Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Didn't Build That (Yet)

It has been a slow weekend, and I spent some time yesterday cleaning and organizing my gun room. I threw out a bunch of unidentifiable springs, some Triple K brand AR magazines that someone gave me a long time ago, and various empty packages that I had put in my gunsmithing tool box for no reason. By the time I was done cleaning, I found I had not one, but TWO AR-15 triggers (complete!), and a complete M16A2 stock! I told my wife that with this development, it would be silly not to buy a cheap lower and start building an A2-style rifle. She reluctantly agreed, and now I'm going to order a cheap lower from AIM Surplus this week. I've got the rest of the build more or less nailed down as far as components, but I'm still on the fence about an optic, but I'll get into that later. First, let me explain why I want a full 20" rifle.

When I joined the Iowa National Guard in 2002, only elite units had M4s. I went through basic training with an M16A4, and was issued an M16A2/M203 from my unit of assignment. I went on to carry FN Herstal M16A2 serial# 7366928 in Afghanistan, and for a couple of years after I got home. Then I got shifted (without promotion...) to a team leader slot where I carried another FNH M16A2 for another 18 months or so before we got M4A3s. I have a lot of fun memories with an A2. I also had exactly zero problems with those A2s, to include one day where my second FNH rifle spent all afternoon on the line, cycling between me and my squad's two SAW gunners. That rifle must have digested over 2000 rounds in a four hour stretch. And that was after it ate up 180-ish rounds of blanks on a force-on-force drill the previous night and the only cleaning it got was a healthy dose of CLP. My Colt M4A3 was far from unreliable, but I did experience a trigger spring failure on the firing range in Afghanistan. Also, every memory I have where I carried an M4 absolutely sucked. Not the gun's fault, but that's how it is.

So with that said, I'm looking hard at a Stag Arms 20" upper known as the Model 4H.I may upgrade to MOE handguards at some point, but that's about it. Which brings me to my current conundrum. The optic.

I want to keep things simple, so that leaves me with two general options: a very low power scope, or a tube-style red dot.

My favorite optic in the entire universe is the ACOG TA31F, which I used on my final deployment. It was extremely rugged and turned a mediocre rifleman into a serious mid-range threat. When properly zeroed, the BDC is dead on, and will retain a zero even when banged around for months at a time. Unfortunately, the ACOG is also extremely expensive. But maybe one day I'll have one. Until then, my options are somewhat limited.

My short list of possibilities right now is:

Aimpoint Pro ($400)
Burris Tac30 ($300)
Burris MTAC ($400)

As my eyes age, I'm getting partial to low-magnification optics. I also like shooting for group at 100 and 200 yards. The Aimpoint is definitely the better choice for CQB, but I will probably take my AR coyote hunting a couple of times a year and the Burris scopes would do that a little better, especially if I had to take a 200-300 yard shot. I won't be getting a Vortex Strikefire for this build because I want it to be a battle-ready rig. I would trust the Burris and Aimpoint in adverse conditions. As good as the Vortex is, I'm not sure it's ready for combat. Let me add that I don't think there is a better red dot at the Strikefire's price point. If you want a range toy that is functional and looks good, that's the way to go. Mine lives happily on my MP5-22, and it's great in that role.

Now to figure out how I'll budget for my upper, and get this thing shooting by year's end.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Glocktard: Why I'll Never Afford Another AR15, part IV

I like Glock pistols. I don't love them, and I'm certainly no fanboy (except for old S&W revolvers). I carried a Glock 22 on duty for the brief time I spent on a small town police department. I owned a Glock 17 that was reliable as an anvil, and killed a huge number of barnyard varmints. I respect the hell out of the Glock design, and as much as I like my M&P9C, if I were to buy another plastic pistol it would be a Glock.

The M&P has some improvements over the Glock. The components are arguably of higher quality, I like the grip angle better, and I think metal magazines fall free of the mag well better than plastic ones. I also like the fully supported chamber and conventional rifling of the M&P. But the Glock still has a couple of important trump cards. First, EVERYONE makes support items for the Glock. Want a left-handed mag pouch fitted for a Glock 19? Someone makes one. Want a slide plate with a "trucker girl" silhouette on it? Someone makes one. Second, the Glock has been around long enough to have accumulated a service history--and it's pretty good. One day, the M&P will catch up. But it will take the same 30 years the Glock has had. And it's worth noting that 30 years really isn't that long in gun tech terms. Police ALL carried revolvers from the dawn of time until the very late 1970s.  Then in 1985, they all ditched their S&W 3909s, Beretta 92FS, and 1911s for the plastic "Wundernine" from Austria. And though old grumps (like me) grumbled about their "tactical tupperware", the Glock just plain worked.

