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.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sons of the scout rifle

Col. Jeff Cooper was an enthusiastic booster of several innovations in guns and shooting. Notable among them was the 'scout rifle,' short, light and yet powerful and accurate -- a .308 carbine. Bolt action, because a field-tough .308 autoloader action was heavy. A bolt action can be built very light for the power it commands, and still be very durable.

What I want to look at in this posting is what has become of the scout rifle concept in the thirty or so years since Cooper dreamed it up, and where we go from here in the search for an even better all around rifle.

Cooper thought the scout an ideal general purpose rifle, useful for just about anything you would need a high powered rifle for, and exceptionally convenient. His idea did not catch on like wildfire. Just two manufacturers offer scout rifles, Steyr Mannlicher and Savage. Ruger has lately dropped out of the race. Some custom gunsmiths will build you a bespoke scout if you like. Here is what a scout looks like, in case there is still someone who has not seen one:
Article continues below the illustration

What the shooting public does not greatly care for is the forward mounted telescope. The things people don't like about it, as compared to an aft mounted scope, are its narrower field of view and greater chance of glare problems if the sun is low and behind you. The glare problems can be addressed with a lens shade on the back end of the scope. The small field of view is not really a problem if you understand the idea behind the scout scope.

The forward mounted scope works well if you use it as follows: Eyes up and looking downrange, you occlude your target with the rear of the scope. You can do this quite easily because your left eye can see where the target is and your right eye knows where the scope is. If you do it right, the target will be within the field of view somewhere, and probably toward the center, near the crosshairs. Because the scope covers up less of the terrain than it would if mounted aft, it's a simple matter to put the scope upon what you want magnified. The system is a decent compromise between speed and precision and does not need batteries.

As that may be, a red dot sight is faster and a conventional scope allows more magnification and provides a bigger field of view for a given magnification. So, while the scout scope has its adherents, it's safe to say the idea hasn't taken the shooting world by storm.

Another aspect of the scout rifle that has not caught on is the Ching sling. This, I am sure, is simply because many shooters do not understand just how a shooting sling can help them. The Ching sling is a remarkably convenient way to do it if you are going to use a sling as a steadiness aid, not just a carrying strap. You can loop up in no time. Cooper claimed that a sling improved hit probability by about 30%, but I have been unable to find out how he derived this figure.

All the other scout rifle ideas have stood up very well. They have caught on even among some who say they do not care for scout rifles. You can now get commercial, off the shelf bolt action carbines, lightweight  and short barreled, in high powered calibers, from numerous manufacturers. Thirty or more years ago they were unusual; there was the Remington 600 and 660, the Mannlicher-Schönauer and that was about it. The industry's bread and butter item was the full length sporter.

Cooper looked into the future with an imperfect crystal ball. The scope and sling he favored did not catch on in a big  way. But he was right in a general sense. Short, light, powerful, accurate, quick, handy--all these scout rifle qualities caught on. People started discussing the high powered, high precision carbine in earnest at the same time Cooper made the scout rifle a hot topic. In that sense, we can think of most of today's bolt carbines as 'sons of the scout.'

Ironically, many lightweight rifles people bought because they didn't quite like the scout rifle really are scouts, under Cooper's definition, or nearly so. The definition does not actually require that you mount the scope forward, or even that you use a scope. It does not even require a fast recharging system like interchangeable magazines or stripper clips. These are recommendations but not definitive requirements. It is only usage that has defined the term 'scout rifle' to mean something configured like the rifle shown above, with the scope up front. So the last laugh goes to the Colonel; the dissenters are not disagreeing nearly so much as they think. For example, the spiffy little Ruger Compact carbine fits within the scout rifle definition if you add, say, a Ching Safari sling.

It may be my own crystal ball has a flaw in it, but my guess is the bolt action lightweights will eventually face competition from short and light self-loaders. The AR-15 and comparable actions were not considered when the scout rifle was planned, because they did not fire sufficiently powerful cartridges. Cooper referred to the AR-15 in .223 as the "poodle shooter."

