© 2014 Grant Cunningham Click to email me!

What's a SnagMag, you ask?

Hope everyone enjoyed their Labor Day holiday! I labored all weekend, but did take off part of Monday to attend the Oregon State Fair. Not sure it was worth it, however!

Today I'm bringing you a review of a product for autoloaders. Why? Because I occasionally carry an auto, I'm sure most of you do as well, and I'm always looking for ways to make doing so a little easier. I think I've found such a product, one which I didn't even know existed until a couple of months ago.

You may remember that I was recently up at the Firearms Academy of Seattle co-teaching the Advanced Pistol Handling course with Rob Pincus. While there I was introduced to a fellow who makes a very interesting product: the SnagMag, which is a magazine carrier for the pocket. (Disclosure: he gave me a SnagMag to review.)

To be more precise, he handed me a Glock 19 SnagMag. When I got home, however, my wife saw it, grabbed it out of my hands, and I haven’t seen the thing since. Instead of a first-person review, you’ll have to settle for the interview I did with her. That’s actually good, because a) she’s worn the thing every day since she got it, and b) she is a former holster maker who really understands concealment and holster design.

As she points out, it’s actually harder to conceal a spare magazine than the gun itself, because almost no magazine carriers hold their cargo as close to the body as does the gun’s holster. If they do they’re incredibly uncomfortable. She’s made hundreds of magazine carriers over the years, for herself and others, but almost always defaults to carrying her spare magazine in her pocket. As she admits, it’s just easier that way.

Carrying in the pocket, though, means that the magazine wallows around and collects a lot of debris. It’s not always in the same orientation and it’s not always easy to retrieve. The SnagMag is an attempt to address those problems.

The SnagMag is a thermoformed plastic magazine carrier that has a belt clip on the side, much like you’d see on a folding knife. That clip allows the SnagMag to hold a spare magazine suspended in the pocket for both concealment and easy access. The magazine butt ends up right about the level of the pocket so that it’s not easily visible and is held with very light friction.

Photo courtesy of SnagMag

The carrier has a hooked protrusion designed to catch on the inside lip of the pocket, holding the carrier in while allowing the magazine to be drawn out. This takes just a bit of practice, as the magazine needs to be pressed backwards slightly as it’s lifted out of the pocket. I found that it took only a few practice draws to get the movement down; my wife said the same thing. It’s a fairly natural motion that isn’t at all hard to do.

My wife works in an office, and she said that no one — not even a couple of co-workers who are also shooters — has recognized that she’s carrying a spare magazine in plain sight. It looks like she’s carrying a knife in her pocket, which is part of the SnagMag’s appeal. Only another user will look at it and see it for what it is; most people are simply going to think that you have a knife or multitool in there.

This is especially true if you have a single-stack magazine, which I’ve observed just disappears in the pocket. A double stack magazine, like that for her Glock 19, is a little more visible but still not identifiable to the uninitiated. On this score, the SnagMag is a success.

Comfort is a mixed bag. My wife reported that some of the exposed edges are rather sharp, which caused some discomfort and chafing. This is largely due to the width of the double-stack Glock magazine she carries, and partially because women’s pants generally fit tighter than do men’s. In a pair of baggy slacks, she says, you wouldn’t notice it as much, and possibly not at all. In a pair of more fitted pants, and especially with the wider magazines, it definitely becomes an issue.

A few strokes from some medium-grit sandpaper cured the worst of the pain, but the edges are still sharper than they need to be. At the price point for which these sell, I feel the edges should be rounded and burnished. She was a little more charitable, but we both agree that the folks at SnagMag should address the issue.

She also pointed out that with jeans, the longer magazines tended to poke into her thigh when sitting. A shorter magazine, like those for the Glock 26, would be more comfortable (as would a single stack.) With slacks, whose pockets are cut at a slant and where the magazine rides more to the side than the front, the size wasn’t as much an issue.

Photo courtesy of SnagMag

Bottom line: the SnagMag garners her qualified recommendation as a practical, concealable, and useful accessory. The comfort issues can be addressed with careful wardrobe selection and judicious use of some sandpaper, though we both would prefer that the manufacturer pay more attention to the finishing of those edges. Overall, she thinks it’s a great idea and indicates a willingness to buy more models to fit her other magazines.

The SnagMag is available from

-=[ Grant ]=-

Speedloader heaven.

Last February I brought you the news that Bobby McEachern at Bobby Mac's had unearthed some NOS (new old stock) SL Variant speedloaders. Apparently Bobby has had his ear to the ground in Europe, because he now brings us news that the
Variants are back in production!

He's carrying the whole line - 5, 6, and 7 shot - for 'J' through 'N' frame guns. The SL Variant is unique for a couple of reasons: first, the spacing of the rounds can be adjusted to precisely fit the gun you're using, and second because each round is individually spring-propelled into the waiting chamber. They're fast and easy to use.

I've been hoarding my stash of them for the last couple of years, in fear that should I lose or break one I'd never find another. That fear is gone!
Head on over to Bobby's place and check 'em out.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Mil-dots. iPhones. It had to happen.

