Greasing the skids.

If you've read my
Lubrication 101 article, you know that I'm a big fan of the Lubriplate SFL series of greases. Unfortunately, they are hard to get; there are no consumer-quantity online sources that I know of, and even the company that once supplied me is no longer.

There is another good choice: the Lubriplate FGL line of greases, which are available in more consumer-friendly packaging - but still hard to find in anything less than case quantity. I remain amazed that Lubriplate makes such terrific products, then makes it so hard to buy them!

Reader Chris S. sent me an email regarding an alternative:
Dow-Corning G-0050. It looks good; while technically not quite as robust as the SFL or FGL products, it's a close second - and is still head and shoulders above any lithium-based product that you'll find on the shelves at your local gun store. It's available in single tubes from McMaster-Carr - who have one of those annoying sites that won't let you link directly to an item, but their catalog number is 1445K41.

-=[ Grant ]=-

More on testing .22 Long Rifle ammunition.

As I've mentioned from time to time, shooting .22LR "seriously" can be a frustrating experience. It is almost expected that two identical rifles will have very different ammo preferences - and, unlike centerfire cartridges, the differences are often astounding.

For instance, I have one rifle that shoots it's favorite load into an average 5-shot group of .275" at 25 yards (from prone.) However, that same rifle shooting it's least favorite load struggles to maintain 3" at that same distance! What's more, once you find that one load that shoots well in that one gun, the next batch (lot) of that same ammo may not. It will never be as bad as the best to the worst comparison, but the variance can be enough to put the next best (or sometimes the third best) in the top spot - until you change lots again, of course!

Finding the gun's favorite load is strictly a matter of trial and error. It's not usually even a matter of the type of load; for instance, a gun might shoot one particular 36 grain high velocity hollowpoint load very well, but the next maker's similar fodder won't be even close.

Those who are serious about their rimfires, therefore, tend to do a lot of ammunition testing. When I acquire a new .22, I'll run as many as 20 different kinds of ammo through it, keeping careful notes about the results. This takes time, and if not done correctly results in meaningless data!

As you probably know, .22 ammunition is externally lubricated. That is, each bullet has a coating of some kind of lube to keep it from fouling the bore. Each maker uses a different lube, and sometimes they'll use different lubes within their own product line.

The problem is that residual lube from one load can affect the next few rounds using another load. Case in point: some time back I was testing a new rifle with a couple of different loads. I had just finished with Wolf Match Target, and loaded in some much cheaper Federal stuff. The first 5-shot group with the Federal was absolutely astounding - an honest .175" group at 25 yards! I don't know which amazed me more, the rifle or the ammo, but I wanted to do it again!

I loaded another magazine, "assumed the position", and shot another group. This one was slightly larger, which I attributed to me. I repeated the procedure, and this time the group had almost doubled in size. The next one was even worse.

What accounted for that first group? After thinking about it, and reading some information from Steven Boelter (whose rimfire experience dwarfs mine), I came to the conclusion that perhaps there was some residual lubricant from the Wolf ammunition which was "contaminating" (but in a good way) the Federal load. Testing my hypothesis was easy: I shot a few magazines of Wolf, then switched to the Federal. The first group of Federal was, again, under .200" for 5 shots. The following groups deteriorated rapidly, just as they had the first time. A repetition of the sequence duplicated the results. It seemed that the Wolf lubricant affected the Federal rounds in a good way, but as it was rapidly depleted from the barrel the groups suffered.

From this I adopted the rimfire shooter's testing procedure: when switching loads, first clean the bore (a quick brushing will suffice.) Then, shoot 1 round of the new load for each inch of barrel length to "season" the barrel to the new ammo before firing any groups that will count. This is Boelter's recommendation, and I've found it to be sage advice. Remember: only after the seasoning rounds have been fired do you shoot any for score or analysis.

Those first few rounds may group better, or worse, than the shots following. It doesn't matter, because the groups made after the seasoning process are the ones that tell you what the load really, truly does in that gun.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Another rifle class; more lessons

This past weekend marked our last rifle class for the year. As often happens, we came away with our unusual (In this day and age) opinions about rifles and gear validated and vindicated.

Georges Rahbani, our chief instructor (and my vote for the best "urban rifle" teacher you've never heard of) has a saying: "thou shalt not hang sh*t on thy rifle!" His point is that adding geegaws to a basically sound firearm rarely improves shooter performance, and often results in lessened mechanical performance. The ever-popular "tactical latch" for the AR-15 is such an accessory, and the installation of one may pose an unforeseen risk.

For those who've never seen a "tac latch", it's a large appendage that replaces the standard latching lever found on the left side of the AR's charging handle. (I'm still not really sure of it's purpose, but all the "high speed, low drag" folks appear to have them on their rifles. The latch's large "wing" would, it seems to me, in fact increase drag and decrease speed - but hey, what do I know?)

In all fairness, it should be mentioned that there is one good use for the tac latch: to be able to operate the charging handle with a low-mounted scope, in the same way that a hammer extension performs on a lever-action rifle. Outside of that, however, they serve no useful purpose that I can discern.

If you're absolutely convinced that you really need this accessory, take a piece of friendly advice: DON'T install it on the stock aluminum charging handle! The increased leverage from the oversized latch causes fractures to develop around the charging handle's pivot pin; the "t" part of the handle can then snap off at inopportune times. Yes, I've seen it happen.

There is an all-steel charging charging handle available from Brownell's (and no doubt other fine retailers), and it is a far better choice for the installation of the tac latches. Do yourself a favor and spend the few extra dollars; it's worth it to avoid the problem.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: A place you just won't believe.

So, where was this picture taken?

Italy? Scotland? Switzerland, perhaps?

Nope. This is the Middle East. Yes, it is! It's the beautiful country of Lebanon.

Hard to believe? What's hard to believe is that people go to Dubai instead of Baalbeck!

I have good friends who are from Lebanon; from them I've learned a great deal about the country, the people, and the history. Lebanon is truly the jewel of the Middle East, with a beautiful coastline, verdant valleys, and ski resorts. (Yes. Skiing. In the Middle East. With real snow on real mountains, unlike the artificial stuff that attracts crowds in Dubai.)

Why, you may ask, is Lebanon known for war and strife instead of scenery and recreation? The answer would take pages upon pages of explanation; let's just say that when a healthy national pride is replaced with violent sectarianism you get hell instead of paradise. The Lebanon of the late 20th century (and, it appears, the 21st as well) was closer to the former than the latter, which tends to explain why the mention of the country brings to mind bombed-out Beirut instead of the gorgeous Bekaa Valley.

Rather than dwell on the negative, run over to
Dark Roasted Blend and marvel at the pictures.

-=[ Grant ]=-

More lessons from Hunter's Sight-In Day

For some background, read
Monday's post.

Today's lession: you can shoot no better than your gear.

This encounter is interesting both for what happened, and the frequency with which it happened.

The three of us (me, and my friends Georges and Maurice) oversaw the benches reserved for "problems", which are those shooters and guns needing more experienced and knowledgeable assistance than the regular coaches could deliver. Our customers always came to us with a "referral" from another coach, who would tell us the difficulties being encountered. We, in turn, would try to remedy the situation. We often had to resort to a 25 yard target - the only ones on the entire line were in front of our benches - to see where shots were going.

A couple of years ago, Maurice got a customer toting a 7mm Magnum topped with a really cheap scope. The fellow sat down and Maurice had him start at the 25. Even at that short distance, his shots were all over the place. Judging any kind of a center was well-nigh impossible.

(This is not uncommon, sadly - from our collective experience, the vast majority of people carrying Magnum rifles into the woods can't place their bullets with what we would consider "precision". This particular customer, however, was worse than the norm.)

Maurice coached the fellow in the basics - breathing, trigger control - and it really appeared that he was doing everything right. The groups opened up with every string, and Maurice finally sent him to the gunsmith shack to check the mounts and have the scope boresighted.

On return, the problem was no better. In fact, it may have even been worse.

It was at this point that Maurice decided to take the unusual step of shooting the rifle himself to identify the source of the problem. Maurice, who is an eerily consistent shooter, sat down with the rifle and shot a 100-yard group that was, perhaps, six inches. Maurice is used to shooting groups that are less than 1/6 of that size, which pretty much told us where the problem was.

The rifle was handed back to the fellow with the admonishment that he have the (apparently) broken scope and cheesy mounts replaced before venturing into the field. (Could it have been the rifle? Perhaps, but it was a better bet that the scope was the culprit. The rifle was of decent quality - a Weatherby, if memory serves - and looking at the weak link is the rational course.)

A year went by, and another sight-in event was upon us. As usual, Georges, Maurice and I took our positions at the adjacent "problem" benches. At one point a coach brought down a fellow who had a 7mm Magnum; the coach told me that he was having trouble getting the scope zeroed and that the shots were going "all over the paper."

I sat the guy down and told him to shoot three rounds at the 25-yard target while I observed through the spotting scope. His three rounds all landed in wildly divergent places. I coached him on breathing and trigger control, and had him fire three more rounds. If anything they were worse.

At that point Maurice pulled me aside and said "I think this is the guy from last year!" We talked about it, and I couldn't believe that this could be the same guy with the same broken scope and crappy rings. He didn't go out after game last year, did he?

Apparently so, because I sat down behind his gun and proceeded to shoot the most beautiful six inch group I'd seen since...last year, when Maurice did the same thing with the same gun!

While the old taunt of "it's a poor workman who blames his tools" has some truth, it's also true that there has to be a base level of quality to allow any work to be done. Beyond that is the realm of "nice", but below that good results are impossible. Putting a cheap scope in thin aluminum rings on a hard-kicking rifle is almost a guarantee of substandard performance.

Frugal is one thing; cheap is another entirely.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Systems analysis and the sighting-in of firearms

This weekend was the opening of general deer season here in Oregon. I could tell it was opening weekend, because our normally deserted gravel road, which leads into the mountains, has been turned into Interstate 5 for deer hunters! The parade of all the hopeful woodsmen (and perhaps not a few woodswomen) going after Bambi made me realize I'd missed something this year: hunter's sight-in at our gun club.

You see, last January my wife and I bought a new place. When we moved we gave up our club memberships, as a) the club is now 60 miles away, and b) we can shoot all we want on our own property. I don't miss the club, but I do miss the circus-like atmosphere of sight-in days. I actually enjoyed helping out those whose shooting skills were not, shall we say, fully developed. They needed all the help they could get!

(Sight-in days at our former club is a big event. It occupies every full weekend for a solid month; it's not unusual to have several hundred guns per day go through the system, as the club is one of the few rifle ranges within easy driving distance of the Portland, OR metro area. Working at sight-in means long days and lots of activity.)

In recent years I worked sight-in alongside my friends Georges and Maurice, who got the same kick out of the event that I did. We kept a running tally of the best, worst, and most over-gunned shooters on the line. During the lulls we'd trade stories of the unusual incidents we'd had, and not all of them were with customers!

One particularly busy day I had a run-in with one of the folks who served as Assistant Chief Range Officer for the event. I was helping a middle-aged fellow who'd arrived toting a .30-06 of unremarkable (though completely serviceable) pedigree. He showed me his gun, his ammo, and sat down at the bench. The club provided sandbags and front rests for the guns, but this fellow didn't want to use them. "My zero is different if I shoot from a bench than from my hands, so I'd just like to rest my elbows on the table." That was fine with me; this fellow had obviously been around the block more than once and thus knew what he was doing. (His target would later prove my analysis to be correct.)

He had just fired his second round when the aforementioned RO came rushing up. "He needs to use the rest", he sputtered. "He'll never know if he's properly zeroed shooting from his hands!" I told him that the customer knew his own needs, and that I admired the fellow for obviously knowing more than the average schmuck who came through the door.

This annoyed the RO to no end; he wanted to argue with me, insisting that I was a complete fool for letting the customer do this. I simply smiled, waved him away, and went back to my job.

The RO in question, like many, was confused about the reason we sight in a firearm. The goal of sight-in is to get all parts of the weapon system - the gun, ammo, sights, and shooter - in alignment so that the bullets land where desired. If we take away - isolate - any part of that system, we have removed a functioning part that will affect the outcome. The outcome is what we're testing! We're not testing the scope (which is what this RO was convinced we were doing), or the ammo, but the results that they - together with the shooter - produce. We have to test all parts of the system in concert, so that we can see if the goal is being met.

Let's say that we were to test the system using sandbags and a bench. There are very few rifles made that will have the same zero point no matter how the gun is suspended; the points at which the suspension occurs, the amount of pressure on the suspension points, the direction of that pressure, and even the resulting direction of recoil will all change when the gun is taken off the bench and shot from a field position. All of those will change the landing point of the bullet, sometimes dramatically.

Now consider the shooter's input. The head position from a bench is different than it is from standing (or even sitting or kneeling, and especially from prone.) The shooter's eye will not be in the same place relative to the sights or scope; the cheek weld point will be different; the shoulder will be further forward or backward, depending on the physique of the shooter. The shooting hand will shift position slightly, leading to a different grip pressure and direction of pull on the trigger. Think any of those might affect the outcome of the shot? You bet they will - all of 'em.

Change enough of those inputs, and you'll end up with a system that won't shoot to the same point of aim under the expected conditions. We need to check the system's alignment (gauged by the impact point of the bullet) under the conditions in which it will be used. For hunting, that means "not from a bench rest."

An extreme example of this can be found simply by looking at G. David Tubb's rifle. For those who don't know, he shoots with the rifle held at an angle, which is very different than what we were all taught to do! That doesn't matter, though, because he's set his sights to hit correctly with that unorthodox hold. Imagine we "isolated" his rifle; put it on a bench, cradled it level in sandbags, and proceeded to "zero" the gun. Guess what? It wouldn't hit the correct point, because it wouldn't be held in the position in which Tubb shoots the thing. Given his modest success at highpower competition (!), I'd say he knows what he's doing!

