Monday, November 4, 2013

Distance Learning

I had the good fortune of attending a long-range shoot put on by Controlled Chaos Arms this Saturday. It was a sort of informal show-and-tell event put on just for fun. And it was fun. I shot more on Saturday than I have in the past few months combined. Quite apart from the good fortune of being able to shoot at long distances, I learned a lot about my gear and what remains of my designated marksman skills.

Targets shown are at ~400 and ~600 yards. Targets were from Accurate Products.

There were racks of targets at 100 yard (roughly) intervals from 100-800 yards. It was in the high 40s, but a screaming 20mph northwest wind had the temperature feeling like the mid-30s, and humidity was low, according to the app on my phone. Whining about the weather aside, I was able to get on a 16" gong at 300yds in three shots with 55gr handloads launching 55gr Remington flat-base bullets that I bought CHEAP about five years ago. I got my eye in with these cheap loads before switching to my 69gr Sierra MatchKings, which are relatively expensive and I only brought 50 of them to the field.

This brings me to the first thing I learned. Boat tail bullets shake off wind better than flat base. Also, heavier bullets do better than lighter bullets. This is sort of a "duh" moment, but looking at numbers on a computer screen don't really drive the point home like learning, then re-learning your hold about ten minutes apart. Once I was comfortable, I switched to my SMKs and had the nice fellow next to me spot while I took a poke at 600. And to my surprise, I hit the sonofabitch on the first try.

And that leads neatly into the second thing I learned. Using hold-over instead of dialing a shot is WAY faster, but you do sacrifice precision. I prefer holds primarily because that's what I was taught. Also, I'm nobody's sniper. The difference between me and a natural sniper is the difference between a mule and a battleship. But, if you learn your holds well enough, you can eliminate a lot of math and time between shots. This is great if you're an infantryman, and not so great if you're a SWAT sniper trying to save a hostage with a well-placed head shot. For hunting, I could go either way, but I'd probably just not take a terribly difficult shot to avoid wounding the animal.

To allow my rifle to cool, I took some breaks and shot my Beretta PX4 Compact 9mm at the 100 yard silhouette, and did shockingly well. From prone I was able to hit 12 of 15, and from standing I was able to hit 4 of 5 (I was loading 5rds at a time to save ammo).  That little gun is a shooter. I have no idea what my groups were like, but I'll take it. Also, to be honest, I went 0 of 5 when I tried after lunch. I'd been in the cold too long and was being a sissy. I couldn't pull the trigger correctly to save my life.

While I'm on gear reviews, my Nikon P-223 3x32mm scope has proven to be shockingly good value. Is it combat gear? No. No way. But it is really clear, holds zero, and Nikon's ballistic computer (which is available FREE online) told me my holds, which were dead on. If you need a scope and can only afford $130, I HIGHLY recommend the P-223 3x32. If you're going to combat, get a loan and buy an ACOG M150.

I also dusted off my Yugoslav 24/47 Mauser, which I plan to use for rifle season in January. I took my final 7 rounds of Remington 170gr soft point and hit the 100yd silhouette a miserable 3 of 7 times. Noting a leftward tendency, I grabbed some steel core surplus and shot a five-round group at 25 yards, and was slightly horrified to find it was 3" left of center. At this point, I was under the impression that the hood on the front sight was soldered on. I felt slightly sick seeing that group.

But upon doing some Google-fu, I found really vague instructions on how to remove it (most of which were wrong). So, if you need to zero a 24/47 Mauser, here's how you do it. First, drive the sight hood off with a brass or plastic mallet. Drive it back toward the action, NOT toward the crown of the barrel. Then, use your AK/SKS sight pusher to drift the front sight. As luck would have it, my Mauser had a witness mark chieseled into the sight and base. I just drifted the sight until the marks lined up. I will take it out again in a few weeks (I'm a busy man) and see if the marks are true.

With that, I leave you to get out there and sling some lead. 24/47 Mauser owners rejoice and zero your rifles. Then take some long shots.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Hypocrisy And Other Fine Hobbies

If you're one of the seven or eight people who reads this blog regularly, you'll know I don't have much nice to say about Beretta handguns. They're too big, too needlessly complex, and generally very heavy. So I went out and bought a new Beretta PX4 Storm Compact in 9x19mm to serve as my new concealed carry gun.

