AR-15 or an M16, but I know how to run one. Every citizen should know a bit about the service rifle. In times of societal instability, anywhere around the globe, military hardware turns up in abundance. If you only know how to operate your duck gun, you're limiting yourself unnecessarily. 
  • Marksmanship. Only hits count. Put another way, if you can't hit your target you are not shooting; you are merely making noise. Go practice.
Of course my hope is we find a way to sort out our societal problems without a cataclysm. I am not altogether optimistic, though, because government so far appears unwilling to scale back its operations in a controlled shutdown of extraneous activity. If there is not to be a controlled shutdown there will be an out of control meltdown. It's simple arithmetic.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Once again, with gusto

I was away from this blog for a while. I was busy with the run-up to the November election, then with the aftermath. I think it is safe to say gun owners bettered their congressional representation, in many cases.

Here is a story I didn't get to when I was busy with other things. Earlier this month, Obama nominated a new head of the BATFE, one Andrew Traver, formerly head of the Chicago office. Pro-gun sources promptly decried this as appointing a notorious anti-gunner to oversee the gun trade. For example, there is this from the NRA/ILA:

The National Rifle Association Strongly Opposes the Nomination of Andrew Traver to Head BATFE, Calls on President Obama to withdraw the nomination

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Statement from Chris W. Cox, executive director, NRA Institute for Legislative Action

The National Rifle Association of America strongly opposes President Obama's nomination of Andrew Traver as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). Traver has been deeply aligned with gun control advocates and anti-gun activities. This makes him the wrong choice to lead an enforcement agency that has almost exclusive oversight and control over the firearms industry, its retailers and consumers. Further, an important nomination such as BATFE director should not be made as a "recess appointment," in order to circumvent consent by the American people through their duly-elected U.S. Senators.
Traver served as an advisor to the International Association for Chiefs of Police's (IACP) "Gun Violence Reduction Project," a "partnership" with the Joyce Foundation. Both IACP and the Joyce Foundation are names synonymous with promoting a variety of gun control schemes at the federal and state levels. Most of the individuals involved in this project were prominent gun control activists and lobbyists. READ MORE...

Well, all right, but what do you expect? Obama is being Obama. He doesn't actually care what you think. It gives an appearance, at least, of a conflict of interest, to appoint an anti-gun pol to oversee the manufacture and sales of guns, or else an appearance of hostility toward the whole enterprise. It is symbolically a false note; in practical terms we will have to see just what it means.

There is very little compromise in this president, very little willingness to consider that the people and now the courts are, increasingly, rejecting strident anti-gun views. The states are continuing to examine gun laws and, in many cases, bring them more into line with common sense. But Obama, true to his ideology, continues an adherent of the leftist-progressive gun banning, gun blaming mantra.

I am reminded of a dictum of Napoleon: Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. Obama is on the wrong side of history on this one. He does not know it, of course, or he would approach this appointment differently; I wonder if the possibility he is wrong ever crossed his mind. He rules in the splendid isolation of an ideologue, as the rest of us watch, and wonder.

Remington 700 revisited -- the CNBC coverage

I was away from this blog for a while, busy with the recent election. The political upheaval drove thoughts of guns and shooting from my mind and in any case I was busy with efforts at political persuasion. I take that to be a very good thing about America--guns aren't the first answer we think of when the gummint acts up.

As matters turned out, my side won big in the election. Now, back to talking about guns.

Not long ago there was a media brouhaha targeting the Remington 700, this time from CNBC. It is a reprise of the same old charges. If you will take a look at this old CBS story, you will see CNBC broke no new ground. USA Today quickly picked up the CNBC story. All this coverage has broad points of agreement with a set of claims made by liability lawyers.

Actually the only new thing to be learned is the Portland, Maine cop shop is retiring its 700's out of safety concerns. There is film of one (just one) of Portland's Model 700 rifles firing when it shouldn't. It is obvious to any rifleman that the rifle shown is seriously out of order. Is an out of repair rifle dangerously defective? Or is it simply dangerous because it is out of repair? What I saw is not on its face a reason to replace the rifle, so much as a reason to replace the fellow who had it apart last.

I previously did a longish writeup on the 700's peculiarities and mentioned the inadvertent firing question. Those who really know this rifle have long done things like keep the mechanism very clean, check it for correct function from time to time and refrain from trying to turn its excellent field trigger into a hair trigger.

Indeed, such practices are wisely followed with any rifle at all. Something I have not heard mentioned in media attacks on the Remington is that any rifle may malfunction dangerously if abused or messed with. Why is Remington's 700 singled out as the target here? I'm trying to figure that one out. If you know, leave me a comment.

There are about five million of these rifles in use, which means, statistically, that even unlikely problems come to light. That is part of what I like about the 700. It's been so thoroughly wrung out in hard use that we know what the problems are, what to look out for and what not to do.

Gun safety is a serious matter and everyone's responsibility. It does not do, therefore, to downplay the issues just because they have been raised before. So I don't at all intend to minimize the real issue here. If you use the 700, know the 700. If the brakes quit working on your car, you would likely notice it; have as much familiarity with the fire control parts on your rifle.

I must say, though, that it is entertaining to hear media people throwing around terms like "Walker trigger," "tricking" and so forth, investing them with a sinister significance the terms do not posses among the knowing. Any rifle can get out of order. If you know enough to spot it when it does, the failure is an annoyance. If you don't, it is, potentially, a tragedy.

An explanation of how to do the "Tricking Test" is found in this Remington internal memo from 1979. The test shows whether a rifle is subject to unintentional firing when the safety is manipulated. The memo also  also explains the reasoning behind recalling the Model 600 but not the Model 700. Did Remington make the wrong call here? Should they have called back all the 700's too? It is a charge implicit within the media reporting and explicit in the liability lawyers' position that they should have. Essentially, Remington is being accused of misconduct here--that they knew of a problem and did not respond appropriately.