One day I was visiting one of the very best handgun trainers I know. I picked up her gun and was surprised to see her sights drifted quite a ways to the right. I thought that odd, but she pointed out that they were that way because that's where they had to be to allow her to hit where she wants the gun to hit. Given that she can regularly clean the clocks of just about any male shooter - some of them state and regional champions - at will, I'd say her system is working perfectly. That's all that matters!

Are there times when we want isolation? Certainly - when we're testing specific parts of the system. Comparing one load to another, for example, demands an isolated gun; we don't care exactly where the rounds hit, because we're interested in the differences between two inputs of the same type. In order to see those differences, we have to eliminate all other variables that might obscure them.

Sighting in, on the other hand, is all about the whole system. To align the system, we need all of its parts to be working as they normally do. The fellow on the line that day understood the concept; the RO didn't.

There is no substitute for thinking about what you're doing, and why you're doing it.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A new firearms podcast - and this time, it's serious!

Last week I discovered that Massad Ayoob has gotten together with some of his friends and started a podcast. (Yes,
that Massad Ayoob; the proud and unrepentant technophobe, the man who has proclaimed - in public and multiple times - that to him the computer is "nothing more than a typewriter with a suppressor." With this project, his reputation as a Luddite may experience a steep decline; when he starts toting around a PDA to check his email, however, I'll know the world is coming to an end!)

Anyhow, the ProArms podcast deals with guns and shooting - no surprise there! It's a roundtable format, with Mas and the crew discussing various guns and shooting topics, interspersed with interviews of industry luminaries. (They've already managed to snag, in one fell swoop, three of the most important women in the defensive shooting world: Gila Hayes, Vicki Farnham, and Kathy Jackson. Those are the kind of interviews that you just won't hear anywhere else.)

Though Mas is obviously the main draw, the rest of the cast are phenomenally experienced shooters in their own right. You may never have heard of people like Jon Strayer or Herman Gunter, but in the southeast part of this country they are well known and respected arms experts. You'll grow to appreciate their informed commentary.

ProArms podcast even has a pretty good website, where you can learn about the show, the crew, and listen or subscribe to the podcast. Of course, like any podcast worthy of the title, it's available on iTunes as well.

-=[ Grant ]=-

On the current fad of Stoner bashing.

No, not THAT kind of stoner - I mean Eugene Stoner!

Websites, forum postings, and blog entries heap scorn and derision on the M-16/AR-15/M4 family of rifles. Why? Everyone has a different reason, but it comes down to the old saying about greener grass. I have no doubt that the same kinds of grousing appeared when our military switched from the .45-70 cartridge to the 'puny' .30 caliber!

What's amazing is the amount of engineering effort and money being spent to produce add-ons to "improve" the gun's operating system. Fixing the gun's "ills" has become big business, and everyone seems to be cashing in on the latest fashions.

I won't bore you with my analysis of the rifle or its engineering; there are lots of armchair commandos out there who have already done so. Instead, I'll simply relate what a good friend of mine tells me about the platform.

Some background: this is a guy who survived a particularly brutal civil war in his native country, shooting and being shot at on a very regular basis. He didn't have the benefit of being in a heavily armed squad with mobility, air and artillery support, a division armory, and the prospect of getting out in a matter of mere months. He had to survive, with only one M-16 rifle and an extremely thin ammunition supply, for
years against a well financed enemy hell-bent on killing his people and taking over his country. His rifle was, quite literally, his life.

He fought against the vaunted AK-47 fielded by his enemies (and occasionally with them when they were carried by his allies.) He therefore has unique and important experience with the two weapon systems that none of us is ever likely to accumulate. What is his take on all this?

"The AK-47 isn't as good as you think it is, and the M-16 is
better than you think it is."

Most opinions I politely listen to; a few I take to heart. His fall into the latter category.

-=[ Grant ]=-

More primer talk

A question appeared in the comments to
my last primer article. The commenter asked about magnum primers and their effect on the load.

First things first: I'll limit my comments to Winchester Small Pistol Magnum primers, as those are what I have experience with. (Winchester uses the same Large Pistol primer for both regular and magnum loads.)

A couple of years back I was working up a 9mm +P load, to duplicate a factory offering for practice purposes. (This is one of the great benefits of handloading - the ability to make a cheaper equivalent for range use, saving the increasingly expensive factory stuff for carry.)

I started with some published +P loads using the Winchester Small Pistol (WSP) primer. Those loads failed to achieve the necessary velocities, even at the max charge weight. I wondered if a change to a "hotter" (magnum) primer would make a difference, and redeveloped the load using Winchester Small Pistol Magnum (WSPM) primers. A velocity gain occurred at all charge weights, topping out with a 115 fps increase at the maximum load.

Again, I haven't tried this side-by-side comparison with any other primer brand. If you attempt this experiment, do not substitute primers on maximum loads; as always, start low and work up. Pay particular attention to pressure signs.

Speaking of my previous primer article...I mentioned that my testing had revealed a substantial decrease in velocity variance when comparing CCI and Winchester primers. Well,
someone over at posted this interesting picture. He took his favorite .45 Colt load for his Rossi rifle, and switched primers between Remington and CCI. Take a look - it would appear that CCI's consistency pays big dividends in accuracy, at least in this case.

If you are at all the curious type, reloading is your hobby - so much experimentation to be done!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Unintended consequences of riflestock design

This weekend I was working around the farm on a particularly labor-intensive project. It got to be about noon, and the rapidly rising temperatures (there was no shade where I was working) convinced me to take the afternoon off and go shooting.

I decided to take my "sport utility rifle", which is a .22LR Marlin 39a. This is the gun that stays loaded all the time, as a .22 goes with farm livin' like beer goes with NASCAR. (I neither drink beer nor watch NASCAR, but
Jeff Dunham says so and that's good enough for me.) I'd recently replaced the bead front sight with a plain front post from Skinner Sights, and wanted to see if the new sight picture would significantly improve the usable accuracy.

Along with the rifle and it's usual ammunition, I took some smallbore targets and a few paintballs. (There was a recent thread over at
RimfireCentral forums about shooting "fun" targets, and paintballs were a common choice. I don't own a paintball gun, but I now own a box of paintballs!)

After setting up the bullseyes I flopped down to a solid, comfortable prone position and fired my first two groups. I've been shooting iron-sighted target rifles for the past few weeks with great success, so when I walked down to check the target I was stunned at what I saw. Both groups were about three times the size I expected, and centered about an inch-and-a-half high and about the same amount to the left. Well, at least I was consistent!

Keep in mind that this is a gun that gets shot regularly on the plinking range, and never has it shown any tendencies such as I'd just seen. I decided that it was me, and if I did something else for a little while and came back to the rifle I'd be fine.

When I picked up the rifle a half-hour later I decided on a "quick and dirty" test: I'd shoot a few of those little paintballs (which are just a tad over a half-inch in diameter) from the 25 yard line. I set up the bright spheres, took a solid kneeling position and started shooting. The first shot connected and produced a nice orange mist; I pulled the second shot, but the next connected; the last two went just as planned - two more dead paintballs.

This was odd: I could hit these half-inch balls consistently, but if they'd been paper targets I'd have missed completely! It must have been me after all. I flopped down to prone to re-shoot those groups.

Imagine my surprise when I again found two-inch groups, high and to the left! What in the world was going on? Position obviously was a factor; I reshot the groups, this time from my kneeling position. Perfectly centered, and less than half the size of the prone shots.

After thinking about it for a while, it became clear that the problem was a sight issue. The receiver peep sights I have on the gun work better the closer one's eye is to the aperture (which is true with any peep sight.) The further back the eye is from the peep, the less effective that type of sight is.

The design of the Marlin's buttstock was preventing me from getting my eye sufficiently close when prone, but not so much when my body was more upright. The comb of the stock is a bit low, and the point is quite narrow and far back; when in a normal, unstressed prone position it put my eye further back from the aperture than is optimal.

The result was that the "self centering" aspect of the peep sight was reduced, and the depth of field (sharpness about the front sight) was reduced as well. This caused my groups to open up and shift. I found that if I contorted my prone position I could get my eye a bit closer to the sight. That helped with the sight picture but the resulting muscle tension made it impossible to hold steady on target, making the situation even worse.

The ironic part of this is that, had I been using the open sights the gun came with, it wouldn't have been an issue. Eye position is not a factor with the notch-and-bead sights the factory puts on the gun. By putting on the receiver peep sight, I'd changed the interaction of the various parts of the gun's design, and the weakness appeared.

The Marlin stock is great for snap-shooting; looking at it next to a shotgun, one notices similarities in shape and dimensions. Both are designed for efficiency in upright shooting positions, but are less than optimal when the upper body moves to a horizontal plane. The folks who designed the 39a made a great gun, and by introducing a new sighting system I'd bumped into the limitations of their design.

This episode has helped me understand how the elements of a rifle stock design interact with the shooter. I already know (from hard experience) that a Monte Carlo stock design has serious problems with certain shooting positions (particularly in prone), but I hadn't stopped to consider all the other little intricacies.

Even after 40-plus years on this planet, I learn something new every single time I go to the range!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Recent Project: 3" S&W Model 25

A long-time client called me a while back, and told me that he'd just acquired one of the Smith & Wesson Model 25 "Lew Horton" editions with the 3" barrel. He wasn't happy with the gun, and asked me to do a makeover.

If you've hung out here for long, you know that I love 3" barrels. I don't know why, exactly, except that I like 'em. This gun is no exception, and to say I was excited about the prospects would be an understatement.

I've actually written about this gun once before - it had the worst double action trigger I've felt on a factory gun in a long, long time. He wanted that fixed, and the gun converted to DAO. (It's an IDPA/carry gun for him, so he sees no need for single action capability.) The gun came replete with sharp edges, so sharp that I sliced open my left forefinger when I first handled it! Those needed to go as well. He also wasn't happy with the stock S&W sights, for which the gun had already received warranty repair - the first rear sight actually broke in two when shooting! Finally, he wanted general competition-friend modifications that would also be usable "on the street."

I started by getting rid of all the sharp edges, on all surfaces. The gun then went to the bluing shop for my Black Pearl finish. (This particular gun has the very hardest barrel steel I've ever encountered, and it caused no end of headaches in refinishing. The result is that this gun has a little more shine to it than any other Black Pearl finish I've done.)

Speaking of the barrel, the crown was both crooked and rough. The hard barrel, with its thin walls, made a normal crown out of the question. I made a very, very small crown, just enough to correct the problems.

The rear sight was replaced with one of Hamilton Bowen's superb Rough Country units, and the front carries a gold bead sight from SDM Fabricating. The result is a fast-acquisition sight picture, useful for both competition and defense.

Of course the gun received a Super Action Job, along with chamfering the chambers. The trigger was reworked to the modern, thin S&W style, rounded and polished smooth for comfortable double action work. The DAO conversion required bobbing the hammer, and on this gun I tried a new style: a kind of "scalloped" hammer. I've already decided that the next one needs a bit of modification (the bottom scallop is too deep to balance the top), but I'm pleased with the result and the way in which it offsets the cylinder-heavy profile of the gun. The trigger weight dropped from 15 lbs. to 9 lbs., and is of course smooth in both pull & reset.

Finally, we needed some decent concealment grips. They're made of a very nice walnut in a "boot" style by Don Collins, with some specific modifications to his basic design (to better fit my client's hands.)

The result: a more "special" Special Edition. (My client reads this blog, and hasn't seen the gun yet. To him I say: don't worry, it's coming back to you this week, but I couldn't wait to show it off!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Prime(r) time

I'm not sure what's up with Winchester these days. No one seems to have Winchester primers in stock, either walk-in or online, and backorders aren't being taken. On the other hand, CCI primers are (at least in my area) available in quantity. Odd.

(Something else odd: I rarely see Remington primers around here, and it's been that way as far back as I can remember.)

Anyhow, every reloading resource I've ever seen is quite adamant about the need to retest a load whenever anything changes - including primers. I know many people who do not heed that advice, assuming that a primer is a primer is a primer. (It's usually about the time they say this that I make a mental note to stand well behind them when they are shooting.) I, on the other hand, am desirous of maintaining my appendages in full working order. Thus when anything changes, I test thoroughly.

Because of the difficulty in obtaining my favorite Winchester primers (which I've used exclusively for nearly two decades), I've been reworking some of my loads to accommodate CCI primers. This is more of a pre-emptive move than anything, as I still have Winchesters on the shelf. Doing this before I need to allows me the luxury of testing side-by-side, using the same powder lots.

I've found something interesting, and not at all what I expected. The Winchester primers are "hotter" (producing higher velocities) than the CCI, but the CCI primers are more consistent (smaller spreads in velocity from shot to shot.) This appears to be the case in both pistol and rifle sizes.

Example: a 170 grain load in the .30-30 cartridge. Using CCI primers, I could not achieve factory-level velocities without loading "over book" (putting in more powder than specified by the reloading manual.) I have many load manuals, and both the bullet maker and the powder manufacturer pretty much agreed on what was a maximum load. Even at their maximum, the CCI primer still produced a load that was 150 fps under factory ammo velocities.

(Before the emails start: I tested factory loads in MY gun so that I had a real benchmark. Factory velocity data is not to be relied on.)

The Winchester primers produced a load which easily matched the factory offering, but both the extreme spread and the standard deviation of the load increased markedly. This indicates that the primer is not as consistent as the CCI equivalent. (Remember: same powder lot, same bullet lot, same brass from the same lot. The only change was the primer.) This should translate to lessened accuracy for the Winchester primer, but results from a lever action rifle using flat point bullets are so far inconclusive.

When I get around to it, I'll be doing the same test with my .308 match loads. I'll post the results of the accuracy tests, where I expect the CCI to clearly best the Winchester.