The Storm combines what I liked from the M9 (decent DA trigger, reliability, accuracy) and got rid of the stuff I wasn't so fond of (exposed barrel, MASSIVE size, enormous bulk). I had the opportunity to put about 200 rounds through it last weekend and the results were very good. I fed it 150 rounds of Federal 115gr FMJ and 50 rounds of Winchester Ranger T 147gr JHP. There were no malfunctions, and no real difference in accuracy between the two loads. In fact, accuracy was the real highlight of the day. I was able to put the whole 15-round magazine into a hand-sized group at 25-30 yards (I didn't measure it, but my uncle says the stand is "at least 25 yards from the porch".) and I even launched three of those rounds from DA.

And that's what hooked me at the gun store. That double-action trigger is very good. The single-action is also very good, but the DA is what matters because that's your first shot. I was able to draw from concealment and fire into a 3" circle at 7-15 yards every time. The ergonomics, combined with that trigger, is really impressive.

Also, the Storm features a unique twist-lock barrel that Beretta swears makes it more accurate. Maybe it does, but I have my doubts. It does, however, handle very quickly (as does the M9) and the short reset of the SA trigger combined with the front sight's adamant refusal to leave the target encouraged me to shoot a little faster than I should have, and turned what I intended to be double-taps into strings of sustained fire. Maybe that's down to my form (I've done a LOT of snap caps in the past eight months...) or maybe that twist-lock barrel redirects recoil to create less muzzle rise, or maybe I'm on crack. But it really did seem like there was not nearly as much muzzle rise as you'd expect on a pistol of this size.

Onward to comparables, the PX4 Compact is spot-on the same size as a Glock 19 in length, height, and weight, but the Beretta is nearly half an inch wider--which is an issue. It is about the biggest gun I could hope to conceal, and is not very comfortable to wear AIWB.

PX4 vs M&P9C

The PX4 also has some faults. The sights are an oddball size, so if you want to upgrade, you'll have to do some homework. Also, the interchangeable backstraps use the most idiotic system I've ever seen. They are held in place by a wire clip that must be pried out with a flat screwdriver and then *hammered* back in place (the use of a hammer is recommended in the manual, I shit you not). It is blatantly stupid and someone at Beretta needs to go back to engineering school. A gun this good deserves better. And, as with most of my favourite handguns, the PX4 doesn't have as many bespoke holsters available as Glock/XD/M&P, though there are some decent IWB choices out there.

The bottom line: If you like traditional DA/SA pistols, you will like the PX4 Storm. If you don't, well, there's the Glock 19.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Want In One Hand...

I put it to you that every red-blooded American man should own a 30-30 levergun. Growing up in Missouri, everyone who hunted either had a Marlin 30-30 or a Remington 30-06, so I've spent a lot of time with both, but never owned either.

I prefer the 30-30 for my needs, though the '06 is the better all-arounder. What my heart lusts after is the Marlin "Spike Horn". Behold:

 This little spud holds five rounds, and is less than 34" long, which is just shorter than an M4 with the stock fully extended, and weighs just over 6lbs, which is also comparable to a naked M4. 

Now let me explain why I like this caliber and platform, before you insist I start taking my brain pills again.

The 30-30 Winchester (previously the 30 WCF)  was the first sporting round developed for use with smokeless powder, and dates back to 1895. Load data is plentiful, and you can even load lead bullets for shooting very small game, or just plinking without breaking the bank. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of great soft point bullets out there capable of delivering ~2000 ft/lbs--and they're fairly inexpensive. If you reload (and you should), this is a very capable intermediate rifle that is inexpensive to shoot. Also, the 30-30 is proven medicine for deer and antelope. If you hunt the rolling hills of southern Iowa, or brushy woods of north central Missouri, a compact 30-30 is about as good as it gets. While I'm at it, the 30-30 is very light-recoiling, and those lead bullet loads would be about ideal for taking the kiddos deer hunting.

Yes, the 30-30 is not particularly good at long distance shooting. I'll admit I wouldn't take a shot much past 200 yards unless I had spent a lot of time practicing at longer distances. And used a scope. Long shots are hard to come by in my neck of the woods anyway.