I suppose you can make up your own mind about that. Remington's efforts at promoting safe use of their products are well known and their retrofit programs for older rifles are detailed here.

Like the earlier CBS story, with which the CNBC story has so much in common, the CNBC story has a link to a sidebar story about why the government can't do something and demand a recall of guns, so even down to this political subtext, CNBC's show is virtually a rerun of CBS' previous story.

David Petzal, an author known, I would think, to everyone who likes guns and knows how to read, offers this counterpoint view to CNBC's  story. It's well worth a read.

Remington Arms has posted its own reply here. One of the interesting points it brings out is the trouble the Marine Corps was having with its 700's was traced to jarheads monkeying with the trigger to make a light touch-off even lighter. Orders were passed along to knock that off and the problem dematerialized.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Marine spar varnish as a rifle stock finish

I refinished a rifle stock with spar urethane. Why? The idea was to produce a waterproof stock, for use on a go-anywhere utility rifle. While there are good synthetic stocks in abundance, these days, that are impervious to moisture, I already had the wooden stock and a little bit of time on my hands. Also, I kinda like wood.

You can apply spar varnish over a factory varnish finish, just roughen up the original finish a little bit with fine sandpaper--220 grit or so. Be careful to seal the stock completely, with plentiful spar varnish inside as well as outside, and take off the buttplate and seal the wood under there, as well.

Spray Spar Urethane, S/G SPRAY SPAR URETHANEUsing multiple thin coats, build up a thick protective film that encapsulates the wood and keeps moisture from reaching it. Does it work? Sailors have used this stuff for years to seal wood against the elements and it seems to work for them.

How does it look? You be the judge. I used satin finish varnish for less shine afield, and I think it looks nice. Odd, but nice. The thickness of the finish reminds me a little of bowling pins, but otherwise it looks all right. We'll see how it looks after being knocked about outdoors for a while.

When I was already more than half done with this project, it occurred to me  that maybe I was going about this wrong. Many years ago, the best-finished stocks had finishes of deeply soaked-in linseed oil. The oil penetrated for some distance into the wood and created a moisture barrier. Here is a description from a 1920 book:

Finally the gunstock comes from the machines completely shaped and with every cut and every hole exactly like those of every one of its mates and stacked with twenty five to fifty others in a rack on an electric truck it goes for a bath of several hours in hot linseed oil. After it has absorbed about quarter of a pound of oil it goes to the staining room... 

It was only after this process gave way to more modern (quicker and cheaper) finishing methods that people started complaining about their stocks misbehaving in wet weather. At least, I do not recall seeing, in old time shooting literature, concern expressed about the problem. It could be the old timers had a problem and didn't know it. Or it could be there was mention I overlooked, but it's my impression that the fit of the stock to the metal shifting around in wet weather is a modern concern.

Very likely the problem here is the modern finishing method that leaves the wood inside the stock raw and unfinished and puts a pretty coating on the outside. This is the way the factories have finished most wooden stocked rifles for the last fifty years or more.

It seems to me that the oil soak method likely works about as well as encapsulating the wood in a plastic based spar varnish, and looks more traditional, to boot. But, as I say, I didn't think of that in time, this time.

Future Rifle

The scout rifle was a good attempt, thirty or so years ago, to come up with the ideal all-around rifle. How well it succeeded is open to debate. In any case, enough time has passed to ask what we have learned and where we go from here--how to make an even better general purpose rifle.

In the Americas, at least, the all around rifle was for a long time the .30-30 lever action, and for many people it still fills that role just fine. It is compact, fast handling and convenient. Its accuracy, range and power are not all that might be wished, but good enough for a whole lot of uses. Self defense, pest control, deer hunting, or just a bit of fun at the target range, the .30-30 has it covered.

Then, at least for people who felt they needed something better than the .30-30, the general purpose rifle became the scout, or other full powered carbine with a bolt action. The bolt action's power to weight ratio and durability afield, its potential for fine accuracy and its proven reliability are plus points. A miniaturized bolt action in .308 or similar caliber serves about the same purpose as a .30-30 cowboy carbine, but has more reach and punch.

This is the twenty-first century, though, and many prefer self-loading rifles. It should be possible to come up with something suitably light and compact, with enough power for all around use, if we use a short and fat cartridge, perhaps one in the Winchester Super Short Magnum (WSSM) family, or perhaps something else that is similar. The next big thing, of course, will be caseless ammo, but development seems to be lagging there.

The bullpup rifle configuration offers the advantage of allowing a comparatively long barrel in a short rifle, so that is the setup we should be looking at. The big problem here is the long trigger linkage required and the associated lousy trigger pull. If no mechanical solution appears, perhaps it is time to revisit the electronic ignition idea invented by Voere. If a battery operated rifle is a bit too modern for most shooters to consider, perhaps the scheme could be made to work on the piezoelectric principle, without batteries.

Optical sights of various types are now well proven in all field uses including combat, and it seems reasonable to outfit the new style rifle to take any sight you like. There is now no need to specify which type of sight the rifle uses since this can be left as an option for the rifleman to work out. For general purpose use, the heads up display of a red dot or holographic type sight shows great promise, but we need not lock ourselves into the concept of using this kind of aiming reference. The Picatinny mil std. 1913 rail seems as good a way as any to accommodate whatever sight the rifleman prefers. You can even mount iron sights on the rail.

There should be some convenient way to mount a flashlight on the rifle. Many shooters resist this idea, for various reasons. In defensive uses such as camp security in the wilderness, though, it has much to recommend it. If you are hunting where lights are illegal, you simply remove the light. If you are in a fighting situation where showing a light would be a poor idea, you leave it turned off.

Well, those are my thoughts. The key ideas are what they have been all along, something compact and convenient, lightweight, versatile and reliable. Essentially, what I'm pointing to is a flat-top bullpup with a sight rail, a decent trigger and a place to mount a light. Seems simple enough, but I can't find one in the shops.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The "nudge" trigger release

The "nudge" method of pulling a trigger is an alternative to the standard "surprise break" method.