The Firearm Blog comes news about a new iPhone/iPod Touch app called Mil-Dot Rangefinder which claims to "take the math out of ranging targets.” Intriguing idea.

Sadly I have no mil-dot scopes in my inventory; several scopes with rangefinding reticles, but no mil-dots. This app is therefore useless for me, but looks pretty neat and will probably be of great value to those who do have appropriate optics.

I must admit that I feel my inner Luddite surfacing when considering things such as these. A huge benefit of the mil-dot is to allow rangefinding in the scope, without having to use externally powered systems or devices. Will the shooter become as familiar with his equipment as his technologically backward counterpart? What happens if he leaves his iPhone at home, or if the battery dies?

Not that I'm throwing stones, as my glass house (well, glass-faced iPhone anyhow) contains the superb
Ballistic FTE. I love that app, though it has come at the expense of memorizing my rifle's drop table at various distances. In the old days, which is now a scant five years ago, I'd tape the drop table to the stock for quick reference. Ballistic FTE has made me lazy, and I don't even have a table made for a couple of my rifles - let alone having one taped to their stocks. What happens if I leave my iPhone at home, or if the battery goes dead?

Miss, I suppose. My inner Luddite is laughing at me.

-=[ Grant ]=-

On flashlight output.

I'm too lazy to go look, but I think I've mentioned that I consider the high-powered flashlight to be the most important non-lethal self defense tool one can carry. When it comes to light output, I'm also of the opinion that more is better, and lots more is lots better. When I hit the switch, I want all the light I can get, and frankly anything under 200 lumens doesn't cut it as far as I’m concerned.

Not long ago it came to my attention that not everyone shares my predilection for light. Usually the contrary opinion is something like "that much light causes glare, which makes it impossible to see. Don't carry a really powerful light for that reason."

Poppycock. The issue with glare isn't in the amount of light being generated, it's in the nature of the beam.

If you pull out a flashlight (any flashlight, really) and shine it on your ceiling you'll notice two parts to the beam. The central part, where it's brightest, is called the 'hotspot'. The surrounding corona of dimmer light is called the 'spill'. The hotspot consists of light that is more collimated; that is, the rays are more aligned than the scattered rays of the spill. It's collimated light that causes glare, and since most flashlights have a hotspot most lights will cause glare if the conditions are right.

If something of light color, or of reflective nature, ends up in the hotspot the collimated light will be bounced back to your eyes, which is perceived as glare. This condition most certainly makes seeing things more difficult. The cure, which most people discover right away, is to illuminate such objects with the spill portion of the beam. Those scattered rays dramatically reduce, or even eliminate, the glare.

Most people think that glare reduction is due to the spill being dimmer than the hotspot, but that's not the case - it's because the spill is more diffuse, and less likely to reflect from the object.

If you try out a number of flashlights, you'll find some major differences in the beams they produce. The size of the hotspot varies, as does its definition. Some hotspots have very sharply defined edges, dropping abruptly into spill, while some are more gradual. There are even beams that have no really defined hotspot, in which the entire beam is a flood of relatively diffuse light. Those are the beams that are least likely to result in glare, and thus are preferred for a self-defense light.

A beam that is pure flood, that is to say with no definable hotspot, will light up an entire room with nice, even light. That's what we want to see! It doesn't matter how bright that flood is, as long as there are no collimated beams the incidence of glare will be reduced.

(All this will be old news to any experienced photographers in the audience. They know that you get more glare from a specular silver umbrella than a softbox, and that it's completely independent of the amount of light being generated.)

A flood beam makes it easier to spot threats, and it makes shooting with the flashlight easier as well. That's what "tactical" lights are supposed to be for, correct?

Sadly, the presence of the word 'tactical' on a flashlight's marketing blurb doesn't mean that it's suitable for such use. As it happens, there aren't a lot of flashlights with flood-like beam characteristics. When people look at flashlights they want to know how far it casts a beam, a desire which favors lights with very collimated and well-defined hotspots. A flood beam simply won't 'throw' as far, even though it's a better choice for the illumination of lethal threats. Bottom line: they don't sell as well.

I've been there; up to a couple of years ago, I too was more interested in how well the light illuminated distant objects than how well it illuminated things that actually posed a threat to me. I've learned since then, and today I look for the flood-iest beam that I can get.

Believe it or not, it's tough to find a light that is truly suitable for self defense, which favors a broad flood beam. Surefire used to have a couple of great candidates in the Lumamax L2 and L4 models. Their flood beams would light up an entire room from a doorway, but over the last couple of years the beams have changed a bit as the LEDs were upgraded. (I also suspect marketing had something to do with that, as we've already discussed.)

The L2 and L4 of today have a little bit of a hotspot and thus aren't nearly as good as the older versions, although they're still better than any other "off the shelf" light you'll find. They would be my first pick.

That is, unless you have a Surefire 6P (who doesn't?) or similar light. If so, all you have to do to make it into a first-class defensive tool is to replace the bulb with a
Malkoff M60F LED module. It will give you a pure flood beam that, as of this writing, is the best on the market. (It’ll fit the aforementioned 6P, as well as the 6Z, M2 and G2 and perhaps a few others.)

