Tuesday, December 22, 2009

FLGN'S Pocket Protectors

In the last year or two, snubbies and .380 semi autos have seen a HUGE resurgence in popularity. If the chest-thumping .45 fanboys will hold their boos til the end, I will make my case for the pocket gun. As a card-carrying gun nut, I have THREE sub-compact pistols. Granted, I JUST got my permit to carry, I've been practicing drawing from concealment for about four years--since I first put my name on the list to take the class from the Sheriff's Department.

First, let me bloviate about carrying concealed. I emplore you to practice using your concealment holster EXACTLY the way you plan to carry, and with NO LIVE AMMO present, practice drawing and firing the first round. You'll find kinks in your form this way. I know I did. Also, try doing every-day motions that could reveal your gun. Revealing your gun or having it "print" against your clothing MAY be illegal in your state (it is in Iowa). Practice reaching something from a high shelf, or picking up something off the ground. Sit down and stand up. Does your shirt hang up on the grip? Also practice using the toilet. (*Do this previous bit at home, before you go out in the world!* I hate to specify that, but I really don't want to be sued.)There have been some high profile cases of people carrying concealed firing rounds off in public toilets while trying to catch a falling firearm. Make sure the only noise from the lavvy is coming from you, and not your gun. Practice WITHOUT LIVE AMMO PRESENT before going live in the real world. It will pay big dividends.

Starting from least kinetic energy, my S&W 442 (lowest in the pic). It holds five rounds of .38SPL and is rated for +P ammunition. It is absurdly light and small, which are big advantages during Iowa's tropical summers. I love my S&W revolvers, which is why I still own the 442. It is hard to shoot well (but I do because I'm awesome), slow to reload, and absolutely wild under recoil. With a gun this small and light, you have NO REASON not to carry it when possible. However, you better practice your ass off with a piece like this. J-frames are really a master's weapon, and shouldn't be carried by folks who don't want to put in the time with it. But thankfully, there are many other choices in this frame size that are more forgiving.

The P64 (the middle one) is a very, very good weapon and really deserves your consideration. It is incredibly accurate, about 15% more powerful than a .38SPl from a short barrel, reloads faster, is controllable under recoil, and is very thin. This gun just BEGS to be carried concealed. Ammo is even very cheap. It is a bit slower from the holster than the 442, and is noticeably heavier in a pocket, though it is hardly a heavyweight. I also find that, in my hand, it points very naturally. It disappears well in a pocket holster in the inside breast pocket of my stylish leather jacket or a diminutive inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster. The only reason I still own the 442 is that is is marginally lighter, and that if I am cut, my blood spells out "S&W". Also, I think the P64 is terribly gramatically correct, which I admire. You see below:The only proper use for quotation marks is to either quote from another source or when being ironic. Clearly, the Reds printed P64 on the first gun ever produced, and then quoted it when producing the next 46,000,000 P64s. Damn if I don't admire proper grammar. Well played, communist slaves, well played indeed.

Then there's my M&P9C (top), which I absolutely adore. I've shot it out to 50 yards a few times and can usually keep my whole group on an 8.5"x11" sheet of paper, which is pretty damn good for a gun with a 3.5" barrel, and a gun nut from the flatlands behind the trigger. It is considerably bigger than the other two, but is still concealable quite handily in an IWB holster under just a t-shirt, though I'd probably opt for a cover shirt as insurance (think a t-shirt under an unbuttoned button-up shirt). The trigger is fantastic, the ergonomics are fantastic, it is light, but still has very little recoil. It's chambered in 9x19mm, so it is the most powerful of the three, carries 13 rounds (12 in the mag, one in the pipe), and is generally a work of genius. The only problem is the size, which isn't all that problematic. I could still carry it most of the time, but the P64 and 442 are more concealable, and lighter. I'll still keep this thing around though because it is just such a great firearm.

The great thing about these little friends is that they can go anywhere and everywhere with you! Sure, a 1911 in 10mm might be more impressive, and packs WAY more whoop-ass, but isn't practical to carry everywhere if you aren't an enormous person. The gun you have in your pocket is always better than the gun you left in the glove box or at home because you didn't feel like carrying it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

FLGN Goes Big Bore

With the possibility of a deployment ahead, I've begun budgeting for some "I love me" presents. Near the top of the list is a big bore revolver. Thirty years ago you had one choice: the .44 Remington Magnum of Dirty Harry fame. But today, the .44 mag isn't "the most powerful handgun in the world"--probably not even in the top 5 anymore!