In almost every case, the "surprise break" trigger stroke is the best way to fire an accurate shot. This is the standard method taught to generations of hunters, target shooters and soldiers: Apply pressure on the trigger progressively until, at a moment not of your choosing, the gun fires. You don't make it fire, you let it fire, as if by itself. As I explain elsewhere, if you do not know the exact instant the shot will fire, you will not know when to respond to the shot being fired. In other words, you will not know when to flinch. So you won't; the gun stays on target as the shot is triggered. That is the purpose, and whole point, of the surprise break trigger stroke.

There is another way to manage the trigger. The goal is the same, to make the gun fire at a moment not selected consciously, but the thing is gone about differently. This other technique is sometimes called the nudge, and sometimes called the bump. I will call it the nudge, to avoid confusion with bump firing, a fast way to convert money into noise.

To nudge off a shot: You begin by watching your sight wobble on the target. At a moment when the sight is perfectly aligned, you quickly apply pressure to the trigger--but not enough to fire the shot. Hold that degree of pressure as the sight wobbles off target again. The next time the sights are perfect you quickly add a little more pressure. Continue in that manner until you have added enough pressure to release the shot. So your trigger stroke is nudge. . .nudge. . .nudge. . .nudge. . . You don't know exactly how many nudges it will take to build up enough pressure to fire the gun, but each time you up the pressure, you have in mind that the gun will not fire this time, and therefore you do not flinch when you press on the trigger. On one of the nudges, though, the trigger releases and off she goes!

The theory goes like this, since you are only increasing the pressure when the sight is exactly on target, you cannot fire at any time the sight is not dead on. So by simple logic, you can only fire when the sight is right on target.

It's a pretty good theory. The matter reminds me, though, of the old engineering maxim: In theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice they are different. The trouble with the nudge is it relies on observing when the sights are just right and responding immediately, but since your eye-hand coordination is always imperfect, you don't get as much precision out of this nudge-nudge-nudge rigmarole as you might expect.

The best use of this technique is in persuading the fellow who flinches that he is being silly. If he pulls on the trigger and the sight slews way off target, he can see immediately what he is doing. By learning to press the trigger with the assumption that nothing will happen, he can overcome the natural tendency to react to tons of pressure being generated and released under his nose.

There are a few cases when the nudge is useful afield. When good sight alignment on target is fleeting, think of the nudge. You up the pressure when you are on target and suspend pulling the trigger when your sight drifts off  The Marine Corps manual explains the matter this way:

Uninterrupted Trigger Control
The preferred method of trigger control in a combat environment is uninterrupted trigger control. After obtaining sight picture, the Marine applies smooth, continuous pressure rearward on the trigger until the shot is fired.
Interrupted Trigger Control
Interrupted trigger control is used at any time the sight alignment is interrupted or the target is temporarily obscured. An example of this is extremely windy conditions when the weapon will not settle, forcing the Marine to pause until the sights return to his aiming point. To perform interrupted trigger control:
  • Move the trigger to the rear until an error is detected in the aiming process.
  • When this occurs, stop the rearward motion on the trigger, but maintain the pressure on the trigger, until sight picture is achieved.
  • When the sight picture settles, continue the rearward motion on the trigger until the shot is fired.

You can learn almost everything about this technique by dry firing while giving careful attention to the sight picture. You should, of course, master it using live fire on the target range before taking it to the field. Some people shoot very well with this technique; others find it a waste of time. To find out which group you are in, you must try it for yourself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Classic Gun Review: Original Model Smith and Wesson 586 .357 Magnum

I like automatic pistols just fine. I have shot quite an assortment of them and own some nice ones. But, as I have mentioned elsewhere, I find the double action revolver  a friendlier piece of machinery, more convenient all around. A wheel gun is adequate for most purposes, so that is what I'll reach for most every time.

Someone, though, thought this old S&W an inadequate weapon and obsolete; it was a police trade-in from the era when departments in droves were abandoning their revolvers and buying automatics. Those were great days if you liked revolvers; you could get good ones very cheap. This one sold off cheaper than most. It had big patches of holster wear on barrel and cylinder, down to bare pitted metal, and there were some stains and rust freckles in the bluing that remained. The wooden grips were chipped and the varnish was peeling off of them.

Obviously this was a gun that had been carried in all weathers for years, but examination showed it had not been shot as much as its age and outward condition might suggest. There was only light marking of the cylinder by its stop, the lockwork was firm, the timing was correct and the rifling was clean and sharp. Barrel-to-cylinder gap was on the generous side, but within spec. Flame cutting on the topstrap was detectable but minor, more of a bit of frizzled marring of the metal's surface than a well established groove. Verdict: The cop shot enough to qualify, but he wasn't the kind who was into spending days off honing his skills at the shooting range. 

I touched up the worst of the finish problems with cold blue and called it good enough. I threw on some gun show Pachmayr grips (surplus from another department) and found I had a fine shooter! From a rest, my new old gun tried to shoot golf ball sized groups, though my holding errors sometimes interfered with it doing what it wanted to do.

The gun has a very smooth double action pull and a crisp and light single action pull, S&W's excellent adjustable rear sight and a red plastic insert in the front ramp. It is a heavy gun, a little over 2 1/2 pounds, and muzzle-heavy, because of the barrel's underlug and solid rib. With .38 +P loads, it's a real pussycat. It has more of a jolt with heavy magnums, but it's still quite controllable. Taken together, its features make this gun very shootable, easy to hit with. The L frames, such as the 586 and 686 (stainless model) were the ultimate development of the Smith & Wesson police revolver, in the sense that this was what they were making when development stopped and the cops went to autoloaders. The L frame is beefier than the K frame of the famous Model 10, but not as bulky as the N frame of the original .357 Magnum. The stated idea was to produce a reasonably compact cop gun that would hold up to a steady diet of hot loads, but I wonder if recoil reduction didn't have more to do with it. The cop who had this one, anyway, didn't shoot it enough for the added durability to matter.