As always, having a bit of knowledge helps you make better decisions. Lumens aren't everything, and just because it's expensive, from a name manufacturer, and says 'tactical' on the side doesn't necessarily make it suitable for defensive use.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

AN ADVENTURE: Spent some time last week working on a project with Rob Pincus. You'll have to wait a while to hear the details, but a good and educational time was had by all. (Yes, Rob, it's still raining here.)

LUBRIPLATE COMES THROUGH: Got an email from Alex Taylor, a District Manager at Lubriplate. They're now selling the superb SFL #0 grease in consumer quantities in their online store! Comes in a 14oz can for $23.01, plus shipping. Glad to see them recognizing the firearms market; now let's see if we can get them to sell their FMO-AW oil in small quantities too!

THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN EVERY DAY: Remington recently announced that they've produced their ten millionth 870 series shotgun. I knew they were popular, but ten freakin' million? I would never have guessed anything close to that. The shotgun, it appears, is alive and well in America.

THIS IS JUST WRONG: I'll take some of what I just said back: certain shotguns are alive, but not well. Apparently trying to out-silly the S&W TRR8, Stoeger recently announced the availability of the Double Defense - a tactical side-by-side shotgun. Yes, a SxS with a fore-end rail. Black, of course. (Folks, I couldn't possibly make up something like this. It takes a marketing department to do so.)

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW: A University of Alabama prof has claimed to have invented a revolutionary sighting system that promotes "intuitive aim." Knowledgeable readers will recognize the concept as being eerily reminiscent of the Steyr "trapezoid" sights as used on the 'M' and 'S' series pistols, which have been available for a decade now. Hmmm...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

GETTING THE MESSAGE: I've been harping on the failures of "Rule #1" for some time now, and it seems that the attitude is catching on. Slowly, but at least progress is being made.

IT ISN'T JUST ME: I've recently expounded on the issue of dogmatic teaching in the self defense world, and I'm not alone in my criticism. Check out this post from Roger Phillips over at, then read the entire discussion. (I've never met Roger, don't know him from Adam, but he makes sense. Can't say that about everyone.)

POCKET COMPANION: no, not a J-frame! From Dustin's Gun Blog I learned of a new iPhone/iPod Touch app called Legal Heat. It's an interactive version of their printed guide to concealed carry and gun laws in all 50 states, written by attorneys and instructors. It' a great idea, and something that's needed. Unfortunately, despite the viability of the concept I cannot in good conscience recommend this particular app.

There is a big issue with Legal Heat's usability. The pages are just images of the book, which means they're pictures and not text. This sounds inconsequential, but it's not. When you bring up the laws on a state, because it's showing the whole page the text is tiny; unreadably small. To read it, you need to magnify the image by pinching. (The usual double-tap doesn't work, because it doesn't work on full-frame images!) Once you magnify the image to read the text, you have to continually scroll back and forth because images don't wrap text. Finally, the app doesn't support screen rotation; it only displays in portrait orientation, which exacerbates the scrolling issue.

Frankly, iPhone users are accustomed to a higher level of application quality than Legal Heat delivers. If they would simply make their pages actual text and enable screen rotation I'd be comfortable recommending it. As it stands, even at $1.99 it's not worth the hassle.

DEAL ALERT: My background in commercial photography has left me more than a little anal retentive with regards to optics, particularly when it comes to binoculars. I'm a fan of porro-prism designs, as they a) have better three-dimensional perspective, b) are brighter, and c) cost less than roof-prism types for any given level of optical quality (resolution/contrast.)

Minox makes some of the best porro-prism binocs. The optical performance is exceptional, and the build quality matches the glass. They make an 8x and a 10x version, and at a street price of roughly $550 they are something of a bargain; you'll need to spend roughly twice as much to get a roof prism of comparable performance, and you still won't get the perspective advantage that the porro-prism design gives you.

Despite their advantages, porro-prism designs are distinctly unfashionable these days and don't sell well regardless of brand. Roof prisms are what people buy, and Minox has bowed to the market: they've discontinued the 10x model.
SWFA is closing them out at $299.95, which has to be classed as a screaming good deal. You won't find anything even approaching their optical performance for that kind of money. (Yes, I grabbed a pair - for that price, I wasn't about to pass them up!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

Circumstances change. Hardware doesn't. That's a problem.

Last week I heaped scorn and derision on AR-15 foregrips ('Pharoah's Beards'), and feedback suggests I need to expound on the subject.

The issue with foregrips is that they limit how you interface with your rifle. That's a fancy way of saying that they get in the way; instead of the hardware (the rifle) allowing flexibility in use, it becomes more specialized - less flexible. The rifle no longer responds to the user's will, rather the user now must adapt to the accessory's limitations, in addition to the rifle's.

As long as the AR-15 is being shot from a standing, squared off position, the Pharaoh's Beard feels like a great invention. A real incident, however, may demand more. The shooter may have to contort himself into a stable firing position because of the surrounding cover; the opponent may be at a radical angle (in any direction) from the defender's point of view; rapid fire from a compromised 'stance' may be needed as the defender rapidly moves relative to the attacker.