But progress has not been idle in the world of .223-length autoloaders. Newer cartridges up-gun this class of rifles. Some examples are the 6.5 Grendel and the 6.8 SPC. While not the equals of the mighty .308, they are of more general usefulness than the .223. The Winchester Super Short Magnum (WSSM) family of cartridges shows even more promise. On the downside, none of these cartridges is as yet in large scale distribution. You can get .308 cartridges easily in many countries; that was a key reason the scout's standard and recommended chambering was .308.

Per Cooper: " of the qualities of the scout rifle should be its adaptability to readily obtainable ammunition. Therefore the scout, as I see it, is a 308. Certainly there is plenty of 223, 30 Russian-short and 30-06 ammunition obtainable worldwide, but the carbine cartridges are underpowered and the 30-06 calls for a long action..." Use of a readily available cartridge certainly makes sense. Your general purpose rifle cannot serve any purpose at all if you cannot load it.

As for sights, the forward mounted scout scope is a good system, but we would today be quite within our rights to insist on red dot sights. They are now vastly more durable and brighter than in years past, the batteries last much longer and we now have a very good idea how well the dot sights perform in the field--including combat. Nearly everyone who has used a good dot sight (and there are some abhorrently bad ones on the market at present) likes the dot, if he is shooting at close to moderate distances. The "heads up" effect of looking at the target with both eyes, while the sight adds an aiming pip to your natural view of your surroundings, is very easy to like. Your situational awareness is enhanced and accuracy is quite good. 

For the future, then, I would say a short action (.223 length) autoloader with a high performance cartridge is a likely successor to the scout, a grandson if you will, and the Buck Rogers optics are in the cards too. Just what form this general idea will take is uncertain as yet. That the future 'grandson of the scout' will have interchangeable box magazines seems a near certainty. The far forward mounting of the optic will not be necessary, since the dot sight lets you pick up the dot faster if it is mounted closer in, and once you have the dot, aiming is simply a matter of steering it onto your target. The sight should, though, be mounted far enough forward that it cannot possibly hit you in the eye when the rifle recoils.  I would like the new rifle to be a bullpup--more barrel length for a given over all length, thus more ballistic efficiency from a short rifle. 

There are many problems to solve before such a rifle is fully practical. Not least of these is large scale international distribution of a new cartridge and, also, the batteries for the fancy sight. For now, the  scout rifle or one of its immediate progeny will do fine.

Note:  Thanks to Steyr for permission to use their illustration.

It's a Colt, a 1911 and...a DAO!?

Scuttlebutt is Colt will soon ship something they announced a couple years ago, double action only 1911's. I have not gotten gun in hand to test it, but I think this is going to be the first 1911 I've really liked.

I have some positive things to say about the 1911 pattern, and I've shot an assortment, from plain Army issue on up to gussied up modern versions. It is a powerful gun and its short and light trigger pull is conducive to accuracy. Its reliability is famous. I have no doubt it will protect your life as well as any sidearm ever made.

Trouble is, I don't really like any pistol that has an external safety, and the traditional 1911 has two. I'm a revolver guy. If I need to shoot in a hurry I don't want to have to turn, squeeze, flip or otherwise monkey with any safeties.

An advantage of DAO pistols is they have digital safeties. To go on safe you extract your finger--your digit--from the trigger guard. Not only is the task of taking off the safety eliminated when you fire, so is remembering to put it back on when you are done.

I like the Glock, a lot, but it feels like you are holding Tupperware. The new Colt is metal and wood. That's going to count for a lot with some people.

Something else the new Colt has going for it is the 1911 lineage. The gun it's based on has been in use a long time. As a result there are many aftermarket parts available for it, and we know very much about tuning it up and modifying and maintaining it. I would think there is little you can't do with, or to, this new version. The lockwork is different. So far as I know (again, not having gun in hand yet) the rest is as it was before. You can use the existing caliber conversions, I would think, and various other custom parts, and the holsters, and magazines, and so on, but with the advantages of the updated lockwork.

Well done, Colt. I'll shoot it when I get a chance and post about it here.

All kinds of ballistic calculators, free

Beartooth Bullets' Ballistician's Corner gives you an assortment of web based calculators for things like ballistic coefficient, drop and drift, penetration and a number of other things. There is even one for the old Taylor Knock Out Power formula--which some people take more seriously than others.

