Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quick Look: The AR-24

I traded off my Glock 17 today for an Armalite AR-24. I'm pressed for time and I just got it home about an hour ago. I will post a range report the second weekend in April (the first time I can get away).

First of all, it's closer to an EAA Witness than a CZ-75, but they are very similar. The DA trigger pull is heavy, but very smooth. The SA pull is like my friend's Taurus PT1911. There's just a bit of creep and crud before a very crisp and reasonably light break. My trigger finger says its about 4.5 or 5lbs. Not bad at all.

This thing also came caked with cosmoline. I looked at the finish and saw swirls and chunks, and my first thought was "Man, the finish on this thing SUCKS!". It was not a bad job of parkerizing, it was just globs of cosmoline. I tried taking it off with Rem Oil, but no luck. I will get out some serious solvent later. I lubed the rails with moly-lithium grease, and the action is slick and tight. There's just a hint of a rattle at the back of the slide. I'm no slide-to-frame fit nazi, and sorta prefer a bit of rattle in my pistols. This is just about perfect for me.

The grip panels are a bit fat in the palm swell, but the grip angle is ideal for my hand. It fits like the guys at the Sarsmilaz arsenal in Turkey made it just for my hand. Your mileage may vary.

The action can be used as a traditional DA/SA, or it can be carried cocked and locked--1911 style. That's why I traded my beloved Glock for this pistol. Oh, and the AR-24 can use (cheap!) EAA Witness Steel Frame magazines. I ordered a pair of 16rd 9mm magazines at $20.99 each from a place in Denver (the link isn't in front of me right now. ask and ye shall receive). I also ordered a Hogue wrap-around grip with thinner side panels and finger grooves added to the front strap--exactly like the one on my 1911A1.

From a mechanical standpoint, this thing has potential. Serious potential.
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

(Good) Budget Training

Has the economy come down hard on you? Me neither. Want to train without spending a bloody fortune? Me too. The solution? Spend some cash on snap caps. For those of you who have not attained the rank of "Gun Nut" yet, let me briefly explain what a snap cap is, and why you need them.

A snap cap is a dummy round that is either made of aluminum or plastic, and has a bit of rubber or polyurethane where the primer would normally be. They are completely inert, and are used to prove if the action works, and also protect the firing pin from dry-fire damage. You see, when you pull the trigger on an empty firearm (ESPECIALLY rimfire guns!!!) you run the risk of damaging the firing pin. The primer would normally cushion the violent force of the hammer (or striker spring) heaving the firing pin forward. Without that cushion, the firing pin can be damaged by the weapon's frame. Snap caps can be used in auto-loaders to prove the action. Load a magazine with snap caps, and when you work the action properly, they should feed and eject like live ammunition. Note I said "when YOU work the action". Since snap caps are inert, they do not operate the action. I once saw a thread on a firearms forum that read "These things are JUNK! I put them in my 1911 and NOT ONE cycled the action when fired!!!". Snap caps have no primer, no powder, and no bullet. They are incapable of firing, and thus will not cycle the action on their own.

Ok, now we're all on the same page. On to training. This will focus mainly on pistols, and mainly on concealed carry stuff.

Instead of burning up cash on rounds at the range, there are a few simple drills you can do on your own. The first of which is to polish your trigger pull. Watch the front sight carefully as you pull the trigger. It should not move at all during the pull or follow-through. It should not dive or shake while the hammer or striker falls. Do this until the front sight post stands completely still through the whole operation. Good luck.

Second, practice drawing from concealment--real concealment. Not a kydex outside-the-waistband holster for your 1911 bowling pin gun. Practice pulling your concealed piece from an inside-the-waistband holster, or getting your J-Frame out of your pocket and firing an aimed shot. How fast are you really? Make sure you emphasize the fundamentals--and keep your body parts and clothing away from the muzzle while drawing and firing. You might find out your favorite concealed carry (CC) spot isn't terribly effective for you. You might also find out that you aren't as quick as you might have thought. Better to find out you can't draw your weapon as cleanly as you thought during training rather than when someone demands your wallet and watch. The best part is that you can do it in the comfort of your own home without spending a dime on gas or ammunition.

Another useful drill is to practice reloading using snap caps. For an auto-loader, lock the slide to the rear over an empty magazine (some smaller pistols don't have a slide lock feature) and then assume a firing stance--act like you just fired your last round. Have a magazine (you really only need one, but more is okay) wherever you plan to keep it--in a pocket, pouch, or whatever. Reload as you normally would. Try to do it precisely, and speed will come as you get better. As a twist, you can put two snap caps in the second magazine and practice clearing a misfire. You can also put a snap cap in a "stovepipe" position and practice clearing that jam.

With a revolver, you need two sets of six (snap caps in common revolver calibers come in six-packs). One set will be in the cylinder and will be considered expended ammunition. Have the second six on a speed strip or speed loader. Same as above--keep it where you will keep your CC ammo. Don't use the hi-speed-low-drag pouches and stuff unless you really plan on using it for real. Again, just focus on doing it precisely. Reloading is probably the worst time to screw up because it can leave you with an empty gun when you really need a loaded gun.