This particular 586 was involved in a product recall that covered the earliest models, and had, when I got it, the "M" stamp inside the yoke, to show the upgrade was completed.  Something to do with the firing pin and bushing, and the cylinder binding up with certain hot loads.

The question in my mind is, why did the cops think their revolvers weren't adequate? Oh, I remember the gun press explanations at the time, about drugged up PCP monsters not lying down when shot, and drug thugs with Uzis, but six rounds of .357, or even +P .38, make a pretty formidable inducement to stop whatever you were doing, IF they hit their target.

But that's the problem, isn't it? It's obvious the previous bearer of this arm was not much into target practice. Having a seventeen shooter might make him feel more secure than having a six shooter, but if he won't practice much with either gun, is he all that much more secure? Let me be clear: I am not knocking the cops, for they have many more things to think about than marksmanship. Theirs is s a tough and complicated job and it has many aspects that are more important than one's skills as a gunman. The fact is, though, that most shots fired by police at bad guys miss. Oddly enough, I did not hear that advanced as an argument in favor of arming police with high capacity pistols--for I think it's the real reason.

I dunno. This old Smith was, and is, a great sidearm. It's simple to operate, vastly reliable and quite as powerful as it needs to be. It represents the last days of the very long era in which the DA revolver was the undisputed top choice for police use, and more often than not, the gun said Smith and Wesson on it. I wish I'd bought more of them when they were cheap. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Art Of The Rifle, by Jeff Cooper

There are many books about how to shoot a rifle. There are some excellent ones written about target competitions and how to win them. There are also many military manuals explaining the rifleman's role in combat.  The Art of the Rifle is something else again. It takes up the general subject of field marksmanship, whether for hunting or fighting, which may be summed up as the problem of addressing fleeting targets. Accuracy is essential, of course, but Cooper also underlines the need for all practical speed.

The Art Of The Rifle: Special Color EdtionI was, therefore, surprised to see a detailed treatment of the formal firing range positions--prone, sitting and so on, and the use of the sling. But there is an unusual wrinkle here, the use of a "speed sling" to get you tied to the rifle faster than is possible with the traditional loop sling. The problem of adapting the target range positions to field conditions of terrain and cover is given due treatment, with the suggestion that you may modify the positions to suit varying situations. The use of field rests, which most hunters would prefer to looping up in a sling, gets thorough coverage too.

Some of the information is cursory at best. The chapter on windage, for example, takes up a page and a half and could as well have been omitted. It says, essentially, that you needn't worry about the wind at typical hunting distances, then offers that heavier bullets drift less than lighter ones.

Likewise, the information on compensating for distance is decidedly sketchy. The assumption is the field shooter will shoot a fixed zero and will not adjust his sight for varying ranges. If necessary he will hold a bit high or low to make do with the zero he has. This is, indeed, the policy of almost all American hunters, but I would have liked some information on the alternative.

On the other hand, sighting in, aiming and trigger control--and all the other essential and basic points, really-- are thoroughly presented in a clear and engaging style. The portion on trigger control is particularly good. The book contains a number of clear photographs that help get its points across.

All in all, the book is written to address the problem of shooting at moderate distances efficiently, which is certainly a fine skill to have. The Art of the Rifle trims out a lot of material you find in other books, that is more or less extraneous to basic competence afield. It gives most riflemen, perhaps, all the information they need. 

Shooting To Live

 A short review of Shooting To Live With The One Hand Gun, by W.E. Fairbairn and E.A. Sykes

Though it was published in 1942, there is a great deal in this book that is still of relevance to the practical shooter. Parts of it contain the earliest treatments in print of some pistolcraft concepts that are in use today. It was written by W.E. Fairbairn and E.A.Sykes. Many will recognize their names. They taught close quarters combat to British and American commandos and clandestine operations units, in the Second World War. They taught a collection of oriental-flavored martial arts techniques summed up in the book Get Tough, the use of the famed Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, and other alarming skills.

The two learned their trade, pre-war, in the Shanghai Municipal Police, fighting vicious criminal gangs in a  notably dangerous place and time. They discovered, by examining departmental records,  that most police gunfights happened at very short range, often in poor light, and very suddenly. These conclusions still hold up today, and do so for police departments anywhere. This was the beginning of officer safety and survival as a matter of analysis not anecdote.

They devised a training program for the pistol that emphasized fast, close shooting and tested the training in "fun house" matches with pop-up and moving targets. Shooting To Live is the record of their efforts, and a training manual that is in some ways an improvement on those that have superseded it.

Their basic firing technique is what we would today call target focused shooting. You face your target squarely, looking at it with both eyes, and raise your pistol, one handed, into coarse visual alignment by seeing its rear view silhouetted on the target.

Now, there are those who insist you must always use the sights, but Fairbairn and Sykes were looking for hits just anywhere on a human-sized target at a typical firing distance of four yards. And they wanted hits as fast as possible. They thought using both hands and aiming with the sights was a good plan from ten yards on out. Many people overlook that in debating sights versus Fairbairn and Sykes' coarse visual alignment of the whole gun. Even the authors thought using two hands and the sights was the right solution to some shooting problems.

Fairbairn and Sykes recommend the automatic pistol as better than the revolver, for police use, years before this view became fashionable. They disliked manual safety catches, though, and pinned the thumb safeties of the Shanghai Police's 1911 Colts permanently in the "fire" position. They objected to "the fumbling and uncertainty inherent in the use of the safety-catch." The idea was you carried the gun with its chamber empty and jacked the slide when you needed to charge the weapon--but not before. When the episode was over you emptied the chamber again. Today I'm sure they would pick some DAO pistol that is safe to carry fully charged up, and ready to fire without releasing a safety.