Stay tuned.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Guns are not magic wands.

There is a perception amongst a large percentage of the gun-toting public that guns are magic wands: one shot and the bad guy flies backward, landing in an unconscious heap at the bottom of a wall or tree.

Think I'm exaggerating? Spend a few minutes at a gun counter sometime. Random samples would tend to support the supposition that the majority of people carrying guns get their information from Hollywood, not

This incident from east Texas should serve to remind us that real life ain't like "reel" life.

There are, of course, a number of unanswered questions: was the good guy's gun not adequate for effective defense? Was he not able to draw and shoot in time? Did he make an effort to "get off the X" or did he simply "stand and deliver"?

We don't know. Sadly, we may never know. All we do know is that something went horribly wrong, leaving the good guy six feet under and the bad guy getting three hots and a cot.

Let's review how to avoid the same fate:

1) Select a gun and cartridge that are suitable for self defense. (At the risk of tooting my own horn,
read my series on this topic.)

2) Learn how to be aware of your surroundings (it most assuredly does not come naturally to modern man); study and memorize the precursors to violent attacks.

3) Practice drawing and shooting from your holster; don't carry your gun in an unaccessible place, and
carry it the same way all the time.

4) Break the habit of just standing and shooting; learn to get off the axis of a violent attack. (This is not the old "take one step to the side and shoot" exercise - it is far more dynamic. Love him or hate him,
Gabe Suarez has been preaching this for many years, and only now does the concept seem to be gaining traction.)

5) Understand that one shot is quite unlikely to do the job, and that the old "two shots center of mass, then evaluate" doctrine may just give your opponent the opening he needs. Learn how to quickly put multiple, accurate shots on target - while moving.

6) Understand that you can do everything "right", and still lose. This is a concept that seems to be lost to even the best instructors: luck plays a huge role in survival. Do everything you can to put as much of it on your side as possible.

Be careful, stay safe.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Preventing barrel leading

A reader asked me to comment on successfully shooting lead bullets in revolvers. It seems that he's been getting indifferent accuracy coupled with severe leading, and would like to know the "secret" to using lead in his gun.

I thought I'd covered this topic once before, but a thorough search of the archives failed to turn up the expected article. Guess I'll have to do this from scratch!

Please note that I'm not a "hardcore" cast bullet shooter. I don't cast my own, which means that I'm dependent on commercial sources for my projectiles. As a result, it's taken me longer to learn this stuff than it would have otherwise. Thus I'm no expert; but Ed Harris, who sometimes checks in here at the RLA, is - hopefully he'll see fit to comment. (Ed, if I get anything wrong please drop me a note - I'll make your response into it's own post.)

The first thing to understand is that your lead bullets need to fit the chamber throats of your gun. If, for example, your throats measure .358", your bullets should be no smaller than .358, and no bigger than .001" over that measurement. Smaller bullets won't be as accurate, and will let the erosive combustion gases blow past the bullet causing severe leading around the forcing cone.

(Many bullet makers will size their products to your preference; if they don't make that service obvious, just ask. A surprising number are happy to oblige, usually at no extra cost.)

The forcing cone of your gun must also be in good condition; roughness in that area will result in leading at that point.

Assuming that the gun part of the equation is in good shape, and the bullets are of correct size, the hardness of the bullet becomes the critical issue. Most bullet makers advertise really hard bullets as being the "cure" for leading. It sort of stands to reason, doesn't it? A harder lead won't smear as much as it goes down the barrel, and will leave less residue - right?

Guess what - it isn't true. In fact, it's completely off base!

Think about this: you probably have a .22 rifle hanging around. Most .22 LR bullets are plain lubricated lead - very soft lead, no less. Compared to your average hard cast bullet, a .22 slug is almost like butter - soft as can be. Yet I'll bet that if you looked at the bore of your rifle, you probably won't see much leading - if any at all. My .22 rifles will fire a thousand or so rounds between cleanings, and I've never seen lead in my bores despite the bullet traveling at 1,200 fps.

What's the reason? Obturation.

A bullet, under great pressure from the expanding gases behind it, grows in size to fit whatever hole (chamber throat, barrel bore) it is being shoved into. This phenomenon is called obturation. As the bullet obturates it seals the hole, and keeps the gases where they belong until the bullet actually exits the barrel.

If the bullet doesn't obturate, the very hot gases will rush past while it is in the bore. The lead where the gases pass is melted and deposited on the barrel's walls - producing leading. This kind of leading is the most difficult to remove, as it really "sticks" to the bore - as if it's been soldered there. In fact, it has!

It follows that we need to make sure that they bullet obturates in our bore. In order for a bullet to obturate, the metal used needs to be soft enough to deform easily under the amount of pressure being applied to it. If the bullet is too hard, it won't obturate and there will be no sealing.

So, the bullet has to be soft enough to obturate. Why not just make all bullets out of super soft pure lead - won't that cure the problem? No, it won't; a bullet that's too soft will also cause leading, as it won't be strong enough to maintain the necessary seal in the bore. It also won't be resistant to the heat generated by the friction of travel down the bore. Both result in lead left in the barrel.

The bullet has to be hard, but not too hard; soft, but not too soft! The variable is the amount of pressure generated by the firing cartridge.

The higher the pressure, the harder the bullet needs to be to resist excess deformation - but remember that it has to be soft enough to obturate properly. A mild .38 Special target load needs a softer bullet than a fire-breathing .357 Magnum in order to obturate; putting a too-hard bullet in a mild cartridge is as much a problem as a too-soft slug in a hot one.

Bullet hardness is rated on the Brinell (BHN) scale. Pure lead is 5 BHN; "hard cast" bullets can be close to 30 BHN. Somewhere in that range is the ideal bullet for any given cartridge; how do we find it?

As it happens, there is a way to determine the optimum bullet hardness. First, you need to know the amount of pressure your load develops. That's easy - your loading manual will have that information. (Pressure is listed in either CUP or PSI; they are slightly different, but for this particular question either will be close enough to get the answer we need.)

There are two formula: one for the ideal hardness, one for the maximum hardness.

Ideal hardness in BHN = Pressure / 1,920
Maximum BHN = Pressure / 1,422

Let's say it's a .38 Special using 4.5 grains of Hodgdon Universal Clays and a 158 grain SWC bullet. The pressure for this load is 16,700. Our formulae look like this:

16,700 '/ 1920 = 8.69 BHN ideal hardness
16,700 / 1422 = 11.74 BHN maximum hardness

You can (and should) round those to the nearest whole number. Thus, for this load I want a bullet of around 9 BHN, but no more than 12 BHN for best results.

For a heavy .357 Magnum load, using the same bullet, the numbers are dramatically different:

33,600 / 1920 = 18 (rounded) ideal
33,600 / 1422 = 24 (rounded) maximum

Big difference! If I buy bullets of 21 BHN for my Magnum, and use them in the light Special loads, they won't obturate properly and I'm likely to get leading.

Guess what? That's exactly what happened! It wasn't until I bought some bullets of a nice 10 BHN for my Special loads that my leading problem was solved. As I said at the beginning, it doesn't seem logical that softer bullets leave less residue behind - that is, until you understand the physics behind the problem.

With this information you can now go bullet shopping with confidence. You'll probably find that purveyors of "cowboy" bullets are your best choice to get the alloy hardness that you need to keep the lead where it belongs: on the target, not in your barrel!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On Taylor Throating

I recently received an email asking my thoughts on Taylor Throating - the procedure where a reamer removes the rifling for roughly a half-inch past the forcing cone, and the edges of the lands are chamfered to match. The concept is to make an area that allows the bullet to 'stabilize' after jumping the barrel gap, but before entering the rifling.

Taylor Throating is somewhat controversial, with some holding it to be the greatest thing since peanut butter, while others claim that it is pure snake oil. In the interest of full disclosure, I don't offer the service - even though I've invested in the equipment - simply because I remain agnostic regarding its value.

Reports of miraculous results seem not to have occurred under controlled conditions. By that, I mean tested on a gun without any changes other than the throating. The glowing reports tend to be from those who had a lot of other work done at the same time, including timing and forcing cone changes. It's hard to say if the positive reports are in fact due to the throating, to other work, or to something subconscious on the part of the shooter doing the testing.

I've experimented with Taylor Throating on a properly maintained Dan Wesson .357, using several 6" barrels, and shot by two different people (one of whom was your author); the results were inconclusive. When a barrel with just the throating was tested, there was a slight increase in accuracy - but it was not consistent, nor large, enough to rule out normal shooter performance variation. A barrel prepped with a proper crown and an 11 degree forcing cone (as pioneered by Ron Power) achieved a definite positive result, roughly equal to what is said to be expected by some Taylor advocates.

My preliminary opinion, based on my admittedly limited experience with the technique, is that a proper forcing cone and a perfect crown still produce the most noticeable accuracy improvement. Of course, this is assuming that the gun is in perfect condition (timing, cylinder/barrel alignment, etc.) to begin with.

There are a couple of specific conditions where Taylor Throating might prove useful as a salvage technique: when the barrel/cylinder alignment is just a hair off in the vertical axis, or where there is a noticeable constriction in the area where the barrel screws into the frame. In those cases accuracy changes in excess of what would normally be expected have been reported, and may be legitimate. There are also some indications that it may extend the useful life of a severely worn barrel, where replacement is difficult or economically unwarranted.

Some specific downsides have been identified, however. If the throated area is even a tiny amount bigger than the chamber throats (or the bullet diameter), lead bullets will suffer "blow by" and gas cutting - severely leading the barrel, and definitely decreasing accuracy.

In the end, it's your choice. I'm not ready to call it a fraud, but neither do I see a definite positive benefit to having it done. When I come up with solid evidence on either side, you can bet I'll report it here!

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Up, up and away!

I've previously mentioned my appreciation for the work that NASA has done over it's 50-year history. NASA grew up right along with me - or me with it - and NASA was always doing the exciting stuff boys of that era were smitten by: Astronauts. Fast planes. Rockets. The Moon.

(It wasn't just spectacle, though; NASA was the catalyst for technological progress that continues to be felt today. A surprising number of the things we now take for granted can be traced directly back to some NASA project.)

We learned about the exploits of the engineers, technicians and astronauts through NASA-supplied pictures in the magazines of the day. My early interest in science was kindled by those pictures, and some of them I still remember.

NASA documented everything, but not all of their photos were of general interest. A large percentage of their images were never seen by the general public because the media was understandably reluctant to publish anything of interest only to nerds. Through the magic of the internet, however, we now have ready access to some of those great pictures.

The agency has launched a
new site just for NASA images. You can search or browse and download your selected pictures, drawings, and illustrations - some of them of quite high resolution. You'll find lots of astronomical images, of course, but you'll find all kinds of other things too.

Two of my favorites from the 1969 launch of Apollo 11, taking the first men to the moon:

Saturn V rocket FTW!

If you're a science buff like me, you can spend large amounts of time on their site. I recommend that you not try this a) at work, or b) when your significant other expects you to be paying attention to him/her/the kids/household chores/your dinner guests. You have been warned!

-=[ Grant ]=-

A Special Detective Special

Here's a quick pic of a Detective Special I did a little while back. It has the "full Monty": Master Action Tune, Front Sight Mod, Black Pearl finish, polished trigger face, chamfered chambers, dehorning, custom Herrett's stocks - plus a neat "extra" that you can't see in this picture.

I hate to sound like a "secret squirrel", but I'm not at liberty to say more at this point. No intrigue, black ops or anything like that - simply that someone else has the rights to talk about it first. You'll see more of it in a couple of months; stay tuned.

-=[ Grant ]=-

My muckraking safety articles

I've been asked to provide a permanent link to my articles on the failings of gun safety rules. Happy to oblige; I've added them to the Library as well.

The original article: "On Safety"
Followup article: "Following the safety rules religiously"

Please read them and consider them carefully. Of course, I'm always happy to hear comments from readers!

-=[ Grant ]=-

In praise of the "boy's rifle"

When I was a kid (which was not all that long ago - at least I don't remember it being all that long ago) we had "boy's rifles." Today they're known by a more politically correct term, but as Juliet said "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."

The boy's rifle was chambered in .22 LR, and was most often a single-shot bolt action - though repeaters were not unheard of. Their wood stocks were sized slightly smaller to fit a teenager's frame (before the days when teenagers were routinely 6' tall and weighed in over 180 lbs), and were slim from butt to forearm. The grip area was smaller in circumference to fit shorter fingers, and the receivers and barrels were similarly proportioned.

Though not normally fitted as nicely as the adult-oriented rifles in their respective lines, they usually shot pretty well. Some, in fact, were downright amazing, especially considering the very simple sights they carried.

People used to larger guns are often astonished when they pick up an old boy's rifle; light weight, quick handling, and superb pointing characteristics are almost foreign concepts today. Unfortunately, those attributes usually lead to snide comments about feeling "like a toy." Were they to actually shoot one - or, better yet, pack one into the field - perhaps their opinions would change. I know mine did!

Like many people, I have a number of "adult" .22 rifles, none of them weighing under 7 lbs. I recently acquired an old Stevens Model 66, which is a bolt action tube fed repeater. At barely 5 lbs, it's definitely a lightweight - but this 70-year-old gun, well worn on the outside but pristine on the inside, is an absolute joy to shoot.

The best word I can use is "handy". It's the kind of gun that carries unobtrusively on the shoulder, yet springs immediately to eye level when needed. It makes my "grown up" .22 rifles seem ungainly by comparison.

Give one a try. You may just get hooked - and wasn't that the whole idea behind the boy's rifle to begin with?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Not so Special after all

A client recently sent me a brand new S&W Model 25 for some work. As part of my normal checkout routine, I measured the trigger pulls. In single action, it was a nice and crisp 3-1/2 lbs. In double action, it....pegged my digital force gauge!