Then one day, the designers and engineers at Smith & Wesson stopped taking their meds. The result was the .500 S&W Magnum and the .460 S&W Magnum, which are ridiculous. My first thought was the .500. Who doesn't want a .50 caliber handgun? But ammo--even reloads--will eventually bankrupt you. Then I considered the .460 S&W Magnum, which is actually a tiny bit more powerful than the .500 mag at some bullet weights. The .460 is actually almost practical because it can fire .454 Casull and .45 Colt also. But to switch rounds, you have to thoroughly clean the cylinder because the shorter .45 Colt and .454 can leave powder and lead deposits which will make extraction nearly impossible for longer rounds. No big deal if you pay attention and maintain your firearms--which you'd better because X-Frame S&W revolvers (the .500 and .460) start at about $1100.

The problem with the X-Frame is that you only get five shots. The cylinder had to give up the sixth round to make it strong enough to withstand the nearly 60,000 PSI created by pulling the trigger. The 5" barreled model, which is the one I'd have, weighs in at 62.5 ounces. That's nearly four pounds, which could get old in a strong-side hip holster. Especially when you consider that .460 S&W can shoot rounds that weigh in at nearly two ounces each (complete rounds--the bullet weight tops out at 395 grains), so loaded weight would be nearer to five pounds. The .460 S&W is an amazing firearm, but a bit too expensive for me, and I have a sinking feeling I wouldn't really want to pack it around that much.

So I took a second look at the .44 magnum, and started to really like what I saw. I found a load from IMR's website that said I could use the same HP-38 and Winchester 231 powder I use in my .38SPL, .45ACP, and .45 Colt. The powder charge was very economical, but still drove a 240gr cast lead bullet to nearly 1400 feet per second, which yields 900ft/lbs of kinetic energy. (Of course, the .460 can generate nearly 2500ft/lbs.) In fact, the .44mag I want is shockingly practical. Behold:
This is a S&W Model 629-4". It retails for about $700 to $750, which is still fairly expensive, but consider that a revolver looks a lot like a Rolex inside and you start to understand why they're so expensive. This one has enough barrel to preserve a lot of the muzzle velocity of the .44mag, but be light and handy enough to carry everywhere, but still hefty enough to soak up some recoil at 41 ounces. It's almost boring in its practicality. Being made of stainless steel, it should be pretty easy to clean up and resistant to rust. It measures just 9 5/8" from end to end, so I might just be able to carry it concealed, though that would be more likely in Iowa's arctic winters than our fairly tropical summers. But I could certainly find space for it while hunting or enjoying a walk in the woods. Reloads would be cheap enough that I could actually go plink with full-house mag loads.

Now to develop a plan to convince my wife to let me get it....

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Only Man With A Wheelgun

By the way, I was the only one in my 30-person NRA class to shoot a revolver. I posted the best groups of the day, but I felt a bit like this:

The Gun Nut Bloviates

I've been meaning to write something coming out of the experience of taking the NRA First Steps defensive shooting class for my concealed weapon permit. Writing about the process is sort of a moot point unless I have more than James reading this from Iowa (the states that allow carrying have totally different laws and procedures). The class was geared toward someone who has never held a gun before, and I'm assuming my meager audience has been shooting for a while. But one thing stuck in my mind a bit.

The caliber debate between 9mm, .40S&W, and .45 Auto raged on throughout my two day course. The instructor kept saying "pick the biggest caliber you can shoot well", and gently hinting that 9mm and .38spl were okay, but not the best. I can tolerate that because a bigger hole is generally better when it comes to self-defense. But the occasional Counterstrike ninja would mumble that 9mm and .38 are too small and weak. Well, once again, I'm forced to get out my calculator and calipers for a mental beat-down.

By the numbers: (Velocity squared x weight in grains)/450436 (per Modern Reloading by Richard Lee) will yield kinetic energy in ft/lbs.

9mm: 124gr Hornady XTP (what I use in my 9mm) at 1100fps = 333ft/lbs

.40 S&W: 180gr JHP at 1000fps = 399ft/lbs
.45ACP: 230gr JHP at 900fps = 413ft/lbs

So the .40 has 66ft/lbs on the 9mm and the .45 has about 80ft/lbs on it. Both are, by the numbers, more powerful. But let's compare them to yesteryear's gold standard--the .357 Magnum. Say, a 125gr JHP at 1650fps. That's 755 ft/lbs. Nearly twice what the .45 has and the .357 isn't a fabled manstopper like the .45. So maybe it's frontal area we're concerned with.

9mm: .355"

40S&W: .400"

.45ACP: .452"

We see the .40 has .045" more frontal area than a 9mm. The .45ACP has a whopping, massive, HUGE .097" more frontal area. That's very nearly a tenth of an inch!

And then there's anecdotal evidence. "Mr. X" was shot a million times with 9mm and still didn't go down. Well, I've done a number of research papers on police use of force, and for every instance of a 9mm not killing a suspect, I can bring you another showing a .40S&W or .45ACP failing to stop a bad guy. Perhaps the answer is that a handgun is a poor choice for stopping an attacker outright. Perhaps it isn't caliber alone. Perhaps it is shot placement that kills attackers dead. A panicked shot to the lower abdomen (which is where lots of panicked shots go, and which does little damage to vital organs) will not stop a determined adversary. Even if they're hit by a mighty .45ACP.