When any of those things happen, the changed body position requires a modified relationship to the rifle. With a plain forearm, the support arm simply moves to the necessary position and the shooting commences. With some sort of foregrip hanging off the rifle, one of two things will happen: the shooter will doggedly maintain a grip on the thing, all the while trying to get his body to do things that it isn't structurally capable of doing, or the shooter will realize that the grip isn't working, and try to maneuver around it to get to the best placement. Sometimes he can, more often he can't, because that accessory is taking up the very space he needs. Bottom line: less-than-optimal shot placement and less-than-optimal response times.

Most people test these things in a range-perfect stance of some sort; they don't push themselves or their equipment. In such undemanding circumstances, foregrips seem to work well. The further from that ideal world, the less well they work. You can decide for yourself if that's meaningful to you.

I see this frequently with students in class. Georges Rahbani, who I've mentioned many times in this blog, runs his 'Fighting Rifle' course as a triad: three separate 2-day classes, based on real-life encounters, that rapidly ramp up critical survival skills. The first class has the students working on fairly traditional range platforms: standing, kneeling, etc. Foregrips seem to work in that environment, because they're designed to facilitate just this kind of handling. The environment isn't asking much of the shooter, which is important to understand.

By the time the second class rolls around, students discover that they're not in Kansas any more. The environment now asks much more of the shooters; the concept off 'ideal' is dispensed with, and 'field expedient' becomes the new paradigm. As that occurs, the students who showed up for the first class with gizmos and gadgets on their rifles find themselves hurriedly removing them during breaks.

Why? Because they've discovered that their options are limited, not increased, by added hardware. They've learned that the situation dictates their response, not the other way around. The more universal their equipment, the easier they can adapt their response to the situation; the more specialized the gear, the less they're able to do so.
Conceptually, this is the same thing I said last week; substitute 'gear' for 'technique', and the same lessons apply.

There is also an issue with attitude, with perception of the rifle's role. Georges asks his students: "Is your rifle a fun toy, or a serious tool?" If it's strictly a recreational object, a ballistic tinker toy, go wild - hang whatever you want on it. (Tacticool accessories, it must be admitted, are a heck of a lot of fun and building just the "right" configuration can be an enjoyable hobby in itself. Machined aluminum is like bacon - it makes everything better!)

Otherwise, save that money and use it to buy more ammo. You'll be better off.

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

I'm gratified - and somewhat surprised - at the tremendous response to last week's post
"Risk assessment, or lack thereof." One of the difficulties I've found with this whole blog adventure is predicting what will resonate with my readers. In some cases I've been deliberatively provocative in order to get people to think outside of their comfort zone, while in others I've tried to deliver solid technical information not readily available in the swamp that is the internet.

On occasion (as with the article under consideration) I worry about whether I'm talking over my audience, that the subject might be a bit too abstract. I'm happy to find that my readers are significantly more discerning than average.


One complaint about the Bianchi SpeedStrips is that they're not available in calibers other than .38/.357. I'm surprised that, until tipped off by a reader, I didn't know about
Quick Strips from Tuff Products. They appear to be a clone of the Bianchi product, but are available in a wide range of calibers. Check 'em out.


You may have heard that the U.S. Attorney General called (not surprisingly) for reinstating the infamous Assault Weapons Ban. What was surprising was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's adamant refusal to consider such legislation. Mr. Obama's administration may find their road tougher sledding than they'd originally anticipated. All the better for us!


A while back I wrote about the iPhone/iTouch ballistics application iSnipe. While it worked well, it was pretty basic; as I explained to the author, it needed some features added to enhance utility for the serious long-range shooter.

It didn't take long for competition to appear:
Ballistic FTE has everything I ever wanted, and then some. It is superb in every respect; you must see the target recording function! It even has a calculator to help with rangefinding (mil-dot) reticle use. Ballistic FTE is a bargain at $9.99.

-=[ 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 ]=-

Reloading round-up

This last year I've been using a number of new reloading tools and components. I'm generally one to "stick with what works", but that doesn't stop me from looking for something better!

Late last year I bought a new Hornady Lock-n-Load progressive press (known as the "LnL AP".) This is a five-station auto-indexing press with a motorized casefeeder. I bought it after becoming disenchanted with my Dillon and Lee presses - though I can always find something to like about any press, I'd prefer to have all my favorite things in one press which means I can never stop looking!

(Just so you know where I'm coming from, I've often bemoaned the lack of a true high-grade reloading press. No, Dillon fans, "Big Blue" isn't it! If you've ever used a Star Universal, you'll understand. If you haven't, well, go back and read my recent article
Do you need a trigger job, and substitute "press" for "trigger" - the rest of it is the same!

You may well ask why I don't use a Star if I'm so hot on them. Well, it's because they're out of business and there are precious few parts and accessories available on the secondary market.)

Back to the topic....the LnL AP uses the Hornady bayonet-mount die system, in which the dies are put into adaptor sleeves and adjusted, then simply popped in and out of the toolhead where and when needed. Frankly, when this came out I thought it was the biggest gimmick I'd yet seen. Using the press for a year has convinced me otherwise. It is incredibly handy!