And that's why I've decided that if I add another pistol to my safe, it won't be my friend's GI 1911. It will be a Gen 3 Glock 19. Additionally, I can rationalize a Glock 19 in three ways. First, I can compete with it on the cheap. Second, it is large enough to make an acceptable nightstand gun. Third, I can carry it concealed in fall and winter. Now all I have to do it sell my wife on those points and perhaps I can pick up a Glock next time I hit Sportsman's. And I'll still never be able to afford another AR15.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why I Will Never Afford Another AR15, Part III

While visiting my hetero-lifepartner last weekend, he mentioned he had a gun for sale. He took a partial trade when dumping his Delta Elite, and that part-trade was a Springfield 1911A1 GI model, just like the one I built up in a futile attempt to make a poor man's TRP. The price is right, and my wife wasn't super mad about me wanting it (I may have bribed her with an emerald necklace...) and I can almost make my savings goal for the month and still buy it.

But part of me really wants to build a neato AR15. I miss having an AR around, but I have no emotional attachment to any particular one (I've had two now). I was issued so many over the years that an AR is more like an expensive power tool than a piece of art like a revolver or a 1911. The only reason I want one is to satisfy the tinfoil-hat-wearing part of my brain that says the S is going to HTF a-la Greece. But in reality, my Benelli Nova could keep the Occupy crowd at bay. Especially if I had three 1911s for "Detroit reloads"....

I need another 1911 like I need another hole in the head. But it needs a good home. And an unwanted 1911 is like an unwanted puppy to me. I just can't bring myself to ignore it. It needs a good home. At this rate I will never be able to afford my AR build.

I guess it's time to start panhandling after work. Spare some change?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

ROAD TRIP!! (Why You Should Own A Cheapie)

I'm downing pot after pot of black coffee in effort to drive to western Iowa to see my hetero lifepartner and take our wives to the Henry Doorly Zoo. Being a fastidious and law-abiding armed citizen, I did my homework. In Nebraska, a "no carry" sign has force of law. No one seems to be sure what the penalty is, but the law reads like you can be charged with a crime, not just told to leave. And not wanting to go to prison, I will leave my gun in the car's locked glovebox.

So which gun to carry? My shiny Ruger? My tricked out Frankenstein 1911? My favorite M&P? None of the above. Today it's commie garbage all the way. My $150 P64 will be in my bellyband today. Turns out impulse-buying a pistol will finally work out for me.

I really don't like the idea of leaving firearms in a vehicle as a standard practice. But some days, it just can't be avoided. If I have to leave my gun behind, I'd rather it be a gun that is cheap and not particularly special to me. As an added bonus, the P64 is chambered in an obscure caliber, and only holds 7 rounds. So in the case it is stolen, it can only be fired a couple of times before the baddie has to toss it or start shoving incorrect ammo into it and hopefully kaboom-ing the whole works.

So here's my observations for the day. First, DO YOUR HOMEWORK before going out of state with your carry rig. When you travel out of state, you must now operate under the new state's bylaws. So for instance, if you have an Iowa permit and you go to Missouri, you CANNOT open carry. You have to obey Missouri's bylaws. And to do that, you have to know them.

Second, buy a cheap but reliable gun for days you know you'll have to leave it in the car, or in the hotel room, or whatever. To my mind, a Ruger LCP or Bersa Thunder .380 would be about ideal. If you're cool with leaving a Glock 19 in the glovebox, fine. It's just that $500 is a lot of money to me, and I'd rather not lose that money and give a bad guy a fairly effective combat piece. Maybe that's some tortured logic, but it makes sense to me.

So ends my ramblings for today. Enjoy your weekend and stay on the right side of the law, even if it doesn't particularly make sense.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More 1911 Minutiae

The second handgun I ever bought was a Springfield Armory 1911-A1 G.I.. It's also the only handgun from my early days that I still own. Albeit, with some significant changes. I bought it thinking I would build myself a custom 1911, and save money over the more expensive TRP model (I was a Springfield Fanboy back in the day). If you're thinking about doing the same thing, don't. Let me dive into some observations on the 1911 and explain what I find useful, and stuff I could live without. There are tons of 1911s out there, so here's some stuff to think about before you commit.

Para Ord. LTC 1911 Commander (OD Green), Springfield Armory 1911-A1 GI (Parkerized)

Let me lead off by saying I think the 1911 Commander is my favorite. I like my 5" Government model, but the Commander points better and balances better. The price for that balance is a bit more muzzle flip, but I go back a long way with the 1911 platform and I don't really notice it going from one gun to the other. My Para LTC has a lot of nice, modern features that are actual improvements over Browning's A1. First, the ejection port is lowered and flared (See the Para's vs. the G.I.). Second, the trigger was excellent right out of the box. My G.I. 1911 got new guts about a month after I bought it. It now has Wilson internals and a Caspian Trik Trigger. 