I had to get out the old mechanical unit to read the trigger pull of nearly 15lbs. Holy Sore Forefinger, Batman! Not only that, but the trigger return feels like a mile of bad gravel road. (Since I live on a mile of bad gravel road, I am something of an authority on the topic.)

Oh, did I mention that this was one of S&W's "Special Edition" Lew Horton models? That's right - S&W apparently doesn't feel that handing them close to a grand for one of their revolvers entitles you to a decent trigger. On the other hand, perhaps I should look at it as a perverse form of job security...

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: "Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille!"

Portland, Oregon has for years had one of the highest numbers of movie theater seats per capita. Oregonians, it would appear, can't get enough of the silver screen. (Save for this Oregonian, who sees one theater movie every five years or so whether he needs to or not.)

It seems to have always been this way. Portland had a large number of neighborhood movie theaters up through the '60s, and many of those buildings are still standing. The theaters were converted to other uses, and some of them actually retained some of their former features. Finding and exploring those old locations is a hobby for some, an obsession for others.

Back in the early '80s, when I was doing some moonlighting as a commercial photographer, I was retained by an older gentleman to photograph the abandoned Egyptian Theater in northeast Portland. The theater, originally built as a vaudeville venue, had been converted to the newfangled "moving pitchers" in the early '30s. It operated until 1962, when it was closed and used as overflow warehousing space for the chemical company which had purchased the location.

The gentleman who hired me was a serious movie buff, and was writing a book on old Oregon theaters. He wanted me to shoot pictures of the interior of the Egyptian. (I got the job because i was the only photographer he found who could light an entire large interior without benefit of electrical outlets or a generator. The power in the building had been shut off for years, the wiring having been declared a fire hazard. I'll leave you to guess how I pulled it off.)

Once in the building we found many of the seats still in place; the entire balcony was intact, as were the Egyptian-motif decorations and appointments throughout. There were torn ticket stubs littering the floor and even remnants of coming attraction posters in the lobby.

When theater closed, the awning (shown in this 1933 photo) was removed, and the front of the building simply covered with a false wall. The ticket booth and original doors were still there!

It was a surreal experience, as if the building was simply waiting for the janitors to arrive to clean up for that evening's business.

The building was torn down in 1989; sadly, the book never materialized. I had a good time, though.

What brought this to mind was
this article at WebUrbanist about abandoned movie theaters across the U.S. (Somewhere in storage I have my shots of the Egyptian, but exactly where is a mystery. Until I can find them, you'll have to make do with WebUrbanist's article!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

The gun of dreams

There are guns that we want - perhaps even "need" - but don't happen to have. This is not about those.

This is about the gun which consumes large amounts of our subconscious thought, in the way that the opposite sex did in high school. Though we desire others, one remains a constant; a gun that, it seems, we've always wanted and always will. Perhaps one day our dream is fulfilled, perhaps not - but it never goes away.

Admit it: you have one. We all have one.

Me? It might surprise you to know that mine is not a revolver. Don't get me wrong - there are a number of wheelguns I want but don't yet possess, the specifics changing a bit over time. My dream gun, though, has remained unchanged for many years now. That is the way of dreams.

My dream gun is a Mannlicher stocked bolt action carbine in 6.5x55 Swedish. Why? Romance, plain and simple. (That's the great part about dreams - they don't have to make any sense.)

Since I was a kid I've seen pictures of the lone hunter standing on a ridge, peering through binoculars at some unseen quarry, with "my" rifle perched on his knee. A graceful yet purposeful gun, lithe of line, whose mere presence brings gentility to the wilderness. (I told you it was romantic!)

Open up a hunting book from the '50s or '60s, and you'll probably see that picture. I have, more times than I can count. That's the reason I want one.

Of course I can recite all the technical justifications for owning my dream. I rationalize that it would make the perfect hunting rifle (which it would); the 6.5 Swede round is well suited for the game we have in North America, and it's one of my very favorite target cartridges to boot. The light weight and short barrel would make it wonderful to carry and even better to swing on target; it would be the perfect tool for "snap shooting" and tramping through our dense coastal rainforest.
Yadda yadda yadda.

But, at the end of the day, it's all about peering off into the game-filled distance with the Dream perched ever-so-photogenically on
MY knee.


-=[ Grant ]=-

The stopping power series

I've added a link to my "Stopping Power" series to the Library. I have no idea why I didn't think of doing so earlier!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On scope magnification

Moving back to the farm as I recently did has changed my shooting habits. I'm shooting a larger amount of rimfire rifle lately, not just for fun but also predator/pest control.

For all the years I lived in suburbia (which is a Kafkaesque purgatory for a simple, ignorant country boy like me) I did all of my shooting at the gun club. When I shot rimfire there I invariably took the only scoped .22 rifle in my inventory, forsaking the other iron-sighted rimfires in the safe.

Out here, where the rimfire rifle is a constant companion, the scoped rifle is too awkward to constantly carry around. The open sighted rifles are slimmer, lighter, and less delicate, which means that I'm using them more and more often.

Shooting virtually all open sights has resulted in an interesting revelation: the less magnification I have, the better I shoot.

For years I shot long range rifles with higher magnification scopes. The last centerfire I built - a marvelous 6.5-284 screamer - got topped with a relatively low power 2.5x-10x variable scope, which I've found completely adequate all the way out to 800 yards. Friends shooting at that same range would use 16x or 20x optics, and wondered why I chose the "small" magnification. Even at that time I recognized that the 10x was enough; I just didn't need any more.

As to the rimfires, my scoped rifle carries a straight 4x optic. As I shoot more with iron sights, I find that even this modest magnification is more than I really need, especially from field positions. Even at 4x, movement is sufficiently magnified that my mind starts to play the game that is the bane of precision shooters everywhere: "hurry, the crosshairs are right on target! Pull the trigger now!"

In the field, I've proven to myself that I can shoot open sights more than accurately enough. There are times, though, when a scope would be handy - differentiating target from background in dappled sunlight, for instance. In those cases I'm dreaming of a nice fixed 2.5x scope - or maybe a 2.5x-5x variable, just in case I need a bit more magnification at some point. (In my heart I know that I won't, but the "I might need that someday!" attitude is part and parcel of being an avid shooter!)

For me, less magnification is definitely the way to go.

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: Rodents aren't just for felines any more

If you're under 40, the name
Douglas Engelbart probably means nothing to you. It should, though, because a huge amount of the machine on which you're reading this sprang from his fertile mind.

Engelbart (yet another product of Oregon, having been born in Portland) worked at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) before the dawn of the personal computer revolution. Many of the things we now use without a second thought were developed by him, or made possible by his work: bitmapped screens, the graphical user interface (GUI), hypertext, and networking. The very birth of the internet occurred when his lab at SRI and it's counterpart at UCLA networked their computers to become the first two nodes of

His greatest moment would have to be his "
Mother of All Demos" in 1968. In that presentation, he introduced to a stunned world the early working implementations of video conferencing, teleconferencing, interactive text, email and the aforementioned hypertext. It is, perhaps, the single most important event in the history of modern computing.

One of his inventions revealed for the first time at the Demo was a new invention: the computer mouse. It would take over a decade before his now-common pointing device finally reached the market (attached to the ill-fated Xerox 8010 Star Information System), and several years after that before it came to the notice of the general public (as an integral part of the original Macintosh.)

(John C. Dvorak, computer pundit, wrote in 1984 of the new Mac and Engelbart's invention : "The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a 'mouse'. There is no evidence that people want to use these things." Dvorak is not known for his prescience, which surprisingly fails to deter his continued employment.)

YouTube has the entire Demo available.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Is the Ruger GP100 inaccurate?

It sometimes amuses me how often one hears the same question, with only slight variations. One that I've heard over the years goes something like this: "Is it true that the GP100 isn't very accurate?" Personally, I've not noticed that any of mine are, but there is more to this story.

Assuming that the gun is "in spec" with regards to its construction (forcing cone, crown, chamber/barrel alignment, etc.) it should shoot quite well. Many GP owners, however, continue to complain about the accuracy of their individual example in the absence of those identifiable deficiencies. It so happens that there is a design defect in certain models of the GP100 that will definitely reduce the precision of the gun: the sights.

Owners of fixed-sight Rugers are generally much happier with the accuracy of the GP than those who have the adjustable sights, and I can't say I blame them. The first problem is Ruger's rear sight: it stinks, to put it bluntly. Don't get me wrong, the rear sight picture isn't bad (in fact I prefer it to Smith & Wesson's); the problem is that the Ruger rear sight often won't hold zero all that well.

It starts with a body which has a very loose fit in the frame's sight channel. It continues with universally sloppy fit on the sight pivot pin - the pin that holds the sight onto the gun, allowing the body to pivot up and down for elevation changes. The elevation screw, likewise, has a lot of "wiggle" in it, and the windage screw is often not any better. The net result is a sight that can't be relied upon to stay where it's set from shot to shot.

The rear sight isn't the only problem, just the biggest one. The interchangeable front sight often shows deficiencies of it's own. It is investment cast (like the rest of the gun), but without subsequent machining the edges and serrations remain quite indistinct. The sight picture isn't all that crisp, making a sure hold on target a bit like driving a well-worn 1951 GMC 2-1/2 ton flatbed farm truck. (For those who've never had the pleasure, imagine going down the street having to constantly move the steering wheel a half-turn in each direction just to maintain something like a straight line. Now try it in the rain. At night. Get the idea?)

I've seen more than a few front sights which also weren't secure in the dovetails, causing them to wobble a bit, and there are quite a few that don't have parallel sides. (Or worse, lack a straight top!)

The fixed-sight GP100 doesn't have any of these problems, which explains why their owners tend to be more satisfied with that model's performance.

There are solutions. The best is to replace the rear sight with the terrific
Rough Country sight from Bowen Classic Arms. It fits precisely, and the opposing screws that adjust windage and elevation also serve as lockdowns for those adjustments. (If you've ever adjusted the rear sight on a FAL rifle, you know the concept.) The Rough Country sights have the easy change capability of an adjustable sight, but once locked down are as rugged as a fixed sight. There is nothing better on the market, period. Absolutely the best.

The Rough Country sight has a superb sight picture, and is available with a plain black blade, a white outline blade, an "express" (shallow "V") blade, and a blank blade - so that your friendly gunsmith can provide the notch that you feel is best.

The front sight can also be replaced with a Bowen unit. The Bowen front blade is precisely made, with perfect dovetails and parallel sides. It comes as a "blank" - it must be machined to shape and height, then blued, before it is of any use. It is an expensive part, and the additional machining adds to the cost, but if you're looking for the absolute best GP100 sight picture it is the way to go.

Outfitted with decent sights the GP100 really comes into its own, easily keeping up with the best from the competition. If you've not been happy with the way your GP100 shoots, take a hard look at those sights - my bet is you'll find they aren't terribly great!

-=[ Grant ]=-

On rimfire ammunition and accuracy

Serendipity, that's what it is. Last week a consistent topic kept coming up in a variety of places: the necessity (or lack thereof) for "accurate" .22 long rifle ammunition.

"I don't shoot groups, I hunt {insert favorite furry tidbit here}."
"You can't shoot really accurately in the field anyway, so better ammo isn't worth the price."
"The ammo already shoots better than I can, so I just buy whatever is cheapest."

I believe such comments to be shortsighted. First, though, a bit of information for those not intimately familiar with the vast array of rimfire ammunition.

The .22lr is the most popular (by a huge margin) cartridge in the world. It is available in a bewildering number of forms, from the very cheapest to the "ohmigod, I could buy a good steak dinner for that amount of money!" In general, the more accurate the ammo, the more it will cost.

The odd thing, however, is that not every .22 gun (be it rifle or pistol) will necessarily shoot the most expensive ammo into the smallest group. Rimfires are notoriously finicky; you can, quite literally, take two different .22 rifles, of the same model and vintage (and very close to the same serial number) and each will have very different ammunition preferences. Sometimes the most expensive will in fact shoot the best; other times, a less expensive fodder will do the deed.

In terms of consistency, however, the more costly ammunition will win out - it simply won't vary as much from group to group, even if its absolute accuracy isn't as good. In other words, a cheaper ammo may produce a smaller group occasionally, but the more expensive stuff will shoot the same size group all the time. In the aggregate, the more expensive the ammunition, the more likely it will shoot better in any given gun.

There's no guarantee that you'll set records with more costly bullets, but it's a dead certainty that you won't with WallyWorld specials!

Back to the subject at hand...let's say that you have a rifle that at its absolute best is capable of shooting the magic 1 minute-of-angle (MOA) group (which is, for all intents and purposes, 1/2" at 50 yards.) What this means is that the group it shoots with its best ammunition choice will fit into a circle measuring 1/2" in diameter. Clear so far?

Assuming that the actual center of the group is at the actual point of aim, any shot fired will fall a maximum of 1/4" from the point of aim; this is known as 1/4" radial dispersion. If one shot lands at the extreme edge of that dispersion, and the next at the opposite side of that dispersion, the distance between them will be 1/2", which is the group size. See how that works?

Now, let's say that some other ammunition shoots 4 MOA in this rifle (2" at 50 yards.) Any shot that is fired will now land within 1" of the point of aim. That's still not bad; certainly not enough to even get you in the door at an Olympic training village, but enough to nail pop cans off the fence.

Or is it?

A standard 12oz pop can has a diameter of 2.6", or 1.3" on either side of the center. Aiming dead on that center point, with our 4 MOA ammo, means that the worst shot of the bunch only has .3" to spare to knock the can off the fence. In other words, with that ammo your aim and hold has to vary no more than .3" if you expect to hit the can with any given shot!

Will the better ammo give us an edge? You tell me...with 1 MOA ammunition, the expected radial dispersion is .25". That means that any given shot, holding absolutely dead center, now has a margin of error of 1.05". In other words, your aim and hold now has a bit over an inch of leeway to hit with 100% certainty. I'd say that's a significant advantage, wouldn't you?