The book has its dated and peculiar elements, of course. The business of carrying the chamber sans cartridge is just one of them. The authors are impressed with the atrocious "Fitz Colt" revolver conversion (with no trigger guard), for example. They recommend the double barrel shotgun, "sawn-off," as they say, for home defense. A pump gun would suit most people better. In other ways they were ahead of their times, mounting African express type sights on their 1911 pistols, something that did not catch on until many years later. The book is quaintly written in an engaging if old fashioned style, carefully exact in its language and sometimes touched with understated humor. Even if you are fully a proponent of sighted fire and the Modern Technique, I dare you not to learn something.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The NRA Firearms Assembly Books

The NRA Firearms Assembly books are essential classics for gunsmith or tinkerer. There are two volumes, one covering pistols and revolvers, the other, rifles and shotguns. You get exploded schematic views and detailed instructions on how various guns are put together. I've had recourse to these volumes for years to clean, repair or simply understand various arms.

All the old favorite guns are here, plus some exotic and seldom seen ones. By including a number of oddball pieces, the books indirectly teach a lesson in firearms technology and history. There are many problems in physics and mechanics involved in making a gun, and some answers are better than others. Simpler is usually better, and some mechanisms passed over by history have indeed deserved it. But, if you happen to have a Frommer Stop, a Johnson or a Visible Loader, you may want to know how it goes together and how it works (when it does). Of value to the curiosity collector, there is a table in the back that relates some obscure arms to better known designs that are similar. You can discover, for instance, that the Chinese Hanyang is essentially a copy of the German 1888 Commission Rifle. Instructions for the 1888 are in the book and will suffice to get the Hanyang apart.

The NRA has you covered if you shoot any of the commonplace guns--Marlin, Browning, Smith and Wesson, Remington, Winchester, Savage...and so on. Often the instructions go far beyond what the factory instruction manuals call normal disassembly for cleaning. For most guns the NRA instructions take you down to single parts, pins and screws, if you are inclined to take matters that far.

The books are of great help in diagnosing a balky gun or figuring out what parts are missing if you bought a restoration project. Also, if you need to do a deep cleaning with detailed disassembly, as would be advisable after, say, dropping your gun into a salt marsh, it's good to have a guide to the mechanical territory you're heading into.

The shooter who has only guns that are in good shape, does not expose them to hazards or abuse, maintains them per the factory manuals and has no great interest in what goes on inside them has no real need of these books. Still, that isn't everyone. Apparently not, for these volumes have been popular for years.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Rifleman Went To War, by H.W. McBride

I'm starting today to review some notable books on guns and shooting. First up is Herbert McBride's A Rifleman Went to War. This is an old classic that has been republished at intervals since it first appeared in 1935. It is the memoir of an American rifleman who joined the Canadian Army to get into World War One sooner. He got plenty of what he was looking for.

As a memoir it is not very good. It is repetitious, filled with digressions and in places pursues minor points at great length. Read another way, though, the book is a gold mine. It is filled with insights about sniping and combat shooting that can occur in only one way: You put an expert shot into the thick of war and see how things turn out. What works? What doesn't? Here are insights on marksmanship and weapons, and on training versus reality, that can arise in no other way.

Something sure to be of professional interest today: McBride, all those years ago, distinguished the difference between sniping from hidden positions, in fairly static situations, and the work of an expert rifleman accompanying advancing troops. Today we would call this the distinction between sniper and Designated Marksman. The skills overlap but the roles are different. McBride devotes a chapter to each job and his conclusions are not far off from the latest in military doctrine. One thing that could use more attention today is McBride's contention that the DM's rifle should be as short and handy as it can be made, consistent with what it needs to do.

The sniper's rifle McBride used was the Ross with a Warner & Swasey scope. Some of his conclusions about rifles and sights are still quite relevant, though we are now many years on in the development of both.

McBride approved very much of the scope mount he was issued, which mounted the scope offset to the left side of the rifle. It let him use his iron sights if he liked, and to check the scope against the irons. As to the theoretical problem with this setup (an additional axis of parallax), he dismissed it, saying he couldn't hold close enough for that to make a difference, anyway.

Did progress proceed in the wrong direction, here? Scopes are nowadays mounted over the bore. While scopes are more reliable than in McBride's day, and we are less likely to need the iron sights for the reason the scope has broken or gone cockeyed, there are still situations in which the irons are of more use. McBride writes,
You cannot work a telescope in the rain with any degree of satisfaction, and even a light fog or mist will cloud up the lens continually. The rifle cannot be carried through wet or dew-covered underbrush without throwing water all over the lens. Even taking the rifle from a comparatively "warm" dugout out into the open air may fog up the lens so badly you cannot see through them. And finally there is the dirt and the mud to be considered, and the wiping of a few specks of mud or grit from a telescope is a job to be gone about with much caution--and a soft clean rag, else you will soon ruin the glass from scratches.
Though some modern lens coatings and treatments claim to alleviate some or other of these problems to an extent,  it is plain the same problems are still with us.

Something that may seem a bit odd to modern readers: McBride enjoyed his work as a rifleman and was quietly proud of his kills. In this oh-so-sensitive age of PC, that might not get by a publisher's editorial board. McBride has his own voice and comes across as thoughtful, but a no-nonsense customer. He dismisses "sob stuff," such as the movie All Quiet On The Western Front, saying it wasn't like that at all. Soldiers, in his experience, tended to be stoical and matter-of-fact. He generally was, as when, in Flanders, he shot a man who--apparently, anyway--had just shot a Canadian soldier. But the shooter was wearing civilian clothes, not a uniform.