I'm a tactical hipster. I'm sick of black guns with tons of bells and whistles. I want a rifle with NO accessories. You pick up the rifle and put bullets in and go. The only modification I would make to the Spike Horn is an improved set of sights, switching from the "buckhorn" style to a receiver-mounted peep sight. I could keep it in a very small soft case with a box or two of cartridges and be totally set. 

Lastly, you can get 30-30 ammo (current crisis aside...) just about anywhere in North America. So if I don't feel like reloading, I can go get a modestly priced box of hunting ammunition at Wal Mart and continue on my merry way. 

Stay tuned for a quick look at my Model 39.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Finding Your Center (Of The Target)

 I got my QAD rest installed today, but did not get the Hunter. Instead, I got the UltraRest LD, which is the mid-range model, yet still costs over $100. But it does seem to be worth it. Results below:


What seems to help the most though, isn't the tech upgrades, but watching interviews with Fred Bear on YouTube. Fred mentioned in one of his last interviews that to hit his target he had to "concentrate from the top of his head to the tip of his toes on the very small spot I want to hit." So I tried that tonight. I went into my garage/man cave, cranked up the Rolling Stones channel on Pandora, and downed a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boy and relaxed. I picked three of my new XX75 arrows and tucked them into my wood pile at the 10 yard line, and began focusing and relaxing more than I have in a long time. I found that listening to music helped me tune out my surroundings and focus on the target and sight alignment more. The more I liked the song, the better I tended to do. Tomorrow I will shut the music off for a while and see how things go.

As good as my shots were at 10 yards, Fred Bear could do that at 30 yards. In his eighties. With a 45lb recurve.  But Fred was very humble, and seemed very peaceful and clear-minded. I think those qualities will improve your archery skills more than any newfangled rest, seven pin sight, or hypetanium arrow components. If you can find your center, you stand a better chance of finding the center of your target.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Give It A Rest

So begins my first archery gear review. Today's subject is rests and arrows, and what I've learned about both in the last 24 hours.

Carbon arrows are all the rage today. They are very durable, and supposedly will not warp after hitting a solid target. They are very light, and very strong. They also can have catastrophic failures if you do not carefully inspect and flex your arrows EVERY time you shoot. And because they might explode and maim me, I purchased some Easton XX75 "Gamegetter" arrows after work today.

The aluminium Gamegetters were $29 for six arrows, or roughly half what my Gold Tip Velocity arrows cost. I also got a rebate for $5 off, so they were very cheap indeed. The XX75 has been the hunting arrow of choice for about two decades now, and will probably still be popular until someone makes a carbon arrow that won't explode into your forearm. It is old technology, but it works, and it is very cost-effective.

While I would never tell someone not to use carbon arrows, I am not inclined to use them at this time. And you should always inspect your arrows, no matter what spine thickness or material you shoot. Aluminium shows folds or nicks where metal fatigue is setting in--and NEVER shoot for group. Shooting groups is a great way to damage your arrows. Get a target face with multiple bullseyes and shoot one arrow at each. The center is the center, no matter what.

So that said, it's anecdote time.

I got home tonight and went in the garage to see how the new arrows get along with my bow. I shot about 25 times (that's four or five trips through my rest) and on my final shot, I saw a vane tear off, and the arrow went very sideways into my target block, though it impacted very near where I was aiming. This is the biggest downfall of the "whisker biscuit" arrow rest. They WILL tear off vanes and feathers. Most package bows come with this rest because it is cheap and effective. If you shoot 2" vanes, you probably won't have too many issues. And the whisker biscuit is very quiet and sturdy.

It will, however, amplify any mistakes you make when firing because the arrow is in contact with the bow through the entire travel of the string. It will also rob you of about 15-20fps of precious velocity. And they wear out after a while and require combing out (the whiskers eventually get twisted and matted) and eventually replaced.

The most popular replacement is a drop-away rest. This type of rest acts like a free-floating barrel on a rifle. The rest drops away soon after the arrow begins forward movement, and therefore cannot transfer motion to the arrow. Most models of drop-away rests are captive-arrow designs, so though they don't hold on as snugly as the whisker biscuit, they do prevent the arrow from falling out. I'm looking at a QAD Hunter as a replacement for my whisker biscuit.