For instance, I often have the press set up for loading .38/.357. It's not at all uncommon to need to prep a few pieces of brass to test actions or extractors or some such thing. I can just pop the needed die out of the toolhead, then pop it into the single stage press (which I've fitted with the Hornady adaptor and adjusted so that the presses have exactly the same die position.)

It also makes doing in-press changes easier on a progressive press. For instance, I can have a die adjusted for .38 Special, and a die adjusted for .357, and simply swap them in/out where needed. The same goes for the powder measure; I can decide to put it in a different place on the toolhead to accommodate production changes or simply to experiment. You can't believe how useful the system is until you've used it - and once you have, you don't want to ever give it up!

I've come to the conclusion that if one is a SERIOUS handloader - that is, reloading for numerous cartridges and constantly experimenting - the LnL AP is the most flexible and most efficient choice in a progressive press. As I said, I've owned Lee and Dillon presses too, and while they both have their strong and weak points the Hornady is just in a different class. Great piece of gear.

Over the years I've used a number of reloading dies, and no one set has had everything I wanted. I've gotten to the point that my die sets are now pieced together with the dies that I like best, not what a manufacturer has decided to give me.

In handgun sizing dies, I prefer (in order) RCBS, Lee, and Dillon. I love the Dillon's spring-loaded decapping pin, but hate their low profile, hex-shaped bodies. (Great when permanently mounted in a toolhead, rotten if you frequently remove/replace/adjust them.) The RCBS is much better in the handling department, worse for the decapping pin; the Lee's decapper likewise is awful, but at least their body is tall enough to get a grasp on - even if it is smooth and a bit prone to slippage in one's fingers.

(I should take this opportunity to say that Lee's lock rings suck. Then again, so do Dillon's, Lyman's, RCBS's, and Redding's, though admittedly not as much. All of my dies, regardless of make, have for years worn Hornady lock rings, and the first thing I do with any new die is to ditch its lock ring and give it Hornady ring.)

I've recently started using the Lyman "M" series expander die, as opposed to the expander plug in the powder station. It sizes most of the case to just a hair under bullet diameter, then has a slight "step" to bell the mouth so that the bullet isn't scraped when seating. This is said to promote straighter bullet seating, and in that regard I believe it does. For me, though, the great part is that the cases seem to "grab" onto the bullet when you insert it into the mouth. Unlike with a plain flare, the bullet won't tip as the case starts moving into the die. You can even put a pullet into the case mouth and advance between die stations with no tipping! This is another product that I thought might be "more show than go", but I've grown to just love the thing.

While we're talking about seating, I think the best seating die is Hornady's, and no one else is even close. Their sliding bullet collar is a great idea for helping to straighten bullets as the case goes into the die, and their seating adjustment is very precise. All of my seating dies - handgun and rifle - are now from Hornady.

I don't crimp in the seating die, preferring to do that as a separate step. I've used Lee's Factory Crimp dies in the past, no matter what other dies they were with or what press they were on. I've been very pleased with their smoothness and ready adjustability, but this year I started using the Redding Profile Crimp die for .38/.357. It puts a taper crimp on the case, then a roll crimp at the very end. It is of top quality, like all of Redding's products, and produces the most consistent, best-looking crimps of any die I've ever used. I'm hooked.

The major thing I dislike about the Hornady press (and Dillon's, for that matter) are the primer tubes. I much prefer the Lee tray loading primer feed, but of course I can't use that on the LnL AP! I've found a solution in the form of a neat little tool from Midway called the Vibra-Prime. It's a battery operated collator that fills the primer tubes for you! Now to be fair, Dillon has a bench-mounted device that does the same thing, taking about 2 minutes per tube and costing around $200. The Vibra-Prime was about $30, and does the job in roughly 20 seconds. contest there!

Sadly, I'm told that Midway has discontinued the device because of "poor sales." If you're tired of loading primer tubes one-by-one, call Midway and tell them you'd like to see the Vibra-Prime reintroduced!

That's about it for the hardware side. I'll write soon about the software (bullets and powder) I've been using this year - I've made some changes there as well.

To be continued...

-=[ Grant ]=-

Sight options

Much as it pains me to admit this, my eyesight is degrading with distressing rapidity. No, it's nothing out of the ordinary, nor is it anything serious - it's just that I'm getting older!

I'm close enough to the big "five-oh" to count the years left on one hand (with fingers left over), and the closer it gets the further out I need to hold the restaurant menu. Oh, yes, my prescription is current - but after wearing bifocals for the better part of the last decade, I'm now told I need trifocals. The indignity!

Sound familiar? It should, given the number of questions I field about sight options. Consistently, the two most common queries concern fiber optic front sights, and the "Big Dot" from XS Sight Systems (or whatever they're calling themselves this week.)

I have some personal experience with the fiber optic inserts, and frankly I'm not terribly impressed. Aside from their fragility (the encased ones are somewhat better in that regard), they don't really help the sight visibility all that much. Yes, their neon glow does attract the eye, but if your eyesight is like mine the resulting sight picture isn't all that crisp. The bright fiber tends to "bloom" - that is, it looks larger than it really is and develops a fuzzy corona. This makes precise shot alignment more difficult; it's very much like when someone turns on the bedroom lights in the middle of the night, and your eyes struggle to adjust to the situation - everything seems to be "flared." Squinting helps, but wasn't that what you were trying to avoid in the first place?