I did not have time to do much thinking but simply acted on impulse. Taking deliberate aim, I shot him through the middle and he dropped.
Then I commenced to feel a little bit shaky. Down in my heart, I knew that I was right but the whole thing came up so quickly and  was so queer all around that, for a few moments, I was at a loss as to what to do. . . . We found the fellow dead, of course. He was dressed in the usual costume of the farmers thereabouts and had not a single thing on his person but his clothing. . . . we just rolled the body over under the hedge and left it there, together with the rifle. From that day to this I have never mentioned that affair to anyone. 

The book is a large assortment of insights and reflections, terribly disorganized but valuable all the same, on sniping and spotting, combat shooting with rifle and pistol, patrolling at night, the use of machineguns, and on military administration and policies, and the nature of the face of war. It also contains cameo accounts of strange or amusing episodes on and behind the lines. It is, taken all together, a fascinating look at combat skills, martial mindset and human reactions to war. If you can put up with McBride's scrambled-up way of telling things, you will learn a lot.

Addendum: You can read a fascinating biography of McBride here.  Among other things, it may explain the eccentricities of his writing style.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A moldy oldie review: The Singlepoint sight

"I don't know just what it is, but I'll let you have it cheap." So said the fellow at the gun show, and that is how I came to have this thing in my collection. The Singlepoint is an ancestor of today's red dot sights. It created a stir back in the seventies. It was discussed in the English Parliament. Its moment of fame came on the Son Tay raid in the Vietnam war. It even got writeups in Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, honors reserved for things that were maximally cool.

By modern standards, though, it's a pathetic gunsight. It was a good try for its time, no doubt. It is an occluded eye gunsight (OEG), meaning you can't see through it. When you look in the end you see a black field with a red dot floating in it. You look at the target with your other eye and your brain merges the two images into one. Thus, you see the red dot superimposed upon the target.

Well, sort of. It doesn't work perfectly. The effects of phoria make the dot wander off the target if you aim for any length of time. Obviously this makes slow deliberate aiming impossible. You must shoot quickly or not at all.

Another problem with this sight is the dot is a whopping 16 MOA across. That is much too big--bigger than many targets I'd want to aim at. I find it necessary to sight in so that my point of aim is at the top center of the dot, right at the 12 o'clock position. I then use the dot as if it were a bead sight, placing the target atop it to aim.

Despite its peculiarities, the Singlepoint was successful in getting riflemen interested in the red dot idea. Improved dot sights that you could actually see through were soon on the way. A sight tube you could look through eliminated phoria effects by giving both eyes a shared view of the target.

One problem the Singlepoint's design solved brilliantly was that of gaining sufficient contrast between the dot and the target. Because the dot is presented in a blacked out field, the eye looking into the sight sees plenty of contrast. Moreover, the Singlepoint needs no batteries. Enough ambient light to illuminate the dot is gathered by the small collector on the end. For a long while, see-through red dot sights needed to use polarizers to darken the target image so you could make out the dot, and they ate batteries like kids going through Crackerjacks

Dot sight technology has come a long way since the early days. Compared to the present day offerings of AimpointEoTech, Trijicon and others, the Singlepoint now seems pretty crude and backward. But we can credit the Singlepoint with helping to get the ball rolling on what has become one of the most significant shooting developments in this century.

Update, 21 March 2013: I just discovered by accident (I was researching something else) that the occluded eye gunsight has been in existence for quite a long time. It was used in World War One artillery. So far as I know, the Singlepoint was the first commercially successful  application to small arms. Reference:

Elementary optics and applications to fire control instruments: May, 1921, p. 84, By United States Army Ordnance Departmant

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Introducing the goblin cap -- makes your rifle scope a 1x close quarters sight

After experimenting with various other ways to make my scoped rifle suitable for fast and close shooting, of the kind that might be needed for personal defense, I devised the goblin cap. This gizmo is easy and cheap to make and lets you use any scope sight as a 1x occluded eye gunsight (OEG). An OEG has a peculiarity you need to be aware of, and I will discuss that below, but it's at least an improvement over trying to get a short range sight picture with a magnifying scope.

I made a translucent lens cover for the front lens of the scope. I took a transparent lens cover and roughened its inside face with steel wool. Then I painted the roughened surface with clear nail polish, stippling the finish by daubing up and down with the tip of the brush. In other words, I made an optical diffuser. As it lets in no coherent light to form an image, all you see is the crosshairs projected out to whatever your scope's no-parallax distance happens to be. (On the scope I favor it's a fixed 150 yards. On some it's adjustable.)

And this is what you see when you look into the eye end. You see the crosshairs floating in space and no distracting image. The way an OEG works is you look at the target with one eye and the crosshairs with the other and your brain merges the images from the two eyes into one. Thus, you see the crosshairs superimposed on the target. You need binocular steroscopic vision for this to work. (In other words, your eyes work together well enough to produce a 3-D image when you look at things normally. That's nearly everybody.)

There is a pitfall to watch out for when using this or any OEG. You must fire just as soon as you see the crosshairs on the target. Look at the sight picture for much longer than that takes, and the effect called "phoria" makes the reticle wander with respect to the target. Those who have tried various OEG's and pronounced them worthless have tried to look at the sight picture at length and judge it carefully, target shooter style. As a result the aiming reference slews away from the target and they miss.

To repeat: If you pause to concentrate on the reticle, the reticle slides away from the target. You can delay the onset of this slip-sliding visual effect by deliberately concentrating on the target, NOT the reticle, but that doesn't get you a whole lot of extra time--a few seconds at most. Never focus your attention on the crosshairs. Over all, I have found the best way to manage an OEG is to look at the target with both eyes, then raise the sight into your line of vision just a moment or two before you fire. Otherwise, phoria effects will put you way off target. Be warned! Get the shot off QUICK and SOON!

You may notice divergence between where you hit with the cover up and the cover down. Worse, the difference may vary from day to day. This is one of those things you will have to try out for yourself--everyone's eyes are different. The OEG concept is good for fast coarse aim--and nothing else.