Shooting is all about being able to trust your skills, but you can't get to trust your skills until you first can trust your equipment. If you practice by popping cans off the fence, how will you know if that miss was because of your skills, or because of your equipment - and is it the ammo, or the gun?

Someone will no doubt be yelling at his (or her) monitor that not every shot will be at the outer edges of the variables. In other words, an ammo that shoots 4 MOA will distribute shots all over that circle; not all of them will be in the center (otherwise it would shoot better than 4 MOA), but likewise not all of them will fall on the edge of that circle. This is true.

The trouble with this line of thinking is that we don't know where any given upcoming shot will fall. We know that it may hit in the center of its expected circle, or it may hit at the edge, or somewhere in between. We don't know where it will hit until it does; if we expect to hit the target with every shot, we have to assume the worst and prepare for it, looking on anything else as a wonderful happenstance.

It's all about probabilities. Let's take our 4 MOA ammo; it's possible that, say, 80% of its shots might fall within a 2 MOA circle. This means that 80% of the time, you have a bit over 1/2" of leeway on that pop can. Put differently, if you can aim and hold within 1/2" of center, you'll hit the can 80% of the time. If you're happy with 80%, great! (Yes, I'm aware that you can increase the hit probability by simply decreasing the distance to the target. If you're going to shoot everything from 20 feet away, you may feel free to use the worst ammo in the worst gun, and never have the need to improve your skills. Everyone wins - sort of.)

Personally, I'm not enamored with those numbers. Look at it from my perspective: I like to hunt small game with my .22 rifles, both for pest control and dinner. I'm an old farm boy who has a close relationship to the animals around him; if an animal is to die by my hand, I require that death to be as humane - quick and painless - as is possible. For me, that means headshots and instant incapacitation. If you eat small game, you know that head shots are necessary simply to maximize the amount of usable meat from the ammo. Squirrels aren't all that big to begin with!

Further, a missed shot is a lost animal; unlike targets and pop cans, they usually don't wait around for you to try again. I want 100% hit probability if I can supply the necessary foundation (sighting and hold.)

A small animal's head often has a kill zone of around 1-1/2" (even less if forced to take a frontal shot.) If I were to use ammunition that only shoots 4 MOA, that would require me to have absolutely zero error in both sighting and hold to make a clean kill at 50 yards. (Actually, it has negative error - meaning that even with perfect performance on my part, I cannot expect the ammo to deliver a clean hit 100% of the time.) At 25 yards, it doesn't get a lot better - my total allowable aim/hold error for a clean kill is a whopping quarter-inch! Can you do that from a field shooting position? Really? Every time?

Switching to the better ammunition gives me a big edge. At 50 yards my self-induced error allowance is now a half inch, and at 25 yards it is almost 3/4". It means that the chances of a successful clean kill are significantly improved by using the better fodder.

Higher quality .22lr ammunition isn't just for benchresters and group junkies. If one is just starting out, it means faster and surer skill development. For the hunter, it means greater yield and more humane treatment of the animal. In my mind, it's worth the price.

The only thing left is to get a whole bunch of different kinds of ammunition and test them all in your gun. You'll learn just how much you'll have to pay to get the accuracy you really need - not the accuracy someone insists you can settle for!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Illustrating the concept

A reader sent me
this link to an old Richard Davis "Second Chance" video. The video has Davis shooting a fellow - who is wearing one of Davis' vests, of course - with a .308 rifle and himself with a .44 magnum revolver. The reader's comment was "if this doesn't show an energy dump, I don't know what it shows."

I agree. With the second part of the statement, at least. Going back to our
"Stopping power" series, as I pointed out the term "energy dump" is nonsensical - energy isn't "dumped", it is used to do work.

What is the work in this case?

First, I can guarantee that the bullet itself was grossly deformed in its contact with the vest material. It takes energy to deform the bullet, and that energy only comes from one place: the bullet itself.

Second, there is a huge amount of work being done by that slug. It is trying to part and sever the fibers in the vest material, which are quite tough and designed to resist such force. The bullet does manage to defeat some of the fibers - which is why it's buried between the layers of cloth - but the energy required to do that job, again and again (there are many layers in a vest) rapidly depletes the bullet's stored energy. The result is that all of the energy is used up doing the work of penetrating the vest.

Again, the bullet's energy wasn't "dumped" - it was used. Understand the difference, and terminal ballistics won't seem so mysterious.

(Notice also the second myth busted in the video: that a bullet has enough energy to knock a man down. As you can see, even full-power .308 NATO, at near contact distance, isn't sufficient to knock over a man standing on one foot. Again, there is nothing mysterious at work - simply basic physics.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

My reloading setup: the dies I actually use daily

Someone emailed and asked me to detail my reloading die setups. With pleasure!

For handgun rounds, my setup for .38 Special is typical (and, not surprisingly, my most-used.) The sizing die is a Lee carbide, which I've had for decades. I would prefer an RCBS die in this spot, primarily for the better decapping pin system and easier handling of it's knurled body, but the Lee is perfectly serviceable (and I'm too cheap to spring for the new die.) For certain other calibers I have RCBS or DIllon carbide dies, and as I mentioned last time I find them all acceptable - but my favorite remains RCBS.

The next station on the press carries a Lyman "M" expander die. The Hornady powder measure, like other progressive press measures, has an integral case expander, but I still prefer to expand using the Lyman die. It expands in a unique manner that reduces lead shaving and promotes straighter bullet seating, and it works as advertised. (I do reload a number of calibers for which I don't have "M" dies; for those I rely on the expander in the powder measure, which works perfectly well - the "M" die is just in a class by itself.)

The bullet seating die for all calibers is the Hornady with the sliding bullet alignment collar. It is, hands down, the best seating die I've used. That sliding collar definitely helps bullet alignment, especially if the bullet tips a bit on the way up into the die. The bullet seating depth is precisely adjustable via a convenient knurled knob, and they have a micrometer seating adjustment available as an accessory. Absolutely "best in class" in terms of features.

I never crimp in the seating die. I know, most people do, but I've found that crimping separately results in significantly better ammunition. In .38, I use the superb Redding crimp die. This die is unique, in that it applies a slight taper crimp first, then a roll crimp. It produces the best .38 ammo I've ever made, and would not be without it for any cartridge where I want to squeeze out that last little bit of accuracy.

For all other pistol calibers, I use the Lee Factory Crimp Die. It is different than any other crimp die: it has a carbide sizing ring that sizes all the way to the base of the case, which is difficult to do in the initial size/decap process. Then it applies a taper or roll crimp (depending on the cartridge.) The neat part about the crimp stage is that it is adjustable via a knurled knob, making it a cinch to get exactly the right amount of crimp. The combination of to-the-base resizing and perfect crimping make the FCD (as it's known in reloading circles) great for all calibers, but an absolute must for rounds going into autoloading pistols. If you're having trouble getting your reloads to feed, the FCD will solve the problem. (If you're using a Dillon sizing die, which doesn't size are far down the case as others, the FCD is especially useful.)

For rifle rounds I've taken then same mix-and-match approach. (For those who don't reload bottleneck rifle cases, there are two approaches to resizing: full-length and neck only. Cases going into autoloading or lever-action repeating rifles must be full-length sized for proper feeding. For a bolt-action or single-shot rifle, you can get away with just resizing the neck of the case itself. This results in much improved brass life and simplified reloading, as lubrication isn't needed.)

As mentioned last time, my preferred sizing dies are Redding and RCBS, for a combination of finish, smoothness, and decapping pin arrangement. In full length dies I've decided to limit my choices to RCBS and Redding, mainly because I haven't been all that happy with Lee's internal finish. If neck sizing only, Lee's Collet Dies are actually quite nice - I've had pretty good luck with them, though I still prefer Redding or RCBS because of Lee's decapping pin design.

When I'm reloading for rifles, I use the same technique that I do for pistol rounds: I don't seat and crimp in the same operation, as most rifle reloaders do. As I mentioned before, I've found that seating and crimping separately results in better quality ammunition, with more consistent seating depth and crimp tension.

Again, the seating die of choice is Hornady - their alignment collar is just as important for rifles as for handguns, and works just as well. I adjust the die body so that the crimping ring never touches the mouth of the case, thereby using just the seating function. I buy a separate seating die to do the crimping, and simply remove or adjust the seating stem so that it never touches the bullet. I've found - again - the RCBS and Redding seating dies are the best in terms of crimp quality. They don't shave brass from (or deform) the case lips when they're adding a heavy crimp, which both Hornady and Lee seating dies do. (This isn't important for a single-shot rifle, but for a tube-fed lever action it sure is!)

Sharp-eyed readers will note that I mentioned Lyman only once. This is because I have very little experience with their products other than the "M" die. Their external finish seems to be a notch below RCBS and a couple below Redding, though as mentioned I am impressed with the performance of the "M" die. Readers with more extensive Lyman experience are encouraged to comment on their other offerings.

As you can see, there is no one maker of dies that has everything I want; I'm forced to pick and choose the best for my needs and desires. It's taken me a long time (and no small amount of money) to get to this point, but I'm quite happy with the results!

-=[ Grant ]=-

By popular request...more on reloading

From the comments and emails I've been getting, there is a resurgence of interest in reloading. At the price of factory ammunition, I can see why!

I'd like to touch on some things that Jerry brought up in
Monday's comments. Yes, I have rather extensive experience with Lee, Dillon, and Hornady progressives. Frankly, each will produce identical ammunition; properly set up, there is no qualitative difference between the cartridges that come off any of those brands. If someone is having problems with the quality of their ammo, switching press brands is quite unlikely to help!

The primary difference among press makers comes in the ease of operation and long-term durability. In my experience, Lee presses require a somewhat higher level of mechanical aptitude to run (and keep running.) They also have a higher percentage of wear-related parts replacement, though to be fair every press has certain pieces that need replacement at regular intervals. It's just that Lee's tend to be more integral to the operation, and have slightly shorter life spans.

Again, a Lee will produce fine ammo - you'll just have to "fiddle" a little more to get it to do so. (Jerry, don't lose hope - bottleneck pistol cartridges like the .357 SIG are notoriously difficult to reload, no matter what press you use!)

Jerry also asked about dies. In carbide pistol dies, I like RCBS, Lee, and Dillon, in roughly that order. Lyman and Redding carbide pistol dies are fine, in a single stage press. The problem with them is that their carbide sizing rings have a very small chamfer at the edge of entry. When operating a progressive press the larger, rounded chamfer of RCBS, Lee, and Dillon dies results in much smoother case entry into the die.

This does have a downside - the larger the edge radius, the further up from the cartridge base the case is sized. That means that the bottom of the case doesn't get sized as much, which can cause feeding problems in autoloading pistols. Dillons are by far the most radiused, which is why I place them at the last of my "preferred" list. Lee and RCBS, in my opinion, have a much more "balanced" approach between feeding and sizing. (The Dillon dies, however, have the very best decapping pin arrangement and Lee the worst. I guess you just can't have your cake and eat it too!)

The only pistol dies I don't like are Hornady's. Their TiN coating, while hard enough for the task, isn't as polished as the carbide rings the others use. Their dies require more pressure on the press handle, and are noticeably less smooth. In fact, the only die I've ever had that scratched cases - gouged them, actually - was a .38/.357 Hornady TiN sizing die. (Hornady's bullet seating die, in contrast, is the very best I've used. This goes to show that no one - and I mean
no one - does everything right!)

In rifle dies, all seem to produce accurately sized cases. However, there is a big difference in the internal finish. Redding dies, not surprisingly, are the best - very smooth, very consistent, very nicely made. The RCBS dies are good as well, but some of the Lee dies I've tried have been a little rougher than I would like. I haven't had a scratched case with a Lee die, but handle effort seems higher than the others. They certainly work well enough that I don't feel a burning need to replace those that I have, but when I buy new dies I'll stick with Redding and RCBS.

One of the nice things about RCBS rifle dies is their decapping pin arrangement. Hornady makes a carbide sizing button to replace the stock steel button on the RCBS decapping rod, which makes internal neck lube unnecessary.

(Why not just use Hornady rifle dies? Their decapping pin arrangement stinks. The only brand better than RCBS in that regard is Redding - who make their own carbide buttons. See why my rifle die preferences are RCBS and Redding?)

-=[ Grant ]=-

A bit of reloading gear discussion

I recently received an email wherein the author took me to task for recommending the
Hornady Lock-N-Load AP as the tool for the 'serious' reloader. His claim was that 'serious' reloaders always use Dillon, and nothing but.

Sorry to have to disagree.

My definition of 'serious' is the ballistic experimenter, not the appliance operator. Someone who reloads for a number of both pistol and rifle calibers and does a lot of load experimentation (different bullets, powders, cases, and primers) is, in my mind, far more 'serious' than the person who simply constructs a single caliber/bullet/powder charge. Yes, I'll grant you that it's arbitrary, but it is (after all) my prerogative to do so!

For the person who fits my definition of serious, the Hornady press remains the progressive tool to beat. (Of course such a person also needs at least one single stage press, preferably a Hornady that takes the same LnL die holders.)

Allow me to illustrate. I've become (belatedly, perhaps) a fan of the .30 WCF cartridge, also know as the "thirty-thirty." (My odyssey from high-speed, pointy-bullet cartridges to the pudgy .30-30 is a story in itself. I promise to recount it sometime soon.) Aside from developing the "perfect" 170 grain hunting load, I've also been working up a very light load.

This project is to give me a 100-yard load to use against animals intent on raiding our henhouse (amongst other things.) This load needs to be accurate, effective enough to kill a coyote-size animal at 100 yards, low recoil, usable in a repeating rifle, and QUIET. (Not that I have neighbors that are looking in the windows, but I like to be considerate. Besides, if I have to get up in the middle of the night to dispatch an unruly varmint intent on dining at
Che Chicken, I don't want to cause my ears to ring for the next 12 hours!)