The "Big Dot" sights are another matter. The Big Dot is just what its name says: a very large, round front sight. The idea is to make the sight so big that even Mr. Magoo couldn't miss it. While I've never owned a set personally, I've test fired guns that carried them, and I've found the sights are so large that they just can't be shot all that accurately. Their sight picture (particularly with the companion "express" v-notch rear sights) is just too coarse for good shot placement.

I'm not alone in my opinion of the Big Dot; I've installed several of them on client's guns, and they have all elected to switch back to the original sights. If that isn't enough of a non-endorsement, I've watched one of the best handgun shooters I know - a police officer who has been a state IPSC and PPC champ - struggle to keep in the A-zone at 15 yards with the things, when at that distance he usually shoots single, ragged holes. Most people who aren't as good as he is do far worse. As you might guess, he doesn't like them either.

What works for those of us who are pushing 50 (or dragging it, as the case may be)? Well, for quite some time I've been told to simply use a wide rear sight notch - one big enough to have roughly one-third to one-half a sight-width of light on either side of the front sight. (I must admit that a very good friend has been preaching the widened rear sight for the past several years. Frankly, though he is one of the best instructors I've ever met and a phenomenal shot, I thought he was nuts. As the front sight got harder and harder to see, however, I grudgingly made room for the idea that he might be right.)

Recently one of my clients asked that I widen the rear notch on his sight to give "lots of light on either side." I did so, making the space on each side of the front sight appear to be roughly 1/3 of blade width. Surprisingly, it was definitely easier to shoot the resulting gun. It focused sharper and much cleaner, and the sights aligned a lot faster. It was a definite increase in shootability compared to my own guns.

Of course, now I need to find time to do the same to all of my sights....

-=[ Grant ]=-

My favorite powders

Every reloader has his or her favorite powders. When I first started reloading handgun cartridges, I used what everyone around me used - which I found weren't always the best choices for my needs. After experimenting with lots of powders, I settled on a few favorites.

As a general rule I prefer flaked powders over ball (spherical) powders. I've found that they meter more consistently in a wide variety of measures, and they seem to burn a bit cleaner than their ball equivalents - this may have something to do with the graphite coating all ball powders appear to use.

For all-around use in a wide variety of pistol cartridges I really like Hodgdon Universal Clays. It is extremely clean (the cleanest I've yet used) and is useful in a large number of calibers. My only complaint is that is isn't suitable for light loads in spacious cases, because it often fails to burn fully. This results in lots of unburned powder flakes that always seem to end up under the extractor. I'd like to find an equivalent powder that is more suitable for light loads, but haven't found it yet.

For magnum cartridges, I like Alliant Blue Dot. It is very consistent, burns cleanly, and gives superb velocities. I've used it in the .357 Magnum, the .44 Magnum, the fire-breathing .445 SuperMag, and the obscure .451 Detonics Magnum. In each case it performed superbly. So pleased am I with Blue Dot that one of these days I plan to try some of the other "Dot" powders.

Though I've tried lots of others, these are the ones I keep coming back to. There's nothing like "old friends" that you can count on!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Allow me to elaborate...

In last Monday's post I mentioned that the Ruger Mini-14 demands factory magazines to work reliably. That statement may have given a bit of a wrong impression.

The point I was trying to make, and apparently didn't, is that the only reliable Minis I have seen were using factory magazines. I have actually encountered many examples that wouldn't run, and changing to factory mags made them work properly. All is not perfect in Ruger-land, though - in my experience, there is still a large percentage of Mini-14s that are not reliable, even with factory magazines.

The other side of the coin is that I have never seen a reliable Mini using aftermarket mags. Ever. Aftermarket Mini-14 magazines consistently cause Minis - every one I've ever seen - to choke.

Bottom line: factory mags alone will not ensure that any given Mini will run well. However, using non-Ruger magazines is a virtual guarantee that you will have trouble making the thing work properly. (I won't even get into their renowned lack of accuracy, but that isn't the fault of the magazines!)

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

(Oh, by the way - the cheapest I've been able to find Ruger factory 20-round mags is $55.00. That's three times the cost of good quality AR-15 mags. Wow!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

An unusual lubrication problem

I get the most interesting phone calls!

A client who works for a public agency in California contacted me with a problem. As you may know, California has pretty strict ideas about what constitutes a carcinogen. Management in his agency won't let him use any lubricants that contain "substances known to the state of California to cause cancer." That, ladies and gentlemen, excludes most anti-wear and anti-corrosion additives!

After some consultation with experts, I was able to come up with a recommendation. In general, if you need a "clean" lubricant with good protection against wear and corrosion, look no further than lubes made for the food service industry!

They have to be non-toxic and non-staining, and since food production often involves contact with acids and liquids, they have to be very resistant to those substances as well. They also typically perform very well in colder temperatures and almost invariably are superb at corrosion resistance.