Probably the most needed drill is "simple" procedural loading and unloading. Practice safely loading and unloading your weapon in a manner that isn't really time sensitive. By "procedural" I mean safely loading it up to go out the door in the morning, and safely clearing the weapon when you're done for the day. A lot of negligent discharges result from these two supposedly simple acts. Sometimes we have a tendency to shut our brains off when performing tasks that we do often. That can result in unwanted holes in possessions or worse.

Drills with snap caps can't really replace live fire, but it sure can be a great supplement and can keep you from getting rusty. Ammunition prices continue to climb, and those lucky few with real jobs are in uncertain times. If you can't afford to shoot as much, you might want to grab some snap caps and keep practicing.

Bring Back the .44AMP, For Charlie Bronson's Sake!

The AMT Automag was essentially the first successful attempt to put a ten pound cat in a five pound sack. It was the Desert Eagle of its day, except, I would argue that it is more useful because of its better ergonomics. Oh sure, it's still a bulky, heavy, hard kicking hand cannon. But just look how cool it is.

Behold the AMT Auto Mag in all its glory!

The best model, in my opinion, was the one chambered in .44 Auto Mag (.44 AMP). It chucked a 240 grain bullet at about 1450 feet per second, and held eight rounds. Now who doesn't need eight rounds of .44magnum style power? Why in the name of Charles Bronson did this thing just up and disappear? Well, there was a bit of a marketing problem. You see, in the late 1960s and early 1970s while it was still in production, AMT lost about $1000 per gun sold. The Auto Mag retailed for about $220 which kept it in competition with the big Colt and S&W revolvers of the day. Today, a used Auto Mag can fetch $2000 or more.

Which begs the question: Why doesn't someone start making them again? Wilson Combat and Nighthawk Custom sell 1911 pistols for $2000-$5000 each. And people BUY them. So why not release the Auto Mag .44 for say, $1500. I'd start saving pennies TODAY!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Is That A Pistol In Your Pocket....

Not a pistol, but a revolver. A Smith &Wesson 442 Airweight 38 special +P to be specific. The 442 is part of S&W's famed J-Frame family of revolvers. I bought it over the weekend and had a chance to do a very brief range session with it. My hetero-life-partner, Justin went with me and put two or three cylinders through it himself. We got to the range a bit later than we had hoped to, and we only got about 55 rounds through it before the sun went down. The ammo used was 158 grain lead round nose, and 130 grain plated flat point--both from Remington UMC (Not my favorite ammo maker, but that's all I could find).

I shot mainly from seven to ten yards, and my first couple of five shot groups ended up at about 6" across when I shot one handed at a rapid pace. When I calmed down and used both hands, I put up a five shot group from ten yards that was probably about 3", and three rounds were all but touching. The light was fading fast and I was still getting used to the very heavy but very smooth double-action-only trigger. The sights are small and hard to pick up in the fading light (the sun was at my back, and all but gone for the day). I think I'll break out my trusty gold paint pen and hit the front post with it later this week. It should be noted that this tiny little blaster jumps around a bit, despite being chambered in the mild-mannered 38 Special. It is also REALLY loud, so if you ever have to pull it for self-defense, the bad guy (and you) will at least be deafened until the police arrive. The 130 grain rounds made a very pretty basketball-sized muzzle flash once it got fairly dark. That served as a friendly reminder that one has to make sure all body parts and clothing are clear of the muzzle before you pull the trigger. I've heard of guys training on shooting their snubbies through a jacket pocket. I'll go ahead and pass on that one.

Over all, I'm very happy to have the little 442 as a future concealed carry piece. That is what this thing was built for, pure and simple. It has clean, snag-free lines, and it is quite small and easy to conceal whether you are dressing for hot or cold weather. I have a Desantis Nemesis pocket holster on order because my 442 will probably ride in a jacket or trouser pocket. It looks like a set of car keys or a cell phone when in a front trouser pocket. It is invisible in a jacket pocket.

Before you get a J-Frame or other snub nosed revovler, you should be warned of their shortcomings! You only get five shots. Regardless of what kind of ammo you use, the bullet will not achieve very much velocity in the 1 7/8" barrel--so you have five shots of mediocre power. That means shot placement is everything! Snubbies are NOT easy guns to shoot, but nothing in the micro-compact world is. The .38 Special snubbie is a "fecal matter has impacted the oscillating blades" weapon. It is certainly better than being unarmed, but its low capacity, mediocre ballistics, and difficulty of use mean it is not a firearm for those who don't want to train. For more (and better) information, check out this month's SWAT Magazine article "J-Frame Of Mind".