I will probably get my new rest next weekend, so look for another review then. I'm also in the market for some small-game tips, so maybe I'll splurge and you'll get a review double-header. Until then, inspect your arrows, and respect your fletchings.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Ready For Deer Season (Four Months Too Early)

I spent the best $137 of my life on Saturday. I bought a B20 "Block" target at Sportsman's Warehouse, and my father-in-law bought a "Black Hole" block-style target. We then spent all weekend shooting in our garages. I learned a lot.

First, I bought a four-pack of Apex Doubledown silencers along with my block, and they work great. Since they're essentially a Matthews Monkeytail, I used their installation instructions (useful for placing them in the most effective locations). They seem to work very well. My bow is now essentially silent--and it was very quiet before.

Second, I've gotten pretty good with my Bear Encounter. I can pick off the 1" circles at ten yards all day long. I need to get to Archery Field & Sports and try the 20 and 30 yard lines some time. In any case, I want to get some small game tips and some Grim Reaper mechanical broadheads and hunt some coyotes and rabbits this fall, in addition to my first deer hunt since I was a kid.
Rubber squirrel says I'm ready for deer season.

Third, I spent some time with my father-in-law's Fred Bear Grizzly 45lb recurve, and it is HARD to shoot well, but very fun. Instinctive shooting, as described by Fred Bear himself, is a "you got it or you don't" skill. You can work hard and get better, but at the end of the day you're either an instinctive shooter, or you're not. I'm probably not.

Lastly, Fred Bear was a badass. He was either very brave, or quite insane. Here's a video of the legendary Fred Bear on a polar bear hunt. Skip to 6:15 to see how awesome he was at target shooting and 10:39 to see some awesome bear-shooting.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Still Chasing The Arrow

I was able to sneak away to Archery Field & Sports this afternoon and spent about an hour quite happily flinging arrows at ranges from 10 to 30 yards. Yes, that's right: I took a brave pill and shot from 30 yards today. I've been replaying the man's advice from last week, and I've since bought a Limb Saver stablilizer and a 550 cord wrist sling. Applying said advice, right away all my left and right errors were gone. Typical 10 yard target below:

After shooting at 10 yards for a few minutes, I was warmed up and went to the 20 yard line. Somehow, I forgot to take pictures of some 20 yard groups, but suffice it to say I was consistently hitting right of center and making a group about the size of the white area of the target. Since I left my allen wrenches at home, I didn't get to adjust my sight housing to bring the group back onto the bullseye. This turned out to be quite good fortune.

I was all alone on the range, and being free from judgemental eyes, I set up a block at 30 yards. I shot three arrows just to make sure I was in the ballpark. Mediocre results below:

I took a minute to relax and clear my head , then stepped up and shot this group:

Supposing that to be beginner's luck, I dropped back and let six more arrows go:

So, I have a few observations to make. First, I fail to see how short bows are "harder to shoot" at longer distances. Second, my lowest pin in my sight is dead on at 30 yards, which means had I adjusted my sight at 10 and 20 yards, I would have been hitting left at 30 yards. My rudimentary sight isn't windage adjustable at the pin--only at the housing, so I can't move the pins independently. I'll have to think my way around this to get my point of aim and point of impact back together. 

Also, I learned that archery is hard, and that a bow is a lot like an AR15 when it comes to accessories. I'm off to search the interwebs for string and limb silencers. That's all for now.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Choosing A Bow: An Aside

I know almost nothing about archery, so don't expect any shooting tips, equipment reviews, or heavy-handed opinions until I know what the hell I'm doing. That said, I do know a couple of things worth passing along.

First, cams make a difference. The cam is what gives a compound bow its power. The more aggressive--that is, out of round--a cam is, the stiffer the draw will be. Rounder cams make drawing your bow smoother. When choosing a bow, I had narrowed my choices to a PSE Stinger 3G, Martin Prowler Pro, and Bear Encounter. Sportsman's Warehouse only had the PSE and Bear in stock, so I shot them on their little 10yd test-fire range. You HAVE to test-fire a bow before you buy. If a bow doesn't feel right, you won't enjoy shooting as much, and probably won't develop your skills as much as you should.

I made a decent grouping with the PSE, but the draw was VERY stiff and jerky to me. The release was also rather sharp, and though I grouped well, I knew it wasn't the bow for me. Then I shot the Bear. Though the Bear was set at least 5lbs heavier than the PSE, it was much easier to draw, much smoother to shoot, and very quiet. It "spoke" to me. About an hour later, I had it tuned and a set of 6 arrows cut down for me.