The one time the instructor slipped, he was referencing a case in Des Moines where a man was able to free himself from an armed robber by shooting the bad guy in the shoulder with a .22 magnum revolver. The instructor opined that "a .45 would have taken the guy's shoulder off". I've seen the results of shootings and bombings first hand, and let me be the first to tell you that it takes a hand grenade sized explosion at very close range to tear limbs off. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I suspect a hand grenade has more kinetic energy to impart than a .45ACP round. Shoulder shots don't end hostage situations. Gut shots don't stop coked-up murderers.

This is what a dead would-be murderer looks like. And my "antiquated" S&W Model 64-3 helped me put holes in that paper. Of course a .45 would have made the X explode in a tiny mushroom cloud.

Keep your shots in the X ring and caliber doesn't really matter a hill of beans!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

You Spin Me

I bought a S&W 64-3 double-action only .38 Special from J&G Sales a while back and it's been sort of sitting around while I waited on my .38 Special reloading dies to come off back-order. Well, they did, and I hit the range with some handloads to test, and I shot this group from 20 yards.Above: Houghton custom ammo into a Houghton custom target--printer paper with a 4" triangle drawn with a sharpie and tape measure.

Looks like all that snap-cap practice paid off pretty huge. Part of it is that a heavy and smooth double action trigger pull from a vintage S&W will help you master the art of a clean trigger pull. I haven't mastered it yet, given the two rounds that did not go in the same hole as the other four, but damn if I'm not getting closer. Granted, I did this very slowly. It probably took me 45 seconds or so to fire all six shots. But I'll take it.

Semi-autos own the "tactical" (I hate that word) world, but the wheelgun still rules the range and the hunting world. I have a soft spot for S&W revolvers, and I'm also partial to mega-bore revolvers from Ruger. S&W has tried to resurrect revolvers as a tactical piece by making an 8-shot .357 Magnum that uses moon clips (AKA full moon clips) for faster loading. But you could spend a fraction of the money on a S&W M&P9 service model that has 17 rounds on deck and can be reloaded by your average person very quickly. As far as I'm concerned, the wheelgun has seen its day as the primary sidearm of choice by 99% of law-enforcement and 100% of the military. But it is FAR from dead.

Revolvers will always live on because they aren't limited by the dimensions of a detachable magazine that runs through the grip. You can make that cylinder just as big as it needs to be to house a nuclear bomb like the .460 S&W or .454 Casull. I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to take my hetero-lifepartner's .454 Casull Ruger Alaskan into bear country with me, or in case I ever had to shoot down alien spaceships.

Another great reason to own a wheelgun, particularly in .357 magnum or .38 Special, is the cost of reloading. You SHOULD be able to recover 100% of your brass, and .38 special operates at very low pressure, which helps lengthen case life. The .38SPL takes a very light powder charge, even at max loads, and cast lead bullets in the 125-158 grain range are pretty reasonably priced. I can reload .38 Special 125gr LRNFPs pretty cheaply. There isn't much better than cheap shooting, except for hitting what you're aiming at.

Gratuitous S&W Pornography

As a side note, I plan to shoot the 64-3 for my concealed weapon permit class on Sunday. I bet I'm the only one there under 65 who shoots a wheelgun. Probably the only one PERIOD to shoot a DAO wheelgun.

FLGN out.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Seeing Red

I got my Vortex Strikefire zeroed tonight and played around with it a bit, shooting 110 rounds of Wolf 62gr JHPs. James and I headed out to his place just before sundown and I got about 30 rounds in the darker part of dusk. This really wasn't much of a torture test or anything, but surely 110 rounds would have exposed any serious faults. Overall, it performed flawlessly. Just a heads-up: I don't have time to get proper pictures, but I will put some up. I'll steal a few from around the interwebs until Sunday or Monday. My point-and-shoot Nikon just doesn't take good indoor pictures.

My sight arrived on Monday from www.midwayusa.com and I got it mounted right away. I ordered the Strikefire kit with the AR-15 specific extra-high ring. The ring is a fairly heavy duty six-bolt of the aluminum persuasion. I didn't use thread locker on it, but I did carefully torque everything down pretty well. You have to be careful with scope rings--especially aluminum ones because you can crack them from over-tightening, you can crush the scope tube, or you can break screws, or some combination of the above. Anyway, the ring is good stuff. The optic is NOT mounted in the ring when you receive it. You have to very fastidiously mount the bottom half of the ring to your AR, then level the optic, then place the top half of the ring on and tighten it down evenly. It's a lot easier than it sounds--especially if you've done it a million times before, which I have. (Well, maybe not a million, but nearly.)