Okay, nobody said the OEG aiming concept is perfect. It was something that was used years ago in the early red dot sights. I have in my collection one of the old original Singlepoint dot sights, which works in just the opposite way from the goblin cap. You look into a blacked out tube and see a glowing red dot suspended in space, which your other eye superimposes on the target. Instead of a black aiming reference in a bright field, it gives you a bright aiming reference in a black field. It behaves just as scandalously with respect to phoria effects.

The neat aspect of the goblin cap arrangement is if an OEG isn't appropriate for the shooting you are doing, then a scope probably is, and you get your scope back instantly just by flipping the lens cover out of the way.

Why did I name it the goblin cap? I have it on there in case of goblins. They'll get you, if you don't watch out.

Too much governing, not enough thinking

The laws and politics surrounding guns form a perfect microcosm of over-governance in general. There are too many laws, rules, regulations, forms and stamps, all promulgated with the assurance these things will make everyone safer. The enforcement burden is enormous, upon those tasked to carry it out, and the rules can be onerous upon those simply wishing to exercise their right to keep and bear arms.

The laws are more onerous in some places than others. Chicago, for instance, is putting into place a vast array of restrictions to interfere with the purchase and use of handguns. This follows upon the U.S. Supreme Court telling them, in McDonald, that they could not ban pistols outright. It is clear that the intent of Chicago's new law is to make owning a handgun seem not worthwhile, when you look at all the restrictions and the draconian penalties for any infractions.

No, it's more than that. It is an instance of pettiness and nastiness toward people who want to do something the mayor doesn't like. (Those who recall what happened to Meigs Field, an airport placed where the mayor didn't like it, may see a familiar pattern here.)

Chicago is, of course, an extreme example. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It would seem to me that a right that "shall not be infringed" is being infringed pretty throughly. This will likely get sorted out eventually through local politics, which are always curious to watch in the city of 'da machine.'

In the many places around the country that have less in the way of restrictions, we still have laws in too much abundance. Some are state laws, some are federal. The ATF web site is a good place to start in figuring out the welter of restrictions. Dey is a whole lotta regulatin' goin' on, I say!

What has all this achieved for us? In addition to employing a great many bureaucrats, our gun laws serve also to insure there is a thriving black market in weapons of all kinds. Those planning to do some kind of evil with a weapon do not go down to the gun store and sign a form. You may take that as a matter of common sense. The heavy scrutiny on the law abiding does nothing to hinder the criminal, who evades it.

Our plethora of gun laws also has the effect of chilling the exercise of a right our nation's founders saw as essential to public safety. The founders did not have the advantage of reading John Lott's excellent book, More Guns, Less Crime, but the commonsense of the matter had always been that one sword keeps another in its sheath, and they meant to keep the right to arms open to the citizenry.

Are we, now, free to keep and bear arms? The question here is how free is free, or to put it another way, how hampered does a right have to be before we say it is infringed? Of course some commonsense limitations on the right have applied from the outset. Let us grant that some limitations are appropriate and necessary. But they are fewer in number than many nowadays suppose.

Alaska, Arizona and Vermont have what seem to me good sound policies on carrying weapons: You may do so. If you may lawfully possess a weapon you may carry it with you, concealed. No carry permit is required. (If you may not own a weapon due to criminality, insanity and so on, you are in a whole lot of trouble if you pack one. Use it in a crime and the law will come down on you like a hod of bricks.) The reason this appeals to my sense of reason and fairness is the criminals aren't going to apply for carry permits and in the process tip off the cops they are packing. So a law limiting the bearing of arms has no particular effect on criminals. The laws of Alaska, Arizona and Vermont punish criminal possession and use, which is right, while leaving the law abiding alone, which is also right.

Now that the national mood seems to be swinging in favor of the right to keep and bear arms, we in the so called gun culture should be continually asking the question, just what gun laws do we really need, and which can  we do away with? It seems clear we have too darned many.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Williams Foolproof sight -- it really is!

I have these classic micrometer peep sights on two rifles, at present, and they are good gear! This type of sight has been around approximately forever. The company makes numerous versions to fit a great many firearms. On some guns you will need a taller front sight when you install a peep sight but this is by no means true of all.

It used to be old graybeards would look at my peep sighted rifle, nod approvingly and say to me, "See ya got a Foolproof. Good, good..." Now I am the graybeard saying that to younger folks. There is a great deal to approve of. The windage and elevation settings are finely adjustable. They ride on screw shafts and the setting have countable clicks and a visible index. Adjustments are supposed to be in minutes of angle and fractions, but of course that will vary with the length of the barrel, as a matter of simple geometry. Since I have this sight on a rifle that is longer than normal, and on another one shorter than normal, nothing works out to even units. The adjustments are, though, consistent. Once you have the sight adjusted, you lock the settings into place with set screws and they aren't going anywhere.

Various peep aperture inserts will fit the Williams, including those made for Redfield and Lyman sights. You can also shoot the sight with no insert, which gives you a large hole to sight through with a narrow rim around it, a "ghost ring." I get better accuracy with an insert but shooting without one lets you get a sight picture in low light conditions.

The Foolproof is one of those old products that, like Hoppe's No. 9, caught on a long time ago and never went out of style.

Here is an FP on my Swedish Mauser, model 1896, 6.5 x 55. Using the FP on this rifle let me improve its practical accuracy, which was already considerable, without needing the bolt handle bent to clear a scope. Moreover, I can still load it using stripper clips, which I would not be able to do if I put a scope atop the receiver. The FP-98 sight, intended for the Mauser 98, fits the Mauser 96. Drilling and tapping are required. This one was put on for me by Shootin' Den in Colorado Springs. Notice the very nice job of inletting the sight into the stock.

When you add a receiver sight to one of these old fashioned, long-barreled Mausers, you get a tremendous sight radius, which allows for very good shooting indeed. The barrel on this elegant old rifle is 29" long, then there is the length of the receiver in addition to that. The distance between the front sight and the rear sight is about 33 inches!