If you've read my
article on lubricants, you know I'm a big fan of Lubriplate's SFL series of greases, which are designed and approved for food service. Another good choice is their FGL series, which is a bit easier to get in the small quantities shooters use. If you prefer an oil, their FMO-AW series of oils (available in a wide variety of viscosities down to 5W) are a superb choice.

These products should also be fantastic choices for those who have allergic reactions to the additives present in other oils and greases.

In this case, I recommended the FGL grade 00 grease to my client. This is a very light, almost fluid grease with superb anti-wear and anti-corrosion properties. It should pass muster with even the most strict requirements that he has to meet!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Getting your revolver engraved

The lure of a personalized and decorated weapon is centuries old. Embellished swords and knives from the 17th and 18th centuries are well known; before that, soldiers in high standing had their armor decorated. Some of the earliest firearms in existence are lavishly treated, with inlays and fine woods.

Today many people desire to have their favorite guns engraved. But where to start? There are so many engraving styles, not to mention engravers, and asking someone to recommend an engraver without any criteria is a little like asking them to recommend a band without first deciding what kind of music you want!

I've recommended to many clients that they start by studying the art of weapon engraving. With just a bit of research on your part, you will quickly learn the difference between various engraving styles as well as between quality engraving and the firearms equivalent of the "Velvet Elvis."

If you're like most people, you'll be drawn to a specific engraving style. Once you've identified what you like, you can then start looking at the work of the engraver. Every engraver has a specialty; while they may do many different styles, sometimes quite well, they'll generally do their best work in one particular style.

How do you get this education? I've found one book to be incredibly useful: "Steel Canvas" by R. L. Wilson. (Yes, I know all about his shady business dealings - but the book is superbly done, perhaps the most accessible of all books on the subject.) This large-format coffee table book is a bargain at about $30. In it, you'll see the very best examples of all the styles from many well known engravers current and past. This one book will help you identify the style you like most, and will show you the best examples so that you can judge for yourself if the engraver you've chosen is any good.

I can't recommend this book enough. Even if you don't have any intention of having an engraved gun produced, you should get it just for the superb photographs of "best quality" firearms. Of all the gun books I own, this is the one I thumb through most often!

If I may be so bold, you can get this book through my
Amazon store here.

Look at it this way: to get a good engraving job will cost you time and money (quality engravers don't work cheaply or quickly.) Spending just a fraction of that cost, and a few pleasurable days looking at stunning photos, is a very small investment that will repay itself for years to come!

-=[ Grant ]=-

"Can you really conceal a revolver?"

Sorry to be late today, but my cable internet connection has been experiencing spotty outages lately. For the money I pay, you'd think they'd give me better uptime than this!

GRRRRRR! But I digress...

Anyhow, today's topic once again comes from that fountain of firearms misinformation, the local gun store. A fellow is looking at several guns, and asks to see a Ruger SP101. The clerk tells him that for concealed carry (ostensibly the prospect's use), a revolver is "just no good. Too hard to hide the cylinder."

"Odd," I think to myself - "I've been doing it quite successfully for some time now. In fact, I'm doing so right in front of your face!" I did not, of course, say that out loud. I wanted to, but I didn't. At least, I don't remember doing so.

That, however, seems to be the common perception. Many people think that a revolver just has to be more difficult to conceal, because the cylinder is so much thicker than an autoloader's slide. I'm here to tell you that it is just not the case!

The cylinder really isn't a big problem to hide. Yes, it sticks out from the body a bit more, but it really isn't all that much a concern. Why? Because it's a gradual bulge - there are no sharp edges to give away a profile under a garment. What's at or below the beltline just doesn't seem to make much of a difference; it's what sticks up above the belt that makes a gun difficult to hide!

An autoloader, for instance, presents a very angular profile above the belt. The top of the slide, where the rear sight is, comes to a sharp point relative to a revolver. What's more, that point sits farther above the belt than does the rear sight of a revolver. These two factors combine to make the back corner of the autoloader stick out more prominently than a revolver, and consequently more difficult to hide under a piece of cloth.

Of course, the disparity doesn't end there! The other end of the gun - in this case, the lower back corner of the magazine well - is (again) a sharp angle relative to the rest of the gun. Even an autoloader with a very rounded grip shape tends to come up higher - and stick out the back more - than a round-butt revolver. Again, this makes the auto more difficult to hide than our blessed companion, the double-action revolver.

Now I'm sure that some will argue with me; some will, in their misguided zeal to promote the self-shucking handgun, insist that I am being "partisan." To them I say: OF COURSE I AM! What the heck did you expect from someone whose blog is titled "The Revolver Liberation Alliance"??

(Of course, none of that negates the fact that I am right!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

What is it with the reloading press fanatics??

Funny thing...the other day, my favorite gun blogger (Tamara K.) posted this rant about brand fanaticism over at her blog. Yeah yeah, I know I mentioned it before, but the subject popped up again this week in a different context.

You see, I'd popped in to a couple of the reloading forums to ask a question about dies (I'm considering new ones.) Reading through some of the past posts on the boards would lead one to believe that there is a Reloading Press Jihad going on! Take a look for yourself sometime...the subject is getting very close to joining religion and politics as something one does not discuss in polite company!