The 2x magnifier cuts your field of view by at least half. I haven't tested it yet, but I plan to and I'll do an update accordingly. It is easy to install and remove, but doesn't come with any kind of carrying case (I bet an old 35mm film canister would work great) or lens protectors. For $150 though, I can forgive that and raid my dad's old photography supplies for an empty canister.

On the range, the Strikefire fires a clear warning shot across Aimpoint's bow. With the reticle in red mode, it is a dead ringer for an Aimpoint Comp M2. It has 10 daylight brightness settings, and two nightvision settings. In green mode, the dot seems brighter and blurrier, but James reminded me that the human eye is three times more sensitive to green light than red. The green dot is still pretty good, though I think I prefer red.

The adjustment turrets feel a bit weird at times. The elevation turret didn't have terribly positive clicks, but still made precise and predictable adjustments. The left/right turret had very positive clicks and also adjusted well. All around, fit and finish is more than you'd expect for a $150 red dot sight. The lens covers are sort of flexible rubber/plastic stuff that seems very durable and seals tightly. I absolutely love the control layout (below). It reminds me of an EOTech, but is more accessible if you're right-handed. Left-handed freaks lose out again I guess.
I don't have any real complaints, just some minor gripes. I wish it took AA batteries instead of CR2s. I also don't understand why the Vortex Optics logo is in white on the front of the battery cover (seen below).
Vortex has to know that this is going to be bought by zombie-slayers and weekend-ninjas, and having a huge white logo on the front of your optic isn't terribly tactical. I like the logo, but I think it would make more sense if it were in coyote tan or flat dark earth. I'm halfway tempted to buy a can of Krylon Ultra-Flat and paint this thing coyote tan myself. I'm really thinking hard about it.

With all of 110 rounds downrange, I think I really like this sight. I have about half a case of Wolf ammo to burn up, so I may do that over Christmas vacation. If I can get a couple hundred rounds through this, I think it may very well earn the FLGN seal of approval. This could prove to be SERIOUS value for money.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Return To Broke Disc Mountain

James and I got together to test penetration again. He brought some of the old toys, and I brought some new ones.

This time the brake discs were from a 2005 Mazda RX8, which is a sports car, which means the brakes are bigger and badder than the ones we shot last time, which were from a Toyota Tercel. As you can see, if the bullet hits one of the fins between the layers, it faces one inch of steel. If it hits a void, it has nearly 3/4 of an inch to punch through.

We used James' TPD AXR (5.56x45mm NATO), Cugir TTC (7.62x25mm), and Steyr M9A1(9x19mm). I brought my S&W Model 64-3(38 Special), Cugir TTC (7.62x25mm), and Yugoslav M48B Mauser (8mm Mauser). The rifles were shot from just over 35 yards, and the handguns from 10 to 15 yards. Ammo varied, and I'll get to that later.

First, the AXR launched a Remington 55gr FMJ lead core (left) and a PRVI Partisan "green tip" 62gr steel core. The lead core seems to have shattered on the first thickness, hit a fin, and stopped on the second layer, but cracked the back of the disc. The green tip (two shots shown--right and center) punched cleanly through the first layer, and one steel core made it out the back while the other ricocheted.

Then I brought out the Yugo with some Romanian surplus 8mm 150gr steel core from the 1970s. It very nearly did what I thought it would. It sliced through the first layer, then smashed through the second. The surprise was that the disc stopped the steel penetrator, and we found it amongst the wreckage.

Cool, huh? Remember in that "What's Bulletproof and What Ain't" article I posted a while back? This is why I said that if you're taking fire in a parking lot, you should get behind the engine block and align yourself with the wheels. Remember that this bullet didn't make it through the brake disc, and would have had to punch through a wheel rim before getting there. Okay, ego massage complete, moving on.

I then had a go with my S&W 64-3 shooting 125gr lead flat point handloads. They did exactly what I thought they would, shattering on the first surface without doing any damage at all. Moving on.

Then James had at it with his Steyr M9A1 shooting some kind of cheap 115gr FMJs. They made a bit more show of it, and sort of made a dent you could feel, but hardly see. But still no penetration, and no serious damage of any kind.

Then we both tried our Cugir TTC (virtually identical to a Tokarev TT-33) pistols and shot 1970s surplus Romanian 86gr steel core ammunition. The RX8's brake disc proved tougher than the Tercel's. Frustrated by a lack of results, James unleashed a barrage of 7.62x25mm and ended up making a few cracks in the first surface. Some of the steel cores seemed to weld themselves onto the disc, which was unexpected, but made some cool marks.

We left Broke Disc Mountain satisfied and exhausted, sure to return in the future.