When I conceived of this project I consulted Ed Harris, whose knowledge of such loads is perhaps unparalleled. He suggested an oversized, dead-soft lead bullet over a small quantity of fast-burning pistol powder. The current long-term test is of a 115 grain flat-point lead bullet of about 5 BHN hardness, sized to .311", over 4.1 grains of Alliant Red Dot powder. This gives me a load that is just under supersonic at the muzzle, and from a 24" barrel about as loud as one of the hyper-velocity .22LR cartridges.

Once the load passes final testing, I plan to make a whole pile of 'em.

The Lock-N-Load system has proven to be a real time saver in developing this load. The quick-change dies in the single-stage press make it much easier to put together 5 or 10 at a time for testing; when the load is settled, I'll just stick those dies (already adjusted and ready to go) into the progressive AP and crank out ammo! Nothing is as flexible, and when you're doing things that are somewhat out of the ordinary you need that kind of flexibility.

Enough about presses. In this project I needed to bell the mouths of the .30-30 cases ever so slightly, so that the very soft slug could be seated without shaving. Ever tried to buy a .30 caliber mouth flaring die?

After searching I found the answer: the
Lee Universal Case Expanding Die. It has a couple of interchangeable flaring spuds, one for small caliber and one for large, which go inside of the die body which is then topped with a threaded adjuster. You simply turn the knurled adjuster knob for the precise amount of flare you need - and you can vary it in incredibly small increments. Frankly, I wish I'd found this thing years ago - it would have saved me tons of time and effort.

Of course, mounted in a Hornady LnL bushing I can pop it into any press setup as needed, so I don't have to buy a dozen of the things!

Lee comes under fire on the internet forums for being the low-cost gear supplier, but they have a lot of products that are both well made and absolutely unique. The Universal Case Expanding Die is one of them, and every serious reloader needs one on his or her reloading bench.

(Ooops, there goes that word again...!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

The "Holster of the Week" Club

Last week I promised a story. I heard this from "the horse's mouth", and if you knew this particular horse the story would not surprise you...

Anyhow, I happen to know a fellow (I'll call him "Ted") who, back in the '70s
, was a Detective in a very large eastern police department. He had just been promoted from patrol, which meant that for the first time in his career he got to dress in plainclothes.

Ted and his more experienced partner were headed to lunch one day. They worked in a not terribly good part of town, and picked a restaurant in the vicinity of their last call. They pulled up in front of the restaurant, just behind a taxicab.

As they were exiting their unmarked vehicle a male climbed out of the cab ahead of them. He drew what Ted described as "a chrome-plated automatic", and started firing at another person who was still in the back seat of the cab.

(Allow me to digress as I explain that Ted, taking advantage of his now much looser dress requirements, had taken to wearing all manner of holsters. He alternated between a shoulder holster, crossdraw, strong side hip, appendix, and even ankle. He made the decision about which one to wear almost on a whim each morning. I'm sure you're beginning to see where this is going.)

Ted, who was exiting on the curb side of the vehicle, was in direct line of sight of the suspect. Being the gung-ho young cop that he was, he yelled "police, freeze!" as he reached for his gun. The perp turned toward the source of the command, and seeing two witnesses in suits raised his pistol in their direction and started firing.

Here's where the story gets interesting: Ted habitually reached for the spot where his uniform belt had always placed his gun. Of course, it wasn't there! I wish I could convey the level of comical panic that he did, but the gist is that he started patting himself all over, trying to find his gun while at the same time diving for cover behind his car door. "I couldn't remember where my gun was," he exclaimed to me. "I suddenly had the horrible thought that maybe I'd left it on my dresser!"

In the meantime his older and wiser partner simply drew his "snubby" revolver from the crossdraw holster he always used, and proceeded to drop said perp in his tracks. Ted found his gun just in time to help clean up the mess.

Ted told me that this incident convinced him to carry his gun in the same holster and in the same place every day. His advice to me was that I should do likewise - and I always do.

A firefight, gentle readers, is not the time to try to remember where you put your gun, or where your bullets are landing relative to your sights. Standardize on your load and your holster, and practice regularly so that you can quickly draw and reliably put your shots where they need to go!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 9

(For convenience, you can access all the installments at this link.)

Stick with what works

You've all heard of the "Gun of the Week" club, right? That's the term used to describe an "enthusiast", the guy (gals are too smart to engage in such nonsense) who carries or competes with a different gun every time he goes out. (Closely related is the "Holster of the Week" club. I'll post an amusing story about that, soon.)

There is also the "Bullet of the Week" club. Some folks read the gun magazines assiduously, loading up with the latest and greatest "stopper" from the current issue. The next issue (or possibly a competing magazine) tells them about yet another new bullet, and off to their gunstore’s ammo shelves they go!

There are problems with this approach. Aside from the fact that one is unlikely to see any major performance differences between modern designs from major makers, there is a reliability issue. If you're shooting an autoloader (an affliction which elicits my sincere sympathies), you need to fire a minimum number of rounds - some say as many as 200 - of your chosen ammunition to ensure reliability. That's a lot of ammunition to buy and shoot every time you change loads!

Even with a revolver, you should shoot a some of that ammo to ensure ignition reliability in your gun, especially if you've had action work performed.

The other issue is with the sights on your gun. Fixed sights, as featured on both revolvers and autos, will not shoot all ammunition to the same point of aim, necessitating on-the-fly windage or elevation corrections. Trying to remember whether this week's ammunition choice shoots up or down, right or left, relative to the sights is hard enough. Imagine trying to do that with someone lobbing rounds into your personal airspace!

If you have fixed sights, you should regulate them to match the load you'll be using - then use that load, and only that load, for "serious" use in that gun. If for some reason you change the standard load for that gun, have the sights adjusted to shoot to point-of-aim for that load.

That's why I say "stick with what works." Pick a decent load that proves itself to be reliable in your gun, have the sights regulated properly, and just use it. Constantly switching between different bullets gains you nothing, and may in fact cost you in a dynamic self-defense incident. Pick one load, practice with it, and use only that bullet in that particular gun.

I go even further - I've standardized on one load for all my .38/.357 guns, and I've regulated all of them to shoot that load. That way, I don't have to maintain a huge stock of ammunition to fit a bunch of different guns.

I think this finally does it for the "Self defense, stopping power, and caliber" series. I'm just about "talked out"! I hope that it has given you some insight into the task of selecting a gun/cartridge for your self defense needs.

Stay safe, make sensible choices, and practice. It's all you can do - but, as it happens, all you can do is enough!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 8

(For convenience, you can access all the installments
at this link.)

"So, smarty pants - what caliber should I get?"

I receive many emails asking, in essence, what the "best" self-defense caliber might be. (Those emails, in fact, have served as the motivation behind this series.) The correspondents are probably expecting sage advice, the wisdom of years, a sort of Ballistic Oracle. What they get is a non-committal "it depends!"

If you take nothing else from this series, take this: there is no such thing as "best" - there is only "suitability for purpose."

Why is that? As we learned in the first parts, there is a pretty large envelope - caliber, weight, and velocity - of performance criteria that have shown themselves to work well. Thus, any cartridge you select within that envelope is likely to do the job, as long as you do yours.

That's the most important part: that the gun in question enables you to do your job. It is the first place you should start. You need to be honest with yourself, accurately assess what you can and cannot handle. Remember that a self-defense scenario often will call for multiple, rapid, precisely-placed shots. Can you do that with the guns that you're considering?
Really? Be honest with yourself!

I see many people who are talked into a gun that is touted as a "better stopper", but who are unable to handle it to the standards given above. Most of this is technique, and technique can be learned, but everyone has some upper limit. Remember: only accurate hits count, and you should strive to maximize your hit potential. As we've explored, power is irrelevant if it doesn't get to something important!

Once you've passed that hurdle, the choices almost make themselves. In any given cartridge, if you pick a hollowpoint load in the middle of the caliber's normal weight range, you'll generally have most of what you need. There are exceptions, of course: at the lowest ends of the energy spectrum (say, standard .38 Specials) penetration becomes an issue, so you should tend to the heavier rounds. At the other end (the heavy magnums), the more powerful loads often need lighter bullets to limit penetration and enhance expansion.

For everything else, stay away from the lightest and heaviest bullets, pick a decent hollowpoint, and you'll most likely be just fine.

The most important part of this whole selection process is to practice with the load that you've chosen. If the cartridge/gun combination is "too much" for you to do so, that's a sign that you need to pick something else. You need to practice with your safety/rescue equipment, and if you can't or don't want to, then you will be less prepared to face a deadly encounter. The old trick of practicing with Specials while carrying Magnums on the street has been thoroughly discredited, because it doesn't allow the user to get used to the dramatic difference in handling between the two.

(This isn't to say that you have to do all your training this way; I do a lot of work with light loads when I'm diagnosing a trigger control issue, or to help develop a specific skill. When I've got them down, though, I switch to my carry load and train extensively with that.)

So, what do I carry? Most of the time, I load up the trusted and proven .38 Special +P 158 grain all lead semi-wadcutter hollowpoint. I've spoken with many people who have actually used this load against an adversary, and to a person they were all very satisfied with the ballistic effect. Massad Ayoob tells me that his research showed police agencies who switched from that load to hot autoloading cartridges did so not to get "better" bullets, but to get "more bullets." I'm confident in it's abilities, and in my ability to handle the cartridge from any gun under any conditions.

This is a conscious tradeoff. For instance, I really like the .44 Special. It's a great round, but in a concealable gun I just don't handle it as well as other calibers. In fact, a hot .357 Magnum from a Ruger SP101 is easier for me to control than a .44 Special from a small gun, and I consider the Magnum to be too much for delivering multiple, rapid, combat-accurate hits on target. I like the .357 too, but I have to admit to myself that if I want to shoot as efficiently as possible, it’s not the wise choice.

I've picked the most effective round that falls within my personal limitations and practice with it extensively. I think that is the most rational way to approach this whole topic!

Next time, we'll explore some less obvious considerations when picking your "ideal" self defense cartridge.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Series index: "Self defense, stopping power, and caliber"

Here's the whole series for your perusal!

Part 1: Introducing the Twin Tasks.
Part 2: If it doesn't get somewhere, it can't do something.
Part 3: Once it gets there, it has to do work.
Part 4: The bullet is more important than the caliber.
Part 5: More energy can be a good thing - as long as it actually does something useful.
Part 6: What would I want with a reputation?
Part 7: There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet.
Part 8: "So, smarty pants - what gun should I get?"
Part 9: Stick with what works.

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 7

(For convenience, you can access all the installments
at this link.)

There Is No Such Thing as a Magic Bullet

What does that mean, you ask?

One of the last bastions of the snake oil salesman is in the field of ammunition promotion. Claims that would make Professor Harold Hill blush are the norm, and are repeated in gunstores, shooting ranges, and deer camps across the country. They sometimes even make their way into magazines and the internet - though the latter's instant exchange of information has helped to quell the worst of the hyperbole.

Still, many hold on to their belief in "magic bullets" hoping that there really exists something that will transform their .25ACP into an elephant killer. (I exaggerate, of course, but one ammo maker used to claim that their product for the little .25 had the same "one shot stop" percentage as a .45. That, my friends, is a true belief in magic.)

Like many fables, the legend of the Magic Bullet has its roots in reality. As Arthur C. Clarke said, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." In the bullet world, that advanced technology is the hollowpoint bullet.

The hollowpoint, as we've learned, is a good mechanism to control the penetration and wound profile of any given cartridge. Sometimes, it can work what seems like a miracle - transforming an otherwise unremarkable cartridge into a respectable "stopper."

One of the best examples of this is the .30 M1 Carbine cartridge. Many servicemen had experience with the little Carbine in World War II and Korea, and they either loved it or hated it. Those that hated it often complained about a lack of "stopping power" - enemies who were hit often didn't go down with alacrity. (Some even claimed that the rounds "bounced off" the heavy wool coats worn by the opposition. That wasn't true, and was easily shown as such, but when someone is running toward you screaming his head off a lack of convincing ballistic effect makes the distinction unimportant.)

The .30 Carbine, as it turns out, is a penetrator. Its sleek bullet usually went straight through the target, making a quick-closing wound and doing little damage along the way. (Sound familiar?) After the war, one of the ammo makers got the bright idea of stuffing a semi-jacketed hollowpoint into the casing. When they did that, the entire complexion of the carbine changed.

The penetration was now more controlled, and the expanded bullet had a much larger frontal area that did more damage along its path. So changed was the round that Jim Cirillo, the famous member of the New York Stakeout Squad, proclaimed it one of the two most effective weapons in their entire arsenal - the other being the formidable 12 gauge shotgun. High praise indeed!

He wasn't the only one who made note of the "enhanced" Carbine. The late Gene Wolburg, wound ballistics expert and one of the most knowledgeable people in the field, once said that his home defense weapon of choice was the M1 Carbine loaded with that semi-jacketed hollowpoint.

It may have seemed like magic to the servicemen who had bad experiences with the round, but the effect of the hollowpoint loading was simple physics. It did its job better - it just happened to be a lot better.

A "magic bullet", in contrast, appears to violate the laws of physics, or so skews its sales copy that you think it does. For instance, magic bullet purveyors play up the "energy" of their load, to the exclusion of everything else.

Energy is the result of multiplying the mass of the projectile by the square of it's velocity. Without boring you with the math, what that means is that a small change in velocity makes a big change in the energy of the projectile. In other words, if you drop the projectile weight you can up the velocity, which will make a big increase in energy figures. Sounds great, right?