A 1911 from most makers comes with a 16lb recoil spring. I run an 18.5lb spring in both of mine to prevent battering the frame. Some say it makes the guns more reliable, though I would argue it might cause problems with manufacturers who make weaker ammo. I haven't had a failure to cycle due to the heavy spring. But to be fair, the 16lb springs never gave me grief, either. 

However, when I switched my G.I. gun to the 18.5lb spring, it started binding randomly, and I finally figured out it was the spring causing it. So instead of popping in the girly 16lb factory spring, I bought a Wilson full-length guide rod and it has been reliable ever since. My Para wears a G.I.-style spring cap for aesthetic reasons. This is a long-winded way of saying I don't really have a strong feeling about guide rods in a 1911, though I prefer the look of the G.I. system. 

Top: Para LTC; Bottom: Springfield G.I.
That brings me to the mag well. Traditionally, the 1911 has a square, head-smashing, steel butt. My Para has been relieved, arguably to make reloading faster. I can notice a difference between the two. I fumble on the square well more often than the beveled one. Some guns have an additional mag funnel. Those are nice, but rule out concealed carry and put you in the Open or Limited class of your local shooting club. A beveled mag well is something I prefer, but it still isn't as easy as reloading a plastic double-stack. 

Para LTC left, Springfield GI right.
Most makers give you nice sights these days. Except on GI guns, because the real GI 1911s had horrible, tiny, squinty sights. They're accurate, but far from quick to pick up. I got props at the last match from my R.O. because I was essentially point-shooting the whole stage. On the subject of sights, I prefer a very visible front dot and a plain, sharp rear. I can use 3-dot sights, but I'm not a huge fan. I also don't like fancy adjustable rear sights. They can be fragile and finicky. While at the match, a friend's fancy adjustable sight started self-adjusting sharply to the right during his run. Fixed sights can still be zeroed, though it's more of a pain in the ass. But then they're zeroed forever (barring disaster). 

If I could pass on one thing I've learned in my years of DIY gunsmithing and penny-pinching, I would say to buy the 1911 you want in the trim level you want from the manufacturer you want, even if it costs a couple thousand dollars. Guns like the Dan Wesson Valor (my personal favorite) and S&W 1911PD represent good value, despite being very expensive. It would probably cost the same to buy a cheaper GI 1911 and have a gunsmith build it to be what you want. And it is an exercise in futility to try and do it yourself. You won't save any money (gotta buy tools to do the work!), and you'll probably muck it up once. 

Good luck with your 1911 adventures. Get the one you love, and love the one you get.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Back In The Saddle

I finally got out to a match last weekend. And did both well and very poorly. The match just happened to be the yearly championship match for Central Iowa Practical Shooters out of Winterset, IA. I shot there as a kid, and hadn't been back for something like 11 years. The club rules are basically USPSA, but they treat the semi-autos all the same. Essentially, all bottom-feeders are in the "open", which kind of sucks because a guy like me with a basic 1911 isn't going to catch the guys with STI 2011s and XDM45s. But, you can "run what you brung". You can buy a handgun, an extra magazine, and a double mag pouch and at least compete.

Saturday was the actual championship, followed by a banquet I did not attend because I was watching Iowa State beat up Iowa on the football field. The match was two stages, which I wish I had photographed, because there were a lot of required trick-shots. The first stage was 34 rounds, and the second stage was 30. Sunday, they were 30 and 30. I shot a clean 46.36 and a clean 48.00 seconds respectively on Saturday. Sunday I was on fire. 33.something with one miss, and 31.something clean. Then I went back with The Golden Gun.

My time was 80sec on the first stage because of a very stubborn pop-up plate (shoot the plate to pop a target up). I shot the plate, and nothing happened. Then I shot the rest of the cylinder into the plate, and nothing happened. I then wrestled with an unfamiliar Bianchi speedloader (I'm buying HKS from now on). I shot all As, save for one D. On the second stage, I got through in 50 seconds, also with all As, save for one C.

I learned a couple of things. First, being fast on a FAST drill isn't the same as being fast over an entire course of fire. Second, I'm not very fast at all. If I keep practicing for a couple of months, I know I could get faster. But what I really came away with was a deep desire to shoot revolvers. The revolver runs were by far the most fun for me. They were also the cheapest. And I'm actually competitively quick with the wheelgun. Mainly because everyone else who shoots sixguns has an oxygen tank and a walker.