If you're into this kind of thing, you'll spend a lot of time playing happily with the gadgets.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Best defense gun? The shotgun, of course

Justifiable self defense shooting is short range business. It is astonishing, to people who have not inquired about it, just how short the distances are. But police studies consistently show it, and have for a great many years. One may look at recent FBI statistics or look up the NYPD's SOP 9 reports or any other responsible survey or departmental statistic. The information is consistent in showing gunfighting happens up close. Really close. Here is a good overview of the data. Fairbairn and Sykes concluded the same thing back before the Second World War; see Shooting To Live: Expanded Edition.

Most of the available statistics are about police shootings but the picture for the armed private citizen does not seem to be very different. The evidence is anecdotal on the civilian front. The NRA's Armed Citizen column, gleaned from press reports, suggests a tiresome sameness to civilian encounters: across the room, across the store counter, and seldom so far as across the street.

In the aggregate, the sources suggest we can think of anything beyond 15 yards as extreme long range, and unlikely. I have long wondered why this would be so, and the best I can come up with is that criminals must close with their victims to get what they want--rob them or rape them. In the case of murder, which could be conducted from a distance by a good shot, perhaps the criminal's motivation is such that he doesn't just want to kill you, but to be there so he can see your reaction. You know bullies always try to make their victims squirm. Perhaps it is the same mentality.

In the case of shootings involving police, another and simpler explanation emerges. Police must close with their customers to take them into custody. This is sometimes very dangerous.

In nearly any case, the object of a justifiable defensive shooting is going to be right there in your face. You want some very specific things in a weapon. You want the highest hit probability you can get, because it is possible to miss at short range, especially if you are frightened--and it would be abnormal not to be. You want to strike a powerful blow, to end the fight quickly. Under the circumstances, the limited range of the shotgun need not concern us at all. It's unimportant.

These factors  taken together persuade me that the shotgun is the best defense. The spread of its shot charge will not be very big at short range but it at least gives you more margin for error than a rifle. The fight-stopping ability of shotguns at short range is well known. The issue here seems pretty clear cut to me. Arm yourself for the likely threat. Don't spend a lot of time planning for what-if scenarios that very seldom appear.

Bring back the .357 Maximum!

This was an awesome cartridge. It was cooked up as a cooperative effort between Ruger, who made the sixguns, and Remington, who made the ammunition. It was a lengthened .357 Magnum with much higher velocity and a SAAMI pressure limit of 48,000 CUP. It was introduced in the early eighties and the guns didn't hold up. There were problems with flame cutting.

Essentially, the high pressure firing gases acted like a cutting torch and went to work on the revolvers' top straps, chewing them up something fierce. Ruger, and the Dan Wesson company, who were also building revolvers for it, withdrew their guns from the market. The cartridge now sees only limited use, mostly in break action pistols and carbines.

It is now more than a quarter century later and we know much more about super magnum revolvers and their cartridges. We have seen development since then of the .460 Smith & Wesson, .500 Smith & Wesson and other brontosaurus class wheelgun ammunition. Gun metallurgy has advanced a bit generally. It is now possible to build a high pressure revolver that will not self-immolate.

It's time to bring back the .357 Maximum in a double action revolver built to stand up to the cartridge. The industry today knows enough to do that. Such a gun would suit me better than the big bores. It would offer excellent penetration on tough targets afield and kick less.

It might be a good idea to use the old Dan Wesson idea and have interchangeable barrels so barrels can be easily replaced if the forcing cones become eroded. It would be a good idea to use a replaceable top strap shield at the point where the flame cutting occurs and--I think this is obvious--a generous bit of clearance between the chamber and the top strap, to attenuate the cutting effect of high pressure powder gases. In other words, don't try to make the frame as compact as possible, leave a bit of room in there.

Something also worth looking into is the flame shield incorporated in the Taurus Circuit Judge carbine, which limits side flash. This part, too, should be replaceable.

The worst erosion effects on the .357 Max revolvers were associated with using lightweight bullets driven to the highest possible velocities. Shooters are seeing that also in the newer super magnums. Here too the solution is obvious--don't use the lightest bullets if you want your gun to last.