As we've already studied, energy isn't everything. A light projectile might be moving very quickly, but when it contacts solid matter it loses velocity quickly. That translates into shallow wounds. (Remember the last installment, where we looked at the .357 Magnum? Same thing, only worse.) A projectile needs weight as well as velocity in order to penetrate well, and if you sacrifice enough weight for more speed, you'll fail at the First Task: reaching something important.

Exotic bullets that claim to do something others can't should set off your B.S. detector. Any cartridge that proclaims a "massive energy dump" as the wounding mechanism or pushes velocity over everything else is probably vying for a magic bullet award. Personally, I'm not going to trust my life to that kind of ammo!

What I'm getting at (and have been for this entire series) is that there is nothing mysterious, nothing magical about the way a bullet works. It has to get to something important, and it has to do rapid and significant damage when it gets there. That's it. Any claims that seem to skate around the topic should be looked at with great skepticism, for there is truly no such thing as a "magic bullet."

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-


Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently turned 50. What's DARPA, you ask? Well, it is the agency that invented the network upon which you are reading this missive.

DARPA was founded to do fundamental, high-risk research into science and technology that could be used for military purposes. Today that sounds ominous and vaguely sinister, but in the 1950s it was exciting and patriotic.

One of their projects was called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), intended as a way for DARPA staffers and researchers to disseminate information and share computing resources. It introduced email, file transfers, and even voice protocols into common use, all made possible through the magic of packet switching - another DARPA innovation. This groundbreaking computer network would, with their guidance, evolve into what we now call the internet.

(Funny, isn't it - the internet upon which you can read anti-military and anti-American rants until your eyes launch themselves from their sockets is the product of an American military project. Euro-weenies will no doubt point out that the World Wide Web was the invention of an Englishman working at a Swiss lab, but his contribution - important as it is - was simply a way of easing access to information on the already vast internet. His work would not even have been necessary had it not been for DARPA.)

The computer network wasn't DARPA's only development, of course - the magnificent Saturn V rocket and the computer mouse both came from the think tanks at the agency. How's that for a wide ranging legacy?

Happy Birthday, DARPA - keep up the good work!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 6

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

"What would I want with a reputation? That's a good way to get yourself killed!" - Jason McCullough, "Support Your Local Sheriff" (my favorite movie of all time!)

What about "reputation"? Some cartridges or loadings have reputations for better effectiveness than others. Sometimes that's valid, but other times it may not be.

Let's take the mighty .357 Magnum, one of my favorite cartridges. The 125 grain semi-jacketed hollowpoint loads have the reputation of being superbly effective; some believe that they are the "best" manstoppers ever made. I've talked with people who have actually used them in real shootings, and they were generally very happy with the performance.

But there are also instances of stupendous failures. For those who hold that energy is everything, this may come as a shock. How could all that power possibly fail? Simple - if it doesn't do both of the Twin Tasks!

Let's consider what happens with the 125 grain Magnum loads. Leaving the barrel at nearly 1500 feet per second, the bullet enters the target with a huge reserve of energy. As the hollowpoint fills with fluid and starts to expand it uses up some of that energy to grow dramatically in diameter. The increase in diameter means more resistance in the tissues, which uses more energy and further slows the bullet. Because the relatively light weight of the slug doesn't have great momentum, and thus not a lot of stored energy, it doesn't travel very far before it finally runs out of steam. The result can be a shallow wound - one which doesn't reach something the body finds important.

This is the "ugly secret" that proponents of the .357 125 grain JHP don't want to talk about. Shallow wound profiles with these "barn burner" loads are not unheard of, and occasionally prove to not be as effective as expected. As one noted trainer once told me, when they work they’re superb - but when they fail, they fail spectacularly!

Suppose you've decided that you'd prefer something a bit more predictable, but want to retain the performance level of the round - what’s the solution? Simply go to a slightly heavier bullet, one which carries a tad less velocity and a bit more momentum. Winchester, for instance, has the 145 grain Silvertip bullet, and Speer is now making a 135 grain Gold Dot Magnum load. Both are obviously designed to retain the Magnum's reputation as a fight-ender, but do so on a more consistent basis.

This is a good illustration of the tradeoffs involved in cartridge selection. Speed isn't everything; bullet size isn't everything; bullet weight isn't everything. It's a combination, a concert of all of those (plus good handling qualities as defined by the shooter) that make a round effective. One can't simply say "I've got a Magnum" or "I carry a .45" and smugly claim that one has the "perfect" self defense gun. While it may work, there is always the chance that it may not; handguns, after all, are underpowered things.

Through intelligent selection, you can dramatically improve the performance envelope of your chosen gun, regardless of the cartridge it shoots.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

FRIDAY SURPRISE: To boldly go...

When I was a wee lad, America was at the forefront of space exploration. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, we'd recovered from the shock of the Soviets beating us into space, and had responded in a big way with Gemini and Apollo programs.

In those days, our grade school classes would literally come to a halt as we gathered around a television set to watch a liftoff or a splashdown. The mighty Saturn V rockets - spewing a fireball that remains unequalled for sheer excitement - would take our astronauts into space for yet another thrilling mission. Landing men on the moon was our crowning achievement, watched by just about everyone in the country.

Space flights were national events on a scale that I haven't seen since - and probably never will again. The SuperBowl and American Idol Finals may draw larger audiences, but in terms of captivating our collective conscious, of instilling pride in our country and what we were capable of doing, they will ever equal the NASA of the mid 20th century.

NASA has put together a little retrospective of their first 50 years, using photos that have rarely been seen publicly. If you are a child of the '50s or '60s, this will bring back stirring memories of what we briefly referred to as Cape Kennedy.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 5

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

More energy can be a good thing - as long as it actually does something useful.

Last time we discussed the concept of the hollowpoint as a way to increase the frontal diameter of the bullet in the target. I also introduced the idea that it takes energy to expand the bullet, energy that is also needed to push the projectile into something that it needs to reach.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want the bullet to expand, it doesn't happen by magic. Somewhere the energy has to be found to deform the metal used in the bullet, and that energy can only be found in the bullet's own movement. If there is too little to start with, there won't be enough to carry the bullet on its path.

If the cartridge has insufficient energy the expanding bullet will stop forward movement too rapidly, resulting in very shallow wounds that may or may not be effective. This tends to explain the lack of expanding bullets for the venerable .38 Special cartridge - there just isn't enough energy to drive a bullet deeply into the target
and expand it at the same time.

How do we get around this problem? Well, the first alternative is to simply switch to a cartridge with more energy. In the case of the .38, we could bump up to the .357 Magnum. The .357 certainly has enough energy! Of course, that energy reserve comes at a price: greatly increased recoil and muzzle blast, which reduce the shooter’s ability to deliver multiple combat-accurate shots.

The other alternative is to make a higher energy version of the cartridge we already have. This time-tested approach results in what's know as "+P" ammunition, which is the designation for a cartridge loaded beyond what is considered "normal" pressure. The idea is to increase the energy delivery of that cartridge to accomplish a specific task. Generally, it works pretty well!

You'll see criticisms on the internet of some +P loadings, usually centered on the idea that "it's not much of an increase in power." If you consider what we've explored in this series so far, you'll realize that it doesn't have to be a "lot" - it just has to be "enough"! If a cartridge at normal pressure can't quite deliver an expanding bullet to where it needs to, but a +P version does, then that is sufficient for the task at hand.

Remember: if the energy doesn't do something useful, then it is wasted from our perspective.

Get away from the idea that you need vast increases in power for defensive applications. You simply need
enough power to perform the Twin Tasks. Is it better to have a large reserve amount of energy on tap? That's a question that only you can answer, after being honest about your own abilities and needs. Everything comes at a price and needs to be considered relative to the goal at hand.

In the next installment we'll bring together the things we've discussed, and look at the tradeoffs you need to consider to pick your "ideal" self defense cartridge.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 4

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

The bullet is more important than the caliber.

We know that our bullet needs to do damage to whatever important thing it manages to find. How, exactly, is that going to occur? It just so happens that most animal tissue (including that of the violent felon who has just attacked you) is remarkably elastic, and consequently difficult to damage. Most tissues have a tendency to "close up" around puncture wounds, in the same way that they close up after a hypodermic needle withdraws. If they didn't, every time our doctor gave us an injection we’d spring a leak!

The upshot (pardon the pun) of this is that our bullet needs to die-cut or crush the tissues in its path rather than sliding cleanly through. The reputation of the old .38 Special 158 grain round nose bullet as a "widow maker" was well deserved, as it often went in one side and out the other with very little blood loss. That smooth, aerodynamic profile travels through water-filled tissue about as cleanly as through air, for all the same reasons. It neatly parts that tissue in a way that facilitates immediate closure and minimal blood loss. In our self-defense scenario, that's what's known as "A Bad Thing."

In fact, round nose (or "ball") ammunition is an unremarkable performer in just about any caliber; "they all fall to hardball" is right up there with "the check is in the mail" for statements you should never believe, no matter how authoritatively (read: arrogantly) delivered.

If we can get a bullet to cut or crush a non-closing hole in the target, we stand a better chance of doing the kind of work necessary to cause that target to stop in its tracks.

The amount of disruption that a handgun bullet delivers to the target is dependent on its shape/construction and on the overall diameter (caliber.) A shape that encourages efficient travel through the target is to be avoided; a shape that is non-aerodynamic will generally produce the kind of result that we seek. All other things being equal, flat-faced bullets usually beat pointy bullets.

(Personally, I pay more attention to bullet construction than caliber. Hunting and shooting experience, plus a lot of research with those more knowledgeable in the field of wound ballistics, has convinced me that there is more variation in effectiveness within calibers than between them. In other words, you're more likely to see performance differences by changing your bullet type, rather than changing calibers. )

This isn't news to any old-timers out there! Hunters in bygone days were always told to use flat-pointed bullets over round-nosed varieties, because they delivered more "shock" to the quarry. That was their non-scientific way of explaining why the bullets obviously performed differently, and what they lacked in technical understanding was more than compensated by their acute observations.

Of course there just isn't a free lunch; those flat bullets don't usually work in autoloading actions, and they make speed reloading of a revolver more difficult. There is an answer: the expanding bullet. We can actually enhance the terminal results by using a bullet (usually a hollowpoint of some sort) that grows in diameter as it goes through the target.

A hollowpoint bullet works because, as it enters the target, it expands to a greater-than-caliber frontal diameter and assumes a very flat-faced shape. This means that the bullet can crush a much larger hole than normally possible for the caliber, ensuring the kind of target damage necessary to complete the task at hand.

There are, of course, issues in making these things perform as desired: first, the work of deforming the bullet takes energy. This energy can only be come from the bullet itself, which means there is that much less available to enable the bullet to continue its travel. Second, the resulting increase in drag from that wide face also uses energy at a tremendous rate, and thus also drastically limits penetration. Because of these factors, shallow wounds from hollowpoint bullets are not at all unheard of, both in hunting and in self defense.

The solution is to a) use a different cartridge that has enough energy to spare to begin with, or b) increase the energy of the existing cartridge. We'll tackle those issues next time!

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 3

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

Once it gets there, it has to do work.

In today's installment, we're going to look at the second of the Twin Tasks:

2) The bullet has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

It may not be self evident, but kinetic (moving) energy is either used or conserved (stored.) In the case of a bullet, it starts being used simply by fighting the friction caused by traveling through the air. Unless it encounters a target, the bullet will use all of its energy in flight and gravity will pull it to the ground. We're interested in using that energy for lawful purposes before it's wasted in the atmosphere!

I usually refer to the second Task as "doing work", because that's exactly what is expected of the bullet. From the perspective of the target, the kinetic energy in a bullet can only do one of two things: it can be used to do work, or it can be wasted beyond the target.

(There is no such thing as an "energy dump" in a target, no matter how many times you see that nonsensical term. The energy does some sort of work, whether doing damage to tissue or pushing the bullet through the air. The bullet may use up all of the energy available, and stop inside the target, but it doesn't "dump" anything. The energy in such an event is depleted in expansion/deformation and in forward movement, both of which are work. Whether or not the work performed was useful to the goal depends on what it encountered along the way, which brings us back to the First Task.)

As the bullet traverses the target, its energy is used to push it through material more dense than the air it previously encountered. The amount of energy used in this endeavor is dependent upon the shape of the bullet; the more streamlined the projectile, the smaller the frontal profile, the less energy is expended in pushing it through the target. Conversely, the "flatter" the bullet profile, the more energy is necessary to move it through.

Think of a rowboat paddle - easy to move through the water edge first, much harder face first. If the bullet expands in the target, some of the energy is used to deform the bullet itself, and the rest is used to push the much larger, flatter profile through the target. In some cases, it uses up all its energy trying to get through the target and never makes it out the other side. This is why, as we touched on in Part 2, penetration can be controlled through the use of an expanding bullet.

At some point, we hope that the bullet finds something that the body deems immediately necessary for function - and disrupts that functioning. That item could be structural (skeletal) - where disruption causes collapse; It could be electrical, where interruption of signals causes instantaneous nervous system malfunction; or it could be vascular (plumbing), where large leaks cause a loss of pressure that eventually results in unconsciousness.

Whichever system is compromised, the bullet needs to use some of its energy to do the necessary work of disruption. This is why I say that the bullet has to do rapid and significant damage to something when it arrives; if it gets there, but has so little energy left that it is incapable of inflicting necessary damage, then it is nearly as if it had not gotten there to begin with.

(This is not to suggest that the bullet's wound in such a case is benign or trivial! Remember, we have a task for that bullet to accomplish; if it doesn't do so in the necessary time frame, then it is useless to us. The classic example is the attacker shot with a .22 but still able to complete his assault. He might die of peritonitis a few days later, proving that the wound is not unimportant. However, it didn't complete our goal of stopping the criminal before he could harm an innocent, making it irrelevant to our situation. Keep the goal in mind!)

Now that we understand the Twin Tasks, we'll take a look at the mechanisms by which all this might be accomplished. Until next time!