Bows also come in many different sizes. They are measured in bow mass (the weight of the bow) and axle-to-axle length. The shortest adult bow you'll see is about 30.5" axle-to-axle, which happens to be the length of my Bear (as well as the Martin Prowler). Length matters depending on what you plan to do with your bow. Tree stand hunters and those hunting in dense brush usually want a shorter bow to avoid snagging on their surroundings. Longer bows are generally more forgiving and offer better long range accuracy than their shorter counterparts. That long range edge primarily comes from being a little easier to shoot, since both are shooting a comparable projectile at a comparable speed over a comparable draw stroke. I like my short bow, but I can attest that it is HARD to shoot at 20yds. Maybe next week I'll take a brave pill and try the 30yd line.

Finally, peak draw weight isn't all its cracked up to be. There are a lot of people (all of whom are male) who crank their bow all the way up, and then shoot like shit, but still brag that they shoot 70lbs or 80lbs. Deer were killed for millenia with self-bows pulling about 25lbs and firing sharpened sticks. Any modern bow at 50lbs is way more than enough to reliably and ethically down medium game. My bow is set at 60lbs because it is very smooth and I don't get tired shooting at that weight. Accuracy is more important than squeezing an extra five or ten feet per second out of your bow.

That's all I know today. Maybe I'll learn more next week. Also, you should take up archery.

Chasing The Arrow

I bought a compound bow yesterday. I'm resorting to archery to satisfy my shooting fix. Today, I spent about three hours at Archery Field & Sports finding out just how little I know about archery.

Just getting started can be dizzying. There are about six hundred million different kinds of bows made by a dozen or so major manufacturers. What I have been told by two bow shop pros is this: to get a good bow, you'll need to spend $400-$500. The bows in that price range are just as fast and forgiving (for the most part) as their $1000+ brethren. Second, brand loyalty is fierce among archers, but the bow your buddy shoots might not feel good to you. Go in with an open mind and buy the bow that "speaks" to you. You shoot a bow almost 100% by how it feels, and if it doesn't feel good, you won't like it and you probably won't hit much. Your bow's draw length and poundage has to be set up specifically for you, which is called "tuning". This is an elaborate process, but a good pro shop guy (or gal) will walk you through it and it won't be scary or expensive. Most places set up your bow for free if you buy from them.

Then you'll need a mechanical release. Almost nobody shoots by hand anymore, and for good reason. A mechanical release lets the string go much more cleanly than most mortals can. One thing that seasoned archers all agree on is DO NOT cheap out on your release. You'll be looking at $60-120 for a good release. Cheap releases have sharp corners that chew up the "D-loop" that connects the release to the bowstring. Also, they usually have crap triggers.

Arrows come in 1.2 bazillion different lengths, sectional densities, and styles. Have a pro help you until you can make sense of arrow-selection charts. "Cheap" arrows for a reasonably stout compound bow are about $45 per 6 arrows. Then the pro shop guy has to cut them down to the proper length for your bow.

Then you'll need tips, but at first you should probably get some field points or target points. They're cheap, and will at least get you shooting. Broadheads come in 3.4 quadrillion styles, weights, and types. They are expensive and you should do your research before you drop any money.

So once you have your gear, you have to zero, just as you would with a firearm. The process is called "chasing the arrow". You shoot for group and then move the sight housing to the point of impact. This is probably the only simple part of archery. The pins within the sight housing are usually pretty damn close to calibrated for whatever distance the manufacturer says they are. My Bear Encounter package bow came with a simple 3-pin sight, and it is calibrated at 10, 20, and 30 yards. I've shot at 10 and 20 yards and it is pretty damn close once I zeroed.

So now lets talk shooting. I went to the range late in the afternoon and started off in the 10yd stall apart from the 10-40yd range. Once satisfied that I was zeroed, I walked over to the "big boy" line and lined up for my first 20yd shot in about 18 years (I learned archery in 4-H when I was about 10 years old). I put two arrows into the white area very near the bullseye. I got excited and shanked three in a row into oblivion. I heard an unsettling delay between release and whack. Upon closer inspection I saw three arrows in the wall at the back of the range, about 12ft up from the floor. My stomach sank and I sheepishly reported to the lady at the front desk that I made a boo boo. I got a step ladder and once I got up there, I realized they were Easton arrows--not mine. A rush of relief washed over me. I looked left and right and found three Gold Tip carbon arrows (mine) stuck in the 10-point buck 3D target at the 40yd line. I apologized for the ordeal and went back to the 10yd line for some introspection and re-training.