A handgun that will serve the purpose of a game rifle is an idea that many shooters like very much. I like it all the more as I get older and my rifle feels heavier. The .357 Maximum cartridge is one of the best solutions possible, but it was ahead of its time. A revolver that will stand up to it  is overdue.

Hey! I got yer free ammo right here.

Here's something you don't see very day, Chauncey. Free ammo. Post about it on your blog or website for a chance to win.
M.D. Creekmore at The Survivalist Blog – a survival blog dedicated to helping others prepare for and survive disaster – with articles on bug out bag contents, survival knife choices and a wealth of other survival information is giving away a 1,000 round case of 9mm – 124 Grain FMJ (a $200 value – donated by LuckyGunner)! To enter, you just have to post about it on your blog. This is my entry. Visit The Survivalist Blog for the details.
This is a clever idea. You paste the above promo from the site, email The Survivalist Blog site owner with your link addy and you may end up with mucho ammo.

Personally, I use .38 Special instead of  9mm. If I win I'm donating the case to my shooting buddy, who is in such things more modern than I.

This idea of a promotional giveaway is something I hadn't thought of, and I am looking into it for my own blog.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fast bolt work -- how to fire a bolt action rifle quickly

Many riflemen prefer the bolt action. Its simplicity, reliability, ease of maintenance and, above all, its accuracy recommend it to the practically minded. "But it's slow." Is it, now? Well, I suppose it is, compared to a machinegun. But how slow is it? Too slow? With proper manipulation the bolt rifle is faster than many think.

When the bolt action was the principal kind in military use, you can be sure a good deal of attention was paid to how to shoot it quickly. When self loading rifles came into general use, those lessons were largely forgotten. Fortunately, they were not altogether lost; you can look up anything on the Internet.

A survey of the classics

Fr. Frog is a well known rifle enthusiast and has many interesting things to offer on his site. Among them is this compendium of what several authors had to say about working the bolt quickly. You will find several different ideas described as well as how to operate a right-handed rifle if you are left handed. In what follows I am speaking of right handed use of a right handed rifle.

My preference

In the above material you can find several means of working the bolt, with the palm, with the upper edge of the hand and the fingers or by grasping the knob in thumb and forefinger. I've tried them all. What I prefer is using the thumb and forefinger to firmly grasp the bolt knob. Holding onto the knob seems to me more certain and secure than other methods. It also transitions naturally into the "Tommy finger" firing method given below.

Don't think of the bolt stroke as up-back-forward-down, but as a two step process, up-and-back, then forward-and-down. As I raise the bolt with my right hand, my left twists the rifle slightly clockwise, which increases the force acting on the bolt. The rifle stays on my shoulder and my eyes remain downrange. I do not look down at the rifle. Why should I? I already know what it looks like.

A point that has become clear to me in practice is you must always work the bolt very hard. SLAM it open. SLAM it shut. You won't break it, but working it gently risks inadequate ejection, short-stroke jams and incomplete closing.

Giving the Tommy finger

There is another method for working the bolt, when speed is important and best accuracy is not. It is the fastest method of all. While keeping the bolt knob grasped in thumb and forefinger, you press the trigger with your middle, or saluting finger. You maintain your grip on the bolt as you cycle and fire the weapon, which you can do because you are not using your trigger finger to fire.

Depending on the size of your hand and the relationship between the bolt handle and the trigger, on the rifle you are shooting, you may need to use your ring finger or your pinkie instead of the middle finger, to press the trigger. Regardless of which finger is used, I call this the "Tommy finger," in honor of the Brits who came up with this method.

The author of these instructions claims it is easily possible to fire five rounds in four seconds in close combat. Feel free to skip to page 124 and begin reading there, since the rest of what it says has been covered already, or is not directly relevant to the subject at hand here, or else offends against modern notions of safe gun handling practices. If you would like the hard copy of these instructions, they are found in this book. Addendum: Scroll down to the end of this blog post for videos of the method in use.

So, in summary...

You must not take the rifle from your shoulder or look down at it. Work the gun where it is and keep your eyes downrange. Of the various means of working the bolt, grasping with the thumb and forefinger seems to me the most certain and secure, and it transitions quite naturally to the Tommy finger technique if you are put upon to fire at short range and in a hurry.