The invective, blind loyalty, outright falsehoods, tall tales...the only thing missing is "let's take it outside, fella!"

This is particularly interesting to me, for as it happens I've owned a progressive press from each of the three major brands. The Dillon and Lee presses I used for more than 30,000 rounds each, while my new Hornady is a baby - only about 10k so far. This gives me sufficient experience, I think, to quote a perennial South Park line: "I've learned something today!"

You see, no currently available progressive press is of terribly high quality when compared to, say, a Star Universal or an RDP Reloading Tool.
They simply aren't. Anyone who has ever used one of the latter can easily see that the design, material choice, and construction quality of even the best presses made today pale in comparison. It seems to me that arguing about whether Lee, Dillon, RCBS, or Hornady is the "best" is a little like arguing who has the best deck chair on the Titanic!

The only thing keeping me from buying a used Star is simply the availability of parts and accessories. I'm waiting for someone - maybe Spolar, or Ponsness-Warren, or even Redding - to build a progressive reloading press of equivalent quality to what was available just a couple of decades ago. I'd love to own a truly high end, built-to-outlast-me progressive reloading press with modern features and factory support. Until then, these arguments about reloading presses are about as interesting as watching paint dry - and you can take your pick of blue, red, or green!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Revolver grips: finger grooves or plain?

Many people ask me where to get finger grooved grips for various guns (often for the Colt Python, but the Ruger GP-100 seems to be a common request as well.) Personally, I usually try to talk them out of that style grip, and I'd like to share my reasoning.

First, the grooves rarely fit any given person perfectly; for my hands, for instance, every grooved grip I've ever tried required me to spread my fingers to an uncomfortable degree. If I didn't, my fingers would wind up on top of the separating ridges, making shooting far less comfortable and secure! Women, who often have hands that are significantly smaller than their male counterparts, are particularly sensitive to this problem.

Second, anytime you add spacing between your fingers the combined strength of your grip is reduced. You simply grip harder with your fingers together than apart. There's a reason that hammers don't have finger grooves!

Third, having grooves on your grips slows down your acquisition and draw. No less a personage than Jerry Miculek, in a television interview, eschewed finger groove grips. As he put it, "no one gets a perfect grip out of the holster every time." A smooth, non-grooved grip allows you to get a workable grip immediately, where a grooved model requires that you get perfect finger placement from the outset. That is not what you want on a self-defense firearm!

I could point out that another revolver shooter who was "pretty good" was Bill Jordan, and you'll note that the grips he designed and used don't have finger grooves.

It's possible that if one is accustomed to holding a revolver in a light target-shooters grip, finger grooves may help in control. (I don't, I don't know anyone who does, and it's not what most trainers teach today.) Outside of that, I think they are an abomination and suggest that you not use them!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Speedloaders: which brand is best?

Lots of people ask me about speedloaders - as in "what speedloader should I buy?"

Well, there are really only a couple of choices these days: Safariland and HKS. (The superb SL Variant models are no longer imported, the Maxfires don't - at least in my mind - qualify for the "speed" part of the name, and the Australian "Jet" loaders are close enough to the Safariland Comp III that we'll consider them the same.)

Personally, unless I'm using a gun for which they don't have a model, I use only Safariland speedloaders. Here's why.

First, they're simply a whole lot faster to use. Not only are they faster to release their payload, they hold the rounds in a solid, fairly rigid package. That rigidity makes it faster to align the bullets with the chambers than the "floppy" HKS style. This is an important, and often overlooked, advantage.

Second, they're more secure. Over the years I've listened to people bad-mouth the Safariland speedloaders, with the statement that they release their rounds too easily - when in a pocket or dropped, the story usually goes.

I've been carrying Safarilands on my person for about 10 years now, and I've never had a single round released when I didn't want it to. They won't, unless you forcibly jam an object into the release button which is in the middle of the rounds. I've had more than one HKS let go while in the speedloader pouch, let alone my pocket!

Dropping? When this argument comes up I pull out the oldest, most used Comp II that I have. (It's been used for practice for a decade, and I stopped counting when it reached 5.000 reload cycles. I keep it loaded with dummy rounds - regular bullet, case, but no primers- for practice.) I drop it on the floor or ground, then pick it up and throw it on the ground; if there's a wall nearby, I'll either kick it or throw it into the wall. I've done this little demo hundreds of times, and I've never had a round fall out.

However, the only way to get this kind of performance and reliability is to load the things correctly! Safariland doesn't help their case, as they sell competition "loading blocks" that force you into loading the things improperly.

Most people will put the rounds into the speedloader, then turn it face-down onto a table so that they can push on the button to lock the rounds. This is almost guaranteed to leave a round (or two or three) that isn't fully seated, and when the speedloader is dropped it/they fall out. No wonder people think they don't work well!

The key is to hold the speedloader BULLETS UP, and push the button up while simultaneously turning it to the right. You'll feel the rounds "lock in", and they won't come out until you want them to!

UPDATE: I've now seen several guns whose cranes (yokes) have been bent apparently due to the side loading forces of Maxfire speedloaders. I strongly recommend that you not use Maxfires!

-=[ Grant ]=-