Then an older gentleman who was shooting a 3" bullseye at 40yds came over and fixed me. He introduced himself and mentioned that he had been the national champion compound bow shooter in 2007. So I listened intently as the guru told me I was doing basically everything wrong. I followed his advice and my groups immediately shrank, and I stopped throwing arrows left. Trusting in Yoda's advice, I went back to the 20yd side and proceeded to shoot a six arrow group of about 8", nicely centered. I recovered my arrows and tried again. This time it was a 6" group and a couple of arrows were touching. My last group of the day was all in the heart of my deer vitals target. I profusely thanked the man and left to contemplate my inadequacy and write this article.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Brief History of the Wundernine, Part I

I put it to you that all modern combat handguns can trace their lineage back to three guns: the 1911A1, the Browning Hi-Power, and the S&W Model 39. The 1911A1 was the first semi-auto that won over wheelgunners (though revolvers would be the most common service gun until the very early 1980s--with hangers-on carrying them until their retirement). The Browning Hi-Power was the very first Wundernine, doubling the capacity of the 1911 while slimming down the weight with an alloy frame. The S&W Model 39 was the first "duty ready" gun, right out of the box. A good trigger, big sights, and sturdy construction made it attractive enough that the Illinois State Police and U.S. Navy Seals carried it for a number of years, albeit with a few minor upgrades.

Because this is the history of the Wundernine, I'll dive right into the Hi-Power and the Model 39.

My FN Hi-Power upon return from Controlled Chaos Arms. Socom Blue and Satin Aluminum.

The BHP fought on both sides of WWII, being produced in Belgium. The Brits would go on to use the BHP in many formats (including a select-fire model) until the 1990s. The BHP has a storied history, being the favored sidearm of (Ian) Johnny Hopper--who was a real-life version of The Punisher during WWII in France. The BHP would also be at the forefront of Operation Nimrod, and would serve in Ireland during "The Troubles".

But service history aside, the BHP made two very big advancements in handgun technology. First was its 13-round magazine. Doubling the 1911's capacity, its original French moniker "Grand Rendement" ("high yield") was a hat-tip to the magazine capacity. Second, using an alloy frame and chambering it in 9x19mm (some models are marked 9mm NATO and have a better heat-treated barrel) made it lighter than any alloy-framed 1911 Commander, and still more powerful than most other handguns of the late 1930s. It's hard for me NOT to see this weapon as the groundwork for Glock and the following lightweight full-size duty guns.

A bog-standard Model 39.

In the early 1950s, S&W decided to get into the semi-auto game, and launched the Model 39 as an attempt to oust the 1911 as the Army's standard sidearm. S&W caught wind that the Army Ordinance Corps really liked the Walther P38s they captured, so the Model 39 ended up as a modernized P38 with bits of BHP sprinkled in the barrel and lockwork.

While it didn't get the Army's contract, the Navy Seals would order a variant known as the Mk. 22 Mod 0--the "Hush Puppy". In 1967, the Illinois State Police adopted the Model 39 as their standard sidearm. Somehow, the Model 39 never really caught fire the way the Hi-Power and the later Model 59-series did, and I suspect it has to do purely with magazine capacity. The Model 39--especially the older ones--is beautifully machined and finished. However, nine rounds wasn't particularly impressive in a world where the BHP had been around for 20 years. I suspect that had the Model 39 been released in 1935, it would have been a runaway success.

The Mk. 22 Mod 0

When you look at a Model 39, it is immediately evident where the Sig 225 and later the Ruger P89-P95 came from. S&W took the traditional DA/SA platform and gave it a shape for the modern world.

Though I've been talking about these two platforms as though I were speaking of a long-dead colleague, they are still useful and surprisingly easy to carry. Both are very light, despite being full-sized duty guns. The Model 39 is almost identical in size to a 1911 Commander, and the BHP has a very short grip and narrow slide, which is very easy to hide if you are tall and skinny like me.