Safety message

Before attempting any kind of rapid fire, make certain that the rifle is operating correctly and cannot fire out of battery. Come to think of it, that isn't a bad idea for slow fire either.

Addendum (2013)

I found some Youtube videos of the Tommy finger in use. On the theory that a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is many pictures per second, I'll post them here for the public's greater edification.

Historical reenactor shows polished skill

A closeup view of how the method works

The next fellow has a good run, except he has a couple of bobbles that say to me that he should work the bolt hard, as I suggested above.

Begin by practicing slowly and smoothly, because slow is smooth and smooth is fast. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Traveler carbine explained and defined

I saw at a gun show some elegant take-down repeating rifles I could not afford. Their appeal was obvious. Instead of carrying a long clumsy gun case you carry a suitcase. Traveling with the traditional gun case is always a nuisance and may draw attention from thieves, officials and busybodies.

Fortunately you don't have to be rich to own a proper traveling rifle. A single shot, break action rifle is already a take-down model. It can be shortened, within reason, to produce a very convenient travel companion. What is reasonably short? In the U.S., at least, it's no shorter than 16" in the barrel and 26" over all for the assembled rifle, unless you want to fool with NFA registration. It is sensible to add half an inch to these dimensions. Should the question arise, you want a rifle that is obviously compliant with the rules, not a marginally compliant one that may be impounded for further study.

Thinking this through, I came up with what I call the Traveler carbine, a specialized single shot made around the idea of convenience when traveling. I define the Traveler as a centerfire break action rifle which, when separated for transport, has neither component longer than the other.  The lock and stock are the same length as the barrel. There are due exceptions to the rule, but that is the general idea. One reasonable exception would be if your preferred stock length would take you afoul of the NFA if you shortened the barrel to match. Another would be that you don't like the ballistics of the cartridge you're using if the barrel is shortened way back. Or maybe you just don't like the flash and racket of a stubby rifle barrel. Those are all good reasons for making the lengths unequal.

My reason for saying the lengths should be equal is that is the maximum compactness achievable, when the gun is packed for transport. You gain nothing in compactness by making the barrel shorter than the stock and receiver unit, or vice versa.

What is a Traveler good for? It is sometimes very convenient to have compact luggage that does not shout "Rifle over here," and still be able to function as a rifleman, by virtue of having a rifle. Among other things, it saves you from borrowing a rifle to go hunting, a practice with several pitfalls. This kind of rifle may also appeal to the backpacker, who of course wants the smallest and lightest gear he can get.

Weight versus caliber is something to consider in planning your Traveler. The lighter the gun, for a given power level, the more it kicks. Mr. Newton explained why. It seems to me that you should select the lightest cartridge you feel is suitable for your purposes, for the trimmed down single shot rifle will end up quite light. Not everyone agrees. I once saw an H&R .45-70 pared down to minimal dimensions. It must have been great fun to invite others to shoot it.

Rifles suitable for conversion into Travelers are available in all price ranges. The upper price ranges need not concern us here. For the price of a best grade, hand made single, you can buy a very good take-down repeater, and the idea of sawing off a vintage Purdey or Holland does not appeal to me. H&R, Baikal and a number of others are quite suitable as starting points for building a Traveler. The Thompson Center actions certainly merit consideration but are more expensive.

When armed with a single shot rifle, the procedure for reloading in a hurry is the same as for the single shot shotgun, but easier, because rifle cartridges are not blunt like shotshells. I consider an automatic ejector more desirable on a Traveler than a simple extractor, because it speeds the process of reloading.

It has long been said that rimmed cartridges are preferable for single shot rifles, because the ejector or extractor has more to grasp. It is alleged that break action rifles made for rimless cartridges will always give trouble down the road. I am not sure whether this is a real concern or merely a theoretical one--one of those cracker barrel 'facts' that does not bear out in practice. A quick look at the gun catalogs shows more single shots for rimless than rimmed cartridges, but that may be due only to the great popularity of rimless cartridges in the era of the repeating rifle.

I would think a big part of your choice of caliber would be what cartridges are most available in the places you will be taking your Traveler. Because a rifle is no good without ammunition, the question of cartridge availability is far more important than whether there is a rim or not. That, at least, is how the matter appears to me.