I have since bought a full compliment of HKS 10A speedloaders, two HKS "leather" double pouches, and new reloading components to up the power of my .38spl loads. I have switched from a Missouri Bullet Co. 125gr LRN over a max charge of HP-38 to a Missouri Bullet Co. 158gr SWC over stout charge of HS-6. The former netted about 230 ft/lbs and the latter around 350 ft/lbs--or roughly 9mm+p territory. Which sort of highlights the 38spl's weakness, which is weakness.

And on that note, I'm off to enjoy the remainder of my Friday. Keep your stick on the ice.

I'm Too Sexy For This Blog

So I just realized I've never shown the completed Golden Gun. Today at work I got a text from CCA, saying my 1911 was done. So here's some pictures. Enjoy. They're too sexy for this blog.

The Golden Gun

Sun glare, and The Golden Gun

OD and Graphite Black controls.

The shadow from my right arm, and also my OD Para LTC

Now an side on my Para. I was VERY disappointed with the factory finish on the LTC, and after poking around the interwebs, a lot of other users were also disappointed with the durability of Para's finish. Every time I got back from the range, there'd be a new gouge or scratch on the slide near the ejection port. I had originally wanted to do a bi-tone scheme with a black slide and OD frame, but I think this just looks better.

As another aside, I wrote in my instructions to CCA that I wanted a basic duty-ready trigger at about 3.5 to 4lbs and clean. And they did an awesome job. There's no creep or overtravel and it breaks very cleanly at what I'd guess is just under 4lbs. Maybe less. I can't wait to get back to the USPSA club next month. 

If you're in Iowa (or anywhere, really), and you need cerakote or just a good gunsmith who specialized in black rifles and 1911s (also does a LOT of work with tactical tupperware of most major brands), then give Controlled Chaos Arms an email or a call.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Number Two: The Case For A Bellyband

There have been a number of cases of folks leaving their carry pieces in public toilets. Most high profile of which was a Secret Service agent who left their gun in an airplane bathroom. With the increase in number of folks carrying, it makes sense that there would be an uptick in incidents like this. Not everyone has had the pleasure of carrying an M4, M9, and M14EBR everywhere they go for months or years on end. Here's a couple of ideas of how to retain your iron while passing your fiber.

You're in the mall when suddenly that Panda Express suddenly exacts its revenge. Of course you're carrying concealed. What now? The Yankee Marshal has some ideas, then I chime in with a case for carrying a revolver and bellybands.

I carry my SP101 almost exclusively. It's just too easy to hide, and with five rounds of Buffalo Bore 158gr JHPs on board, I don't feel under-gunned. Because it has a very heavy trigger, I feel very comfortable carrying it "appendix" style in a bellyband. Aside from being comfortable, the bellyband can help you keep positive control of your gun while losing control of your bowels. Observe first, my usual carry position:

Now, say I've eaten some bad Chinese food (not picking on the Chinese, but that's usually the cause of my intestinal unrest) and I need relief immediately. Well, I can slide the whole bellyband up to my chest level. This maneuver is incredibly easy, and you cannot possibly lose your gun this way:

This works for me. If you have a different way, that's great. Never leave your gun behind. Do test runs in your bathroom at home before trying it out in the wild. Be safe and continue to give lawfully armed citizens a good name. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I Am A Gun Hipster

My Para LTC is now in the capable hands of Controlled Chaos Arms for new guts and cerakote after an unfortunate mishap involving Gov't parts in a Commander frame. It may have been my fault. But enough about that.

I've been agonizing for months over whether or not to tell my wife I need a Glock 19, and beg for permission to buy one. But everyone and their dog has a Glock. I want to be different. Cooler. More ironic. So I give you my current hardware crush: The FNX-9.

This re-release of the FNP-9 features more aggressive texturing, and some unknown changes I can't verify right now because I'm lazy. The FNP's standard mag was 16 rounds, and the FNX holds 17--which is on par with the Glock 17. FN sends you three magazines, and costs about the same as a Gen 4 Glock. But wait, there's more.

FN uses hammer-forged barrels. Stainless steel in everything that can rust. And FN just makes good guns, period. All of my favorite Army-issued M16s were made by FN. I had two such FNs that shot a one-hole zero group at 25 meters. Everything I've seen from FN has been top-shelf, and very rugged. 

So what? Well, the FNX has a couple of very big, very cool tricks up its sleeve. First, ALL of the controls are fully ambidextrous. Got a weak-hand only stage at your next match? No proooblem. Second, the safety can be anything you want it to be. If you like traditional DA/SA, then it's a decocker. If you like 1911s, then it's a regular old thumb safety. You can be a real hipster and carry cocked and locked. Though, if I'm honest, the FNX is a little too large for carry. See the Vuurwapenblog review below for some size comparisons. 

Tomorrow, I'll see if I can track one down to fondle. I gotta get out and pick up some .22lr anyway. Good excuse to hit up my favorite gun store.