You will encounter a few issues though. First, no one makes support items for the Model 39 anymore. It went out of production in the early 1990s, and is only carried by old men and nostalgic gun nuts like me. You will have to have a holster custom made, which is expensive. 1911 mag pouches should work for you though.

The BHP is still in limited production, but again, you'll suffer trying to find bespoke holster. Some of my 1911 holsters fit mine, but others don't. I use generic plastic Fobus mag pouches for mine and they work fine.

Next time you pick up your Sig or Glock, take a moment to remember their ancestors. Respect their elders, and maybe hit up Gunbroker and buy yourself a piece of history while they're still affordable. Mark my words: one day, the BHP and Model 39 will be highly sought-after collector's pieces.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Flatland Shotgun Curmudgeon

I don't pay shotguns much mind in the grand scheme of things. It isn't that I don't respect them. Quite the contrary--I believe the shotgun had more of a role in settling the west than did the rifle or sixgun, and it continues to be the most versatile and lowest-cost weapon available. I find handguns more to my liking, with tacticool rifles close behind. Maybe if I hunted, I would be more "into" shotguns.

I do enjoy busting clays and shredding cardboard zombies, so from that standpoint, I'd like to share some observations and a heavy dose of opinion.

My first pump-action shotgun was a Mossberg 500 with an 18.5" barrel in 12ga. It was under $200 (WAY back in 2003) and was built to that price. I like the Mossberg 500 as a "truck gun" or a pure utility piece, but it just didn't feel as nice as my friends' Remington 870s. Especially one guy's 870 Wingmaster. A Remington 870 Express would be a more apt comparison, anyway.

On to the Remington, the 870 express is a little more expensive, but feels a little more solid. The Wingmaster version is nicer yet, but gets on for Benelli money, and for Benelli money, I'll have the Benelli.

I am not prone to gun-snobbery, but since I shelled out the money for my Nova (and putting in some time behind a Supernova and M2), I can say that Benelli shotguns just feel better. The three different Benelli(s?) I've shot all have the perfect point of aim for me. The only American steel that came close was a well-tuned Remington 1187 that I used to decimate a box of clays at an Army buddy's 4th of July party. If you have lots of money, or don't mind eating hotdogs and rice for a month, the Benelli M2 is probably the best scattergun on the market. The "intertia recoil" system means simplicity and reliability, and I'm really surprised that Benelli went to a gas system on their even more expensive M4.

As I mentioned, I've also spent some time with a Remington 1187, which again, goes for Benelli money. See above. I've shot a Maverick 88, which I felt was a sort of cheap version of a Mossberg 500. And then there was a friend's FN TPS, which I do like, but it is a bit...portly. They used to be fairly affordable, but I haven't checked on them for some time. The TPS does a good job of taming recoil, but that is probably more down to its enormous weight than the ported barrel.

To me, a shotgun is a secondary weapon or a home-defense gun. The reason being that you just can't carry enough shotshells to stay in a fight very long. I once loaded a SAW pouch with buckshot to see how many it could hold, and it was about 60 rounds, but it weighed more than the moon and it took up one quarter of a tac vest. You could easily hold six 30 round AR15 magazines in the same space, and at a fraction of the weight. In my experience, light weight is important. As powerful and versatile as the shotgun is, its massive ammunition makes it difficult to justify on missions where it isn't a key weapon. However, in a home setting, the ammunition portability problem goes away. Or if you find yourself part of a mechanized patrol and you can use a squad vehicle (or a police car!) to carry a large quantity of ammunition that you can come back to and top off your vest from time to time.

And that's all I have to say about that...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lazy Sunday

I'm a terrible impulse-buyer. I will retire at age 77 because Uncle Larry at MidwayUSA always has a sale on something I "need". Yesterday, that thing was a Lee Load-All 2, which is a reloading press for 12ga (there's also a 20ga model). Yes, for $43, I gained the ability to produce 9-pellet 00 buckshot for roughly half of what even the cheapest cheap stuff costs. 

On that note, all there is left during this latest round of panic-buying of ammunition and guns is shotshells. Pretty much anything you want at only slightly inflated prices. I picked up some Remington Gun Club #8 shot for about $6 per box of 25, which isn't awful. The upside is that I can turn those empty hulls into fairly inexpensive and very powerful buckshot rounds. 