There are so few parts inside a single shot rifle that a comprehensive kit of repair parts is no trouble to carry along. Depending on how far afield you travel with your Traveler, spare parts might be useful to have, or at least comforting. It may be possible to fit the parts into a hollow inside the buttstock, where you will not lose them--or if you do lose them, you no longer need them, because you have lost the rifle too.

What the conversion job entails: If you wish, you may shorten or lighten the stock, or fit a different one, and cut out a recess, or recesses, for the spare parts. Trim the barrel to length, cut a new crown in the end. If there was a front sight replace it farther aft, or forget about it, if you wish, and discard the rear iron sight too. Applying a rust resistant finish might be prudent, in light of the go-anywhere nature of the gun. These jobs are not beyond some home hobbyists but most people will prefer to have a gunsmith do them.

The most sensible way to proceed is first of all to decide what length you want the stock to be, then derive  the barrel length from that, measuring stock and receiver as a unit. I recommend a stock that fits you. Some claim a stock shorter than normal for your measurements is quicker in field shooting, but  don't say why that would be. It does not seem to bear out in practice, for me at least, but I haven't made a detailed study of the matter.

To recap, a Traveler is a short single-shot rifle, optimized for convenient transport. Its barrel is the same length as the lock and stock assembly--with due exceptions to this rule, as noted above. It fires a readily available cartridge. An automatic ejector is preferable to an extractor mechanism. A rust resistant finish is not a bad idea. Neither is a spare parts kit, which may be stored inside the stock if there is room.

So far this project is just in the conceptual stage. If and when it goes farther, I'll post pictures. Anyone else see this sort of thing as a very useful rifle to have?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Peculiarities of the Remington 700 Rifle

I'm a big fan of Remington's Model 700. I think it is among the very best rifles ever made. There are a few problems with it, though. I am acquainted with them firsthand. The purpose of this article is to help the rifleman armed with this weapon understand what its particular problems are and how to avoid or fix them. I have concentrated on issues specific to the 700, omitting the many issues or concerns that apply to bolt rifles in general. That leaves me quite enough to talk about.

A few built-in glitches aside, though, what a fine shooting iron! The reason we know about the problems is the 700 has seen use everywhere, doing everything, for a long time. It is well established as a target rifle and a hunting rifle, and has long served as the sniper's rifle of the Army and Marine Corps. Millions of 700's have been sold. Because its flaws have been exposed through long hard use, I tend to trust this rifle more than some others. It's as in the old saying: "Better the devil you know."

It is typically an accurate rifle and it works smoothly--most of the time. In its usual sporter configuration, it is slim, well balanced and handles well. You can put a yard of bull barrel and two tons of fancy stock on it and it will handle like a plank, but that is true of any rifle.

Now, as to the downside: As with any machine, the works can get gummed up. Parts can wear and fail and things can break. There are three places where the Remington 700 is particularly inclined to mischief: the extractor, the magazine and, on a small percentage of older models, the trigger and safety--potentially a very serious matter. (If you have one of these troublesome older models, Remington will put things right at very little expense to you. I give the details below.)

The Dinky Extractor

Where riflemen to gather to talk shop, the Remington's extractor is the first thing mentioned as a weak point of its design. It is said to be the rifle's weakest link. It is a small spring steel semicircular affair that sits inside the bolt face. It snags the cartridge rim when you close the bolt. It drags the cartridge out again when you open the bolt.

It is a very small part, to be tasked with such an important job. The Mauser, and similar actions, use a massive claw. The comparison is inevitable.

It isn't as if Remington did not know about the Mauser extractor. Before they came up with the spring clip type, they had made a great many rifles with Mauser extractors, including Springfields for the military. Presumably they knew all about the advantages. What they came up with instead is more compact, simpler, lighter and, yes, also cheaper to make.

This part occasionally breaks or becomes distorted. In the few incidents I have been able to track down that have all the facts available, the failures have happened at high round counts--over five thousand in one case, above ten thousand in two others. A small number of extractors have failed in brand new rifles--bad tempering, apparently. Always try out a rifle before you trust it.