Hopefully you haven't given up on snubbies just yet. Despite what I just wrote, the J-Frame has one HUGE advantage: It is tiny and lightweight, so you have no excuse not to carry it. The gun within reach is far better than the gun you left at home or in the car. In other words, a 38 special in your pocket is far more lethal in a fight than the .45 you left at home because it's not comfortable to wear all day. Yes, bigger is usually better, and more ammo is generally better than less ammo. But the snub nosed revolver has been with us since forever, and has stacked up quite a body count (unfortunately, on both sides of the law) over the years. It is no death ray, but it is not to be taken lightly either.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hump-Catting or Shooting the Puma 92

Before I begin, I must tip my hat to the Powerthirst commercial which gave rise to the phrase "hump-catting". Anyway, back on track. I managed to put about 120 rounds through my rifle on Saturday. I brought 200 with me, but I stopped because of a minor problem that I'll get to in a minute (stay tuned, it's not a horror story).

Tool marks are obvious, but when covered with moly-lithium grease, it works smoothly.

First of all, despite the rough looking mechanism, it fed anything I put in the magazine. It ate up my semi-wadcutters along with the round nose flat points. All of them were loaded to a case overall length of 1.602" by yours truly. Both loads were stoked with stiff doses of Winchester 231 powder which was lit off by Winchester Large Pistol Primers. The brass was a mix of Winchester, Remington nickel plated, and Starline nickel plated. Since we just got another six inches of snow Friday night, I worked the action with the rifle held sideways so I could catch the spent round, then rotate the rifle back upright while simultaneously closing the action. I had no problems at all with this method. I also shot a couple of quick strings of two or three rounds (over a 12' square tarp--I hate losing brass). Not a hiccup.

My 7.5" barreled Ruger Blackhawk used for size comparison.

The surprisingly small size of my rifle led some at the range to postulate that it would kick like a Missouri mule. However, it did not. I would equate it to a .22 rimfire magnum. There's a tiny bit of muzzle flip, but no recoil on your shoulder--not one bit. This would be a great way to introduce a new shooter to centerfire rifles. This rifle is just plain handy. Legacy Sports lists the weight at six pounds, but it is so well balanced that it feels like much less. Very young or very old hunters who can't pack a heavy rifle would be well served with this option. Granted, the .45 Colt is limited on range. But here in the flatlands, most deer and coyotes are taken at around 50 yards (even those taken with centerfire rifles). This carbine might be good for about 125 yards on such game, but I need to do some more accuracy tests and get good chronograph data on my reloads before I can back that statement up.

The safety. Useful? Yes and no.

The safety that I spoke of in the first look article proved to be more useful than not. The only way to unload this rifle is to work the rounds through the action. That means the hammer is fully cocked for that whole operation, and if it is still full of ammo, you'll be removing eight rounds (working the action eight times). The safety made me feel better about that operation. If the safety between your ears is working, then the one on the rifle is not really necessary. It is nice to have though. I think I'll keep it in place for now.

Now for the trouble I alluded to earlier. The front sight post. I got the rifle zeroed for elevation at 25 yards, but it was hitting about six inches to the left. At 50 yards, that was about 18" left. I didn't go to 100 yards because I didn't feel like I could make good hits using Kentucky windage. Oh, it made fantastic little groups--they were just WAY to the left. At 25 yards, I shot all nine (eight in the mag, one in the chamber) rounds into three cloverleaf groups that were all touching. If I did my job, the rifle would shoot nice little groups. And it is easy to shoot offhand because of the balance and very nice trigger. The trigger seemed to get nicer as the day wore on, and now seems on the low side of what my trigger finger says is four pounds. Still no creep and only a hint of over-travel. As pictured above, I used some metallic gold paint to make the front post stand out. Once I got home, I used my Grace Gunsmithing punches to drift the front post over and hopefully cure the problem.

The finish on the Puma is very deep and even. It is a very pretty little rifle, in addition to its handiness. The inside might be rough looking, but the outside certainly is not. One wouldn't expect the finish of a $450 rifle to look this nice. Kudos to Legacy Sports for finding a decent manufacturer for the Puma 92 line.

At the end of the day, I really fell in love with this rifle. The main reason is the general handiness of it. If it isn't handy, you won't take it with you. The Puma 92 has no sharp edges to hang up on stuff in the back of a truck, or snag on foliage. It is lightweight so you can carry it in your hand (let alone on a sling) for hours without getting tired. It is short enough that you can keep it with you on the tractor or in the truck--and have it ready for use at a moment's notice. That's what a carbine should be. Just plain handy. The Puma 92 carbine is the very definition of "handy". Now a few disclaimers: The .45 Colt is plenty here in Iowa and Missouri, as well as most of the upper midwest. Once you head into the South or mountainous West, you will want to upgrade to the Puma 92 chambered in .454 Casull or .480 Ruger, or the classic .44 magnum. If there are bears in your neck of the woods, the .45 Colt probably won't cut it unless you load the +P recipes that are only safe in Ruger, TC, and Freedom Arms. I've heard tales that the Puma will take such pressures, but don't take my word for it. If you do it, you're on your own. Puma doesn't suggest such loads and neither do I. BE SAFE. Enjoy your Puma 92 responsibly.