So today, some friends and I gathered at my sister's place to bust some clays. I brought along a couple of cardboard silhouettes and a box of Sellier & Bellot 9-pellet 00 buckshot just for fun. I came away with a new home-defense plan, and a new respect for Benelli. 

You see, I have been using my 20" frankengun AR15 as my bedside gun. It's a familiar platform in a capable caliber, so what the hell. Today, I ran through a couple of scenarios, just for fun, to see what my Benelli Nova would do at realistic distances with that cheap buckshot. 

My house is older, and has a choppy floor-plan. The rooms aren't very big, and the longest shot I would ever have to take would be about 30 feet. The distance from my bed to the bedroom door is just a little over half that distance. So I stood back at the seven yard line (21 feet for those of you who don't do math) and let each of my cardboard zombies have it. Results below:


 As we can see, at that distance, the pattern is very small, but large enough to not just be one large hole. Also, we learn that buckshot could be used to make a relatively accurate shot at home-defense distances. So, the Nova is now at my bedside, full of much better made Nobel Sport 12-pellet 00 buckshot. I really like the idea of being able to shoot a bad guy 12 times with one trigger pull. 

While we were out there, I got to wring out a Benelli M2, which I've lusted after for some time now. I just can't bring myself to write the rather hefty check for one. I'm happy to report that they are indeed worth the premium. The M2 is recoil operated, so there's no gas system to foul, and it is very light. The lightness made the muzzle pretty lively when cycling heavy loads (those cheap 00 buckshot rounds) but was really nice to use on clays. It even cycled some Winchester "reduced recoil and noise" #8 shot. It even said on the box "will not cycle semi-auto shotguns, you asshole!" (well, it said most of that). Oh, and that muzzle flip from the buckshot rounds is something you could probably train your way around. The Nova and Supernova just have enough weight on the front end that there is a noticeable difference in muzzle flip. I had just finished my buckshot experiment with my Nova when I started shooting the M2. 

So I guess I'm going to be into shotguns until the madness stops and I can once again buy centerfire components and .22LR. Now to get my nerd on with some reloading recipes for 12ga. Keep your stick on the ice.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Anonymity, Layered Security, And Other Unfortunate Realities

I've seen a number of articles smearing gun owners, and a particularly wrong-headed article about why people carry guns. That's where I'll start today.

Chief Ken James of somewhere in CA (sorry, I couldn't find exactly what PD he runs) says that people carry guns to "intimidate and show power". Really? After reading that, two things were stuck in my mind. First, was "this man must have literally NO penis at all". Second was a great song by King Missile.

There are a few problems with the Chief's assertion. First, most lawfully armed citizens choose to carry concealed rather than carry openly. If people can't see my how will I intimidate them and show power?

Second, the gun is the very last step in most people's minds. My friends and I generally have several steps, or layers of security before it becomes time for a gun. Iowa has a VERY low crime rate, and places with higher crime rates *cough* East Des Moines *cough* are places we try to stay away from. Also, most violent crimes occur between 10p.m. and 5a.m., so I try not to be out that late. It helps that I generally get up for work at 4a.m., so by 8:30p.m., I'm completely exhausted. It also really helps your odds if you don't consume alcohol in public--and stay away from bars and nightclubs. I'm too old for that shit anyway.

Third, a gun is just a gun. Any personification you invest in a gun is more a reflection of your psychology than any meaningful analysis of how an inanimate object feels or acts. If you think guns are for intimidation or for power, it probably means your gentleman's region is very, very small. It could also mean that you feel fearful and helpless and probably need a hug.

So how about turning that Freudian analysis back on me? Well, I think a gun is just a gun. It is a tool, something along the lines of a spare tire or a first-aid kit. it is something I carry in case of emergency. I don't go to town hoping I get to change a tire alongside the highway, or place a tourniquet on an arterial wound. I carry a gun (and a spare tire, and a first-aid kit) because I live in reality. In reality, bad things happen and we usually don't know when or where. I would be perfectly happy if I lived the rest of my life without having to fire another shot in anger, or having to change a tire in the pouring rain alongside I-35, or treat a severe wound. I'm not concerned with "showing power", and I have no desire to "intimidate" anyone.