You should carefully inspect the extractor every time you have the bolt out of the rifle. Gently clean any filth from on or beneath it, with solvent and a toothpick. Examine the part for any signs of cracking or distortion. Replace it if it looks wrong. You may wish, as a precaution, to change it out every few thousand rounds, just to be on the safe side. This is more rounds than the normal hunter shoots through his rifle in his entire life. Still, there are people who shoot that much and more, and lots of them have Remingtons.

There are two styles of extractors used in Remington 700's. The older style is riveted to the bolt face. The newer style does not use a rivet. Remington discovered that the rivet was not really needed; spring pressure was enough to keep the part in place. Unfortunately, the newer rivetless design is not interchangeable with the older, riveted extractor and cannot be used to replace it. If you have a riveted extractor, that is the kind you are stuck with.

Replacing the new rivetless extractor is easy, just pop it in. Extractor, Rivetless F93712 '06 Bolt Face. Replacing the riveted extractor is not difficult, exactly, but it is a bit of a fiddly procedure. You have to buck over a rivet while supporting it from inside the narrow rim of the bolt face. Brownell's replacement kit includes instructions. I find it telling that the kit includes the extractor and two rivets, while only one rivet is needed. What that says to me is a lot of people miss on the first try. The kit: Remington 700-Style Riveted Extractor Kit . (Be sure you order the right size for your caliber.)

To make the installation go more smoothly, there is a tool to make it easier to smack that rivet right: Remington 700 Armorer's Kit Remington Extractor Rivet Anvil. You can do the job without the special anvil, but it may require some ingenuity on your part.

If you're not at all a gun hobbyist-tinkerer, consider taking the riveted style to a gunsmith if you need it replaced. It's a quick and easy job for someone who has the right tools and has done it before.

There is a scheme for replacing the Remington extractor with the extractor from a Sako rifle, or from an M16. I am not convinced of the benefits. When Marine armorers build the Corps' sniper rifle, they use numerous custom made or specially adapted bits and pieces, but they keep Remington's extractor, and this is on a rifle being tuned up for life and death use. Fitting a different extractor would be an unnoticeable added bit of time and expense, in crafting what is in effect a hand built rifle, but the Marines decided the Remington extractor would do. Nobody knows more about rifles than the jarheads; if you doubt it, you can ask them.

My own verdict on the extractor issue: Keep the extractor and bolt face clean, watch the extractor for signs of trouble, and if you fire off a whole lot of ammo, replace the thing periodically as a precaution. And stop worrying about it.

Magazine And Feeding Issues

Here is a common occurrence: It's difficult pushing the rounds into the magazine, and perhaps not all of them will go in. When you shoot, rounds fail to feed, sticking in the magazine so that the bolt rides over them instead of pushing them into the chamber. If the rifle worked before, the likely cause of this misconduct is that the magazine box is cockeyed in the rifle--pinched somehow or in crooked. Take the gun apart and put it back together again, making sure the magazine box is undistorted and installed just right. A less common cause for misbehavior is foreign material or rust interfering with the function of the magazine. The solution there is obvious.

If the magazine system is put in right, unobstructed and unrusted, any feeding problems are ordinarily limited to rough, sluggish or incomplete feeding. A new, strong magazine spring should help. If that doesn't completely solve the problem, perhaps a slight smoothing of the feed rails will help. Polish don't reshape. (Crocus cloth not sandpaper.) Reshaping rails is a factory matter, or something for a good gunsmith with lots of Remington experience. The amateur is well advised to leave it alone.

A few people have reported feeding failures on brand new rifles. In this case, why fool around? Send the thing back to Remington and tell them coffee break's over.

These remarks apply to the models with internal magazines, which you fill from the top of the rifle. They do not apply to the detachable magazine models. I have no experience with those, as yet. On other detachable magazine arms, in my experience, anyway, the solution to most feeding issues is a new magazine, and I suppose it would be the same with the Remington DM.

The Trigger and Safety Matter

Remington will convert the bolt locking safety on older model Remington 700's to non bolt-locking operation, for $20. At the same time they will replace your trigger, at no additional charge, if it is not working to spec. The link is here and more information on the retrofitting program is here. To quote:

Remington is extending through December 31, 2010, its Safety Modification Program to remove the bolt-lock mechanism from certain Remington bolt-action centerfire firearms made prior to March, 1982. (Post-1982 bolt-action firearms were not manufactured with bolt-lock mechanisms). To determine whether your firearm has a bolt-lock mechanism and is subject to the safety modification program, click on the model listed below and follow the directions included.