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber, Part 2

(For convenience, you can access all the installments of this series
at this link.)

If it doesn't get somewhere, it can't do something.

OK, so we know about the Twin Tasks, the two things that a bullet has to do in order to stop an attacker:

1) It has to get to something the body finds immediately important, and
2) It has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

Today we'll be taking a look at Task #1: getting to something important.

Let's start by pointing out that the user of the bullet must be capable of putting it on a course that will lead it to something important. If the cartridge in question presents too much of a challenge for the shooter to handle with the requisite accuracy, it doesn't make any difference how "good" the cartridge is! Since a single shot is unlikely to incapacitate an attacker, a shooter needs to be able to control their gun for multiple, combat-accurate shots.

This is only given lip service by trainers and enthusiasts; they'll repeat the mantra "a hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45", then in the same breath give some arbitrary limit on "acceptable" calibers for self defense. Folks, there are people in this world who do not wish to, or simply cannot, practice to become proficient with a "correct" caliber. When the time comes that they need the weapon, wouldn't it be better that they possess a bullet that they can send where it really needs to go? Of course!

Step One, then, is pick a cartridge that is within your ability to control for random strings of fire - two, three, four rounds at a time.

Once the bullet is in the air, it has to negotiate all obstacles to reach a vital organ of some sort. This requires that it get through any outer shell (clothing), past the skin (which is a lot tougher than you might believe), and alternating layers of bone and muscle. It has to have what's known as 'penetration'.

Penetration is dependent on several things: the weight of the bullet, the diameter (caliber), the velocity, and the shape. If we were to take two bullets of different weight, but of the same caliber and shape and traveling at the same velocity, the heavier one would penetrate further. We can do the same comparison for any of the factors, as long as the others remain the same. If we had two bullets of different shapes - a round nose and a wadcutter - with everything else the same, the more streamlined bullet (the round nose) would penetrate further. Simple, right?

When we look at expanding (softnose or hollowpoint) bullets, which increase their diameter at some point in the target, the situation changes. The increased frontal are of the expanded bullet acts like a parachute, slowing it more rapidly and reducing penetration. Sometimes penetration can be reduced so much that the bullet will not reach anything important, and we're back to that unreliable psychological incapacitation thing again.

Remember that too much penetration can be as bad as too little. Having a bullet that sails through the target without doing much work, or (worse) encounters another (possibly) innocent target beyond, is not a good thing. Hence it behooves us to have a bullet which demonstrates sufficient penetration, but not an excessive amount.

It's not uncommon to find a cartridge that, when loaded with streamlined, roundnosed bullets, goes through multiple targets - but when loaded with expanding bullets stops inside the desired one. As it turns out, this behavior has major benefits in terms of terminal effects, which we'll cover next time.

<--- Click here for the previous episode ..................... Click here for the next episode --->

-=[ Grant ]=-

Self defense, stopping power, and caliber

I've gotten a bunch of emails recently regarding the choice of an appropriate self-defense handgun caliber and/or bullet. Around this one topic swirls more misinformation - and outright inanity - than any other I can think of. And now, here's mine!

What follows is a layman's understanding, backed by research of available literature and years of hunting and shooting experience, of the practical mechanics of wound ballistics. It is not intended to be a complete and exhaustive study of the subject. Instead, I hope to give my readers - who are, in all likelihood, laypersons themselves - a solid base of information to help make good decisions when choosing self defense ammunition.

Let's start by understanding that in a self-defense scenario our goal is simply to cause the perpetrator of a crime to cease immediately his/her antisocial activities. That's it - we want the miscreant to quit doing whatever it was that caused us to draw our gun in the first place. The closer to "immediately" that this occurs, the better for all concerned.

There are two mechanisms by which this can be accomplished: psychological incapacitation and physical incapacitation.

The first - psychological incapacitation - is the least predictable of the two. Some people will stop and run when grazed by a well-thrown rock, others will soak up all manner of chemical, electrical, and physical deterrents without so much as flinching. Since it's all in the mind, and minds vary significantly (especially when intoxicated in some form), we cannot count on delivering a reliable jolt to a criminal's psyche. We must instead focus on doing enough physical damage to cause cessation of action through reduction of motor skills.

On this subject has been constructed all manner of measures, each attempting to quantify the unquantifiable: "One shot stops." "Knockout index." "Wound channel volume." There are more, and none of them ever seem to agree (at least most of the time) on what actually works.

Well, folks, hunters have known something for a very long time, and it has been proven in the field again and again: to reliably put the brakes on a living entity, a bullet must do what I call The
Twin Tasks.

1) It has to get to something the body finds immediately important, and
2) It has to do rapid and significant damage to that thing when it arrives.

That's it. Either, by itself, simply won't deliver the results we seek (at least, not in the physical sense.) If the projectile fails at either of these tasks, any success that occurs is in fact a product of psychological incapacitation, which we already know to be both unpredictable and unreliable.

Keep in mind that as the bullet traverses the target, it may repeat the Tasks; in other words, it may encounter more than one thing the body finds important. The more times that it does, and then completes the second Task, the faster the incapacitation is likely to occur. (Note that I didn't say "will", only "likely to". Handgun rounds are underpowered things, and with them nothing is ever certain.)

Within certain limits, it doesn't really matter what the caliber is or what the bullet is made of or how fast it travels, as long as it does
both of the Tasks. That's why there seems to be such a wide range of calibers, weights and velocities that have shown "good" results in self defense shootings, and why arguments about "stopping power" rage on the gun forums: there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat.

Remember, as long as both Tasks are accomplished, the envelope of "how" they are is large enough to encompass a variety of approaches.

The reason that the "heavy and slow" and "light and fast" bullet camps exist is because, generally, their choices just happen do both of those Tasks on a fairly regular basis. Arguing about which is the "better" approach is really quite silly, because when they work it's because they did both Tasks, regardless of the actual mechanism; when they fail, it is simply because they didn't do one (or both) of the Tasks, again regardless of their physical attributes.

It's at this point that someone invariably chimes in "but my cousin is engaged to a girl whose brother-in-law heard about a guy who saw someone shot fifteen times with a 9mm, and the victim was still able to walk into a French restaurant, order a 5-course meal, eat, chat with the sommelier, and stiff the waiter before finally collapsing on the sidewalk while waiting for his cab! That's why I carry a .467 Loudenboomer Ultra Grande - if it hits them in the pinky the hydrostatic shock wave will knock them down!"

I'm exaggerating, you understand, but if you regularly haunt the gun forums you'll recognize that it isn't all that far off.

Yes, small caliber bullets fail. Guess what? Large caliber bullets fail, too. As someone once told me, "put on your big-boy pants and deal with it!"

A good friend gave me a first-hand account of a battle incident wherein a fellow absorbed several solid torso hits and was still able to jump from his vehicle and cross a road before finally collapsing.

The gun in question? A .50 caliber heavy machine gun. Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes, folks, nothing works.

Our job is to choose those calibers and bullets which seem to do the Two Tasks fairly reliably, and prepare to deal with the times that it just isn't enough. With handgun rounds, those times are more common than the gunshop commandoes would have you believe.

In the next installment, we'll take a layman's look at the physics involved.

Click here to go to the next article --->

Or, you can access the series index
at this link.

-=[ Grant ]=-

A gripping story

So, you've got snazzy new grips on your 'heater'! Have you checked them to make sure that they won't get in the way of the operation of the gun?

It's surprising how many revolver grips, even from respected manufacturers, interfere with the use of speedloaders. Sometimes they even obstruct the ejection of fired cases!

Check your grips with your preferred loaders; make sure that they don't bind or affect the release of the rounds into the chambers. If they do, you can usually take some material off the grips with sandpaper or a sanding drum on a Dremel. If you don't want to go that route, you'll need to look for grips that don't have the problem.

Either way, check speedloader use with your grips - it's an important part of being revolver-savvy!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings

Tam alerts us that today is the "official" birthday of the revolver - courtesy of The Great One, Samuel Colt. (I'm surprised, yet gratified, that she acknowledges someone whose last name is not Browning or Wesson!)


As long as I'm doing the link-love bit, over at Michael Bane's place there is something of a brouhaha regarding his assessment of the new Ruger SR9 pistol.
Read the first part, then read Michael's response. (Be sure to read the comments on each - that's where the fireworks happen.)

One of the commenters has invoked Massad Ayoob's name as some sort of "proof" that Michael's opinions are "wrong." In the interest of full disclosure, I know Mas Ayoob on a personal basis, and I've done work for Bane. I've read their reviews, and what it comes down to is that they are both opinionated people with very definite tastes and preferences in firearms. That they have different points of view with regard to this particular gun is simply evidence that nothing appeals to everyone. I trust them both, and my feeling is that it's sad they couldn't find a new, innovative Ruger
revolver to disagree about!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Ignition troubles

I've gotten a number of inquiries over the past few months regarding ignition troubles in otherwise stock revolvers.

As ammunition prices continue their climb, many enthusiasts find their budgets strained. In order to continue shooting, those who do not reload their own ammo have been looking at less expensive options for feeding their guns. Brands like Fiocchi and Sellier & Bellot ("S&B"), brands that didn't have many takers a couple of years ago, are now being featured at many sporting goods outlets.

For the most part there is nothing wrong, from a quality control standpoint, with this ammunition. It must be remembered, though, that many foreign ammunition companies do not have the range of cartridge components that we do. Since much (if not most) of their production is often military contract, they are known use the same components for their commercial products - said components to include primers.

Military specifications, regardless of country, usually require a certain level of slam-fire resistance, which necessitates heavier primer cups. Those thicker, harder primers can be more difficult to ignite in firearms that expect to see a "civilian" (more sensitive) primer. It's no wonder, then, that ignition problems with Fiocchi and S&B ammunition are being seen; it's not that the ammo is "bad", but rather that the components used are intended for guns with more robust firing systems!

If you're using foreign ammunition, and your stock firearm is proving to be a bit unreliable, don't blame the gun. Try some "normal" (read: American produced) ammo - I'll bet it returns to 100% function.

(You say that using U.S. ammunition will cut into your shooting activities because of the cost? Well, it's time to learn how to reload your own - it's easy, fun, and economical!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Well, isn't that special?

Tam is excited that it's John Browning's birthday.

Personally, I find it difficult to get excited about a guy who never made a revolver....

-=[ Grant ]=-

It's not often someone is willing to admit to doing dumb things

There are times that I feel I'm harping on the safety issue, but with the number of grievous injuries and deaths that occur I don't think it is unwarranted.

The latest, sent to me by an alert reader, is a self-expose (complete with pictures) of a nasty handgun incident. Short version: this fellow, in an attempt to test a recently installed grip safety,
pointed his gun at his leg and pulled the trigger. The sequence of events was predictable. (Warning - the pictures may be graphic for some people.)

Once again, I'm going to place the blame squarely on Traditional Rule #1: "All guns are always loaded", or any variant thereof. He felt free to do something blatantly stupid with his gun, because he was sure that he had unloaded it. Since he was sure that he unloaded it, in his mind the other rules obviously didn't apply. If they did, he wouldn't have pointed it at his leg as he intentionally pulled the trigger!

What bothers me most about this fellow's misfortune isn't that he was injured, but that he still doesn't get why it happened in the first place. He is so clueless about this, in fact, that he cites the classic Four Rules of Firearms Safety, starting with the offending Traditional Rule #1 in his article, and explaining to his readers that they should follow them. This is in fact the wrong thing to do, and is what caused his injuries.

It is my opinion that the more people who follow Traditional Rule #1, the more accidents like his will occur. Again, Traditional Rule #1 leads people to do dumb things with guns, because once they're convinced the gun is unloaded they feel at liberty to ignore the other three. In my opinion, we should instead be teaching people to follow the Three Commandments of Gun Safety religiously:

Never point a gun - any gun, loaded or unloaded - at anything you are not willing to shoot.

Keep your finger out of the triggerguard until you are ready to fire.

Know where your shots will land and what they’ll touch along the way.

Let's look at his accident: he violated the First Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

He then violated the Second Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

Finally, he proceeded to violate the Third Commandment, because he thought the gun was unloaded.

The result? A large emergency room bill. Lots of pain. All because Traditional Rule #1 allowed him to do stupid things with a gun once he was "sure" it was unloaded!

(It is worth noting that the gentleman in question, one Darwin Teague, is on Usenet record as declaring that he would never carry a Glock, as he considers them to be "unsafe." With all due respect, Mr. Teague, if you do stupid things with guns, loaded or not, all the safety features in the world won't stop you from shooting yourself - as you have found out. I wish you luck, as you seem to need it.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Why revolvers?

I got an email the other day, asking in effect "why just revolvers?" I dashed off an answer (with so many emails demanding a response, it's hard to write essays for each one.) I always feel that I haven't done the subject justice, so here is yet more about why I choose the round gun over the flat one.

Why revolvers? Because I like them! I like their lines, their reliability, their accuracy, their power; I like their history, and that they are prototypically "American" firearms. (I like lever action rifles for that same reason.)

I like revolvers because they can be made to fit the hand in a way a slab-sided pistol never can. I like them because of their almost Zen-like operation: the cylinder goes 'round, the gun discharges, and when the operator wishes, the process is repeated. I like them because you can see what's happening; because they are easy to load and unload.

I did not come to these opinions quickly or easily, you understand. When I was a kid, all the other kids wanted a Colt "Peacemaker" and a Winchester '94. Not me - I looked in the Sears catalog (yes, they carried guns when I was a kid) and dreamed of owning a .45 auto and an M1 carbine. I was definitely a contrarian from the start!

It wasn't until my advanced years that the lure of the revolver affected my soul. (Though, as I've related in past posts, it was more of a challenge to my ballistic manhood than an intellectual appreciation. Introspection came later.)

Oh, the best thing about revolvers? They aren't made of plastic!

-=[ Grant ]=-
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