Here is another FP, this one on my Winchester Trapper .30-30. The Williams peep gives me a vastly better sight picture than the factory standard cowboy-style backsight. This one fits the factory drilled and tapped holes and installs in a jiffy.

Using this sight instead of a scope keeps the gun compact, and that is what I want from this little carbine--the clout of an intermediate rifle cartridge in a weapon that's no more trouble to carry than a .22.

There are various situations in which a good iron sight is just the ticket. Some people tend to overlook that. We live in an age of rails and optics. Well and good; I like optics just fine. But sometimes the old answer is still the right one.

Sales link:  FP Series Receiver Sight (Thanks for supporting The Gunner's Blog!)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

An unexpected consequence of thinking

There is a loading of the .410 three inch shotshell that fires five pieces of 00 buckshot. The classic fighting and self defense load for the 12 gauge throws nine pieces. By counting on my fingers I find the .410 is more than half as good. This is an unexpected conclusion but the math is pretty clear.

The .410 is underrated by most as a self defense round. Its wimpish reputation, I think, comes from bird hunters, who can easily ask too much of it without realizing they are doing so. An 11/16 oz. pattern of small shot can reach out only so far. Underestimate the distance and it does indeed seem the little gun is pretty nearly useless.

Buckshot is another story. Five chunks of 00 clipping along at 1200 fps or so seems pretty good! I am speaking here of the use of the .410 shell in shotguns. It has become fashionable to fire it in handguns. I have reservations about this practice. I am concerned over the lesser velocity achievable in a short barrel. My limited experience shooting .410 from a handgun bears out what you would expect; the shot does not hit nearly as hard as when fired from a shotgun. Loadings optimized for the handgun will no doubt help somewhat, but the problem is essentially one of bore volume--it's not possible to cheat at physics.

In addition to more power than some suppose, the .410 cartridge has other appealing qualities. Its recoil is not at all severe. .410 shotguns are in general light and compact. The ammunition is light enough that you can carry a good supply without much trouble.

If you want to learn a great deal about this little cartridge and the guns that shoot it, here is a good place to do it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A fresh look at defensive shotgun ammo and patterns

Gun and ammo makers have given a great deal of  attention to making shotguns pattern tightly, by the use of chokes and barrel boring tricks, and the construction of tight-patterning shotshells. This is all to the good, so long as we are shooting at ducks. I am dismayed to find the same techniques applied to defense guns and ammunition.  For the very short ranges that are usual in personal defense shooting, is it not progress in the wrong direction?

For defensive uses of the shotgun, we should instead demand barrels and shells that spread out the shot more, not less. If we accept the usual rule of thumb, that says the shot spreads about an inch for every yard it travels, when it is fired from a barrel without a choke, a felon at ten feet is facing about a three inch pattern. The pattern will, most likely, be smaller still, since the shot does not begin to spread until it separates from the shot cup. Wouldn't it be better if the pattern were bigger? It would give the home defender more margin for error.

It's rather frustrating to see the ammo manufacturers going in just the wrong direction. For example, Federal's FliteControl buckshot shells pattern tighter than any I have seen. In many guns they give patterns approaching half the normal size, and do it even in cylinder bores. That is amazing performance, and for some uses, just what one wants. For the typical, very short range scenario we are contemplating here, though, this answer is exactly wrong. Federal knows how go put a fast-opening pattern into a shotshell; they have done it before.  They used to offer a Premium Personal Defense load that was a spreader load of #2 lead shot. It was a marketplace flop but I thought it made perfect sense.

Of course it is a good thing when a company gives its customers what they want, but I conclude the customers want the wrong thing. If the goblin is ten feet away or twenty or thirty, shooting him with a tight pattern is too much like threading a needle. You lose the advantage of the shotgun, which is the margin for error that comes from the spread of the shot.

I do not mean to single out Federal here. They are just a convenient example. Other shotshell makers also boast of their shells' tight patterning, even in advertisements for their personal defense lines. It seems like they are bragging about something they should be ashamed of. It looks to me as if the excellent, tight-patterning technology developed for hunting has been applied, without much thought, to defense loads.

The only spreader shells I see for sale are loaded with very small shot and intended for bird hunting in close cover. Handload your own spreader buckshot shells? Please don't. You never want to use handloads of any kind for self defense, because some eager prosecutor is sure to say, "You see, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant didn't think ordinary storebought ammunition was deadly enough, so in his basement he contrived a super duper killing and maiming shell..."

So we are left to look to the other end of the barrel to see what improvements we can work thereon. Spreader chokes are available for guns that use interchangeable choke tubes. Briley, for example, offers a spreader choke called a "Diffusion" choke. The screw-in Polychoke has two settings claimed to work to spread the pattern. There are other muzzle attachments that likewise claim to spread out your shot.

But, inasmuch as shotgun chokes seem to function as much by arcane magic as by physics, people report mixed results. Some have found a spreader choke actually tightens their patterns, just the opposite of what is expected and desired. Others report the attachment does nothing, while still others get the advertised results.

It might be possible to very carefully expand a cylinder bore barrel to make a negative choke. We see here and here that some manufacturers' spreader chokes are just a .005" expansion.

Firing shot out of a rifled barrel spreads the shot but produces donut shaped patterns that are too big. Tip of the hat to Box O' Truth for this T&E. We see a common bit of misinformation put to rest here--firing shot loads from a rifled bore is not a workable idea.

No, what's really called for is a factory loaded spreader shell in some shot size appropriate to self defense use. I would think a fast-opening load of size T (.20") lead shot about right. I would buy a case, but if that is the only case of it the manufacturer sells, it is not worth their time to make it.

The problem here is the shooting public's unreflecting belief that tight pattern = good shell, something that is true enough in many contexts, but not all. Maybe by talking up the issue here I will start stirring up interest in, and demand for, a shotshell that really suits the home defense scenario.