The unloading process for most bolt-action firearms with a bolt-lock mechanism cannot begin unless the manual safety is placed in the "F" or "Off or Fire" position. If you participate in the program your firearm will be modified to eliminate the bolt-lock feature and you will be able to unload your firearm while the safety is kept in the "S" or " On Safe" position. The operation of your firearm will not otherwise be affected.

Unless they extend this program again (they have before), you have till year's end to get the modification and a complimentary hat; see the web site for details. There is a bit of history behind this program; some 700's, it now appears, have fired when the safety was taken off, without the trigger being pulled. There was quite a media circus about it years ago; here is what CBS said. Although any accidental shooting is tragic, and I do not at all wish to detract from the seriousness of the accidents or the anguish caused by them, shooters well know that you must never trust a safety and always apply the rules of proper gun handling. Furthermore, the off-safe-and-bang malfunction is not unique to Remingtons.

But since we know there is a possible issue here, why not send in your rifle, if you have an '82 or earlier model? As I read the factory's announcement, they will convert your safety so you can leave it engaged while you unload, as on the current model, and if there is anything amiss with your trigger they will put in another. Amiss, in this case, no doubt includes any amateur slob job trying to make a field trigger into a hair trigger. The trigger is a bit of precision workmanship and does not like to be messed with.

Here is what a wrongful death and personal injury law firm has to say about the Remington trigger; I include this link to round out coverage of the subject. As you may suppose, what it says is not positive, but careful reading between the lines may suggest, to the gun-savvy, something about the true nature of the controversy.

 I have an older 700 with the bolt lock that I am going to send in, simply because I am telling other people to do so. Its operation appears to be all correct, but I cannot expect others to take my advice if I do not take it myself. I haven't had any trouble with this rifle, but that may be due to foresight. When I bought it used, I found it was pretty well gummed up with congealed oil, so I rinsed that out before I tried to use the rifle. The pull weight, when I got it, was set at about 3 1/2 pounds, not unreasonable for the design, possibly the way it left the factory, and the sear engagement screw was untouched under its factory seal. Of course, grime or gunk, and unreasonable trigger settings, will contribute very much to unsafety, on this or any rifle.

It may be that there are Remington 700's out there that have triggers that were never quite right in the first place, even among those made after the 1975 revision of specifications, and the 1982 elimination of the bolt lock, for no manufacturing process is error free, but the last line of defense, in rifle safety, is the thoughtful and well informed rifleman.

A quick field check you can do on any 700, old or new, is as follows. Gun UNLOADED and pointed in a SAFE DIRECTION, gun cocked and safety on, move the safety halfway between Safe and Fire. Pull the trigger. Take your finger off the trigger and move the safety to Fire. The striker should not fall. If it does, do not fire the gun, or load it, until it is professionally repaired. I repeat this check a few times before each outing.

Trigger Addendum

Beginning in 2007, Remington began shipping the 700 with a new trigger mechanism called the "X-Mark" and in 2009 the X-Mark gained an external adjustment screw for pull weight, on its trigger face; the 2007 version had all the screws inside the gun, like the previous model. I have no experience with this trigger unit myself and am trying to sort out how this change is working out for people. If you have some firsthand input on the subject, please leave it in the comment box.

So In Summary...

The Remington 700 reminds me a little bit of the Jaguar automobile. They do not look the same, and they only occasionally sound the same, but with either one there is the feeling that here is a high performance machine with some maintenance related peculiarities. The 700 has the particular virtue of wanting to shoot straight. It is ordinarily a good shooter right out of the box and with tuning it can be phenomenal. Its vices are few in number and easily dealt with once you know what they involve.

If that doesn't seem persuasive to you, that's fine. Some situations, and some people's preferences, are better served by designs where toughness and endurance were the main criteria. (A Dodge 4x4 serves better for some trips than a Jaguar.) But, if you ask around, trying to find out which rifles never give any trouble, the answer, you will find, is "None of 'em!"