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What I did at SHOT Show, Part Four.

More of the 2012 SHOT Show!

It seems that I’m always looking at new riflescopes. I'm pretty particular about image quality, and given how I tend to treat field gear (roughly!) I also need a scope that will stand up to abuse. In past years I've been happy with the price/performance balance of the IOR/Valdada and Leupold scopes I’ve owned, but their optical quality isn't as good as the more expensive brands. I’ve had the privilege to use a Schmidt & Bender scope, and while I love the optical (and mechanical) quality I can’t afford the stiff tariff! I’m thus in a constant quest for something approaching the quality of the S&B, while costing closer to the Leupold. Believe it or not, there may in fact exist such a scope.

At SHOT I managed to stumble upon the
Premier Optics booth. Premier is familiar to me (and I suspect a few of you) as the maker and installer of custom reticles in Leupold scopes. Unbeknownst to me, a couple years back they decided to start making their own scopes. They hired some very experienced German scope makers to do the engineering, then started building them here in the U.S. I've got to say that what they've come out with is stunning!

Premier was showing their two basic lines: the Tactical line, which features 34mm tubes and the biggest, best adjustment knobs I've ever handled; and the Light Tactical line having 30mm tubes and smaller (but still big) knobs. I examined the scopes closely, and did a quick-and-dirty optical evaluation. I could find no obvious spherical or lateral color aberrations and no field curvature. The scopes have great contrast while color, to my eyes, was a little on the cool side (but not so much that there was a cast.)

The Premier rep assured me that all of their scopes would pass a box test with flying colors and return to zero perfectly. Given their long experience in military and long range competition circles, I’m inclined to believe them!

I was particularly taken by their Light Tactical 3-15x50. I has very solid click adjustments, and they even built in a mechanical turns counter so that you don't get confused trying to remember how many clicks you've put into the adjustments. Neat!

Turns counter, underneath dot on upper turret, shows the number “1” - meaning the turret has been rotated one full turn.

As noted, optical quality was top notch, which is not surprising considering the pedigree. All reticles are in the first focal plane, making rangefinding with the mil-dots a snap at any magnification.

I did a double-take when I looked through their new 1-8x Tactical scope. At magnifications under 3x you see a red dot, designed for speed of acquisition and rapid close-quarters shooting. Once the magnification is set beyond 3x, the reticle magically changes into a standard cross-hair mil-dot! It's a cute trick, and I can see this scope being very popular with AR-15 shooters who want its unique attributes.

Like with anything else, quality costs - but not as much as it might from some of the German brands. Yes, you’ll spend north of two grand for the cheapest of their scopes, but given the very high construction and optical quality I think that’s a bargain.

There were quite a few vendors of what has come to be called ‘tactical gear’, things like pouches and bags and load-bearing equipment, at SHOT. One I'd not heard of is
Marz Tactical Gear, a Phoenix-area company who proudly marks their stuff as Made in USA. They showed a couple of products that intrigued me.

First was a first aid kit pouch perfectly sized for a trauma kit. Called the "Patrol IFAK", the pouch will hold a tourniquet, pressure bandage, a roll of hemostatic gauze, and a few incidentals. The cool part is that the back is covered with Velcro, and they have a matching plate that straps onto the backside of an automobile headrest. This keeps the kit in a known and easily accessed location; in use, you simply grab the handle and rip the kit from the mounting plate. You can then take it to where it is needed. Very useful; I think I'll be buying a couple of them.

The other thing that caught my eye was what they call their "Field Kit". It's a large piece of waterproofed Cordura nylon attached to a couple of zippered pouches. The pouches can hold cleaning supplies, lubricants, or even spare parts. When unrolled you have a decent-sized work surface to catch parts and keep dirt away from mechanisms, with the pouches on one side for easy access to the aforementioned incidentals.

It would make a great field cleaning station or armorer's go-anywhere emergency shop, and might be very useful for the instructor who occasionally needs to fix a student’s gun. A neat little idea to make life in the field (or at the range) a little easier.

All week I kept hearing about Mossberg's new "tactical" lever action. At least a half-dozen people told me that I just had to go see it, so I did.

“Tactical” has officially jumped the shark.

My initial reaction: “you’ve GOT to be kidding.” Where to start? Mossberg managed to design out all of the lever action's positive attributes while adding very little to its usability. The collapsible AR-style stock wobbles and doesn't have a comfortable grip; the rails add unnecessary weight and make holding the forearm quite unpleasant; and the action was, to put it charitably, rough.

The myriad protrusions of the butt stock and fore end rails simply destroy the smooth, snag-free handling that is one of the chief virtues of the lever action. It's a rifle that has been styled as opposed to designed, perhaps by someone who might not have had the opportunity to become familiar with the lever action and how it is best employed.

Available in .22LR or .30-30, I'm sure it will sell - just like the Taurus Judge sells. I'll stick to my traditional models, thank you, as they've proven themselves capable of a wide range of tasks, without poseur bolt-ons, for quite some time now.

(This is a perfect example of my belief that the rifle, particularly the lever action, is a general purpose tool. The more crap you hang on it, the more specialized and therefore less useful it becomes. My AR-15s are pretty much stock, and I've found that they're the most versatile in that configuration. As my eyes continue to deteriorate I may have to fit them with optics, but even then I'll make sure that the choice will leave them usable for the variety of tasks I expect to encounter. The same can be said of my lever actions. Someone at Mossberg, in my opinion, just doesn’t Get It.)

More to come tomorrow - stay tuned!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Some (more) thoughts on the defensive lever action.

Seems a lot of people are interested in the lever action as a home defense weapon. Any choice of defensive armament has pros and cons, so let's consider the lever action chambered in a pistol cartridge. Some of these are true of all long guns (rifles, shotguns) while some are specific to the one under discussion.

Pro: Good power level, likely to stop a threat with a minimum of shots.
Pro: Not overly powerful like a full sized rifle cartridge, less likely to over-penetrate target.
Pro: Good magazine capacity - nine rounds is the norm.
Pro: Generally ambidextrous operation.
Pro: Simple manual of arms for the less dedicated in the household.
Pro: Long sight radius results in better accuracy than a handgun.
Pro: Low recoil level makes it easy for everyone to shoot.
Pro: Increased lethal range over a handgun.

Con: Harder to maneuver in confined spaces than a handgun, is easier to take away in a struggle.
Con: Harder/slower to reload, on the slim chance that it be necessary.
Con: Requires some practice and dexterity to operate lever efficiently.
Con: Slower to deploy/employ than a handgun.
Con: Missed shots will penetrate typical exterior walls.
Con: Difficult to use with flashlight.
Con: Hard to run efficiently one-handed.

These are just off the top of my head; I'm sure you can come up with others.

Is the lever action right for you? That depends on the circumstances; in cases where the long gun makes sense the lever action is often a good choice.

If you live alone (or with your spouse), and won't be faced with the need to travel through your house to gather up loved ones, the long gun is ideal for defense of a barricaded position. If you have kids at home, and thus a very real need to bring them into the safe room which you control, the long gun is less than ideal. (Of course you can mix and match: use a handgun to get the kids back to safety, and switch to the long gun once you're in your safe position.)

If you live on acreage, especially if you have livestock that is subject to predation, a long gun might be an excellent choice as a "perimeter defense' tool.

If the long gun is appropriate for the intended use, the pistol caliber lever action has some advantages over the other choices in the category.

Compared to a regular rifle cartridge the pistol caliber lever action has less recoil, less muzzle blast, and substantially greater ammunition capacity. It's more than powerful enough for any plausible defensive use, enough so that it can even be used for hunting deer.

Compared to a shotgun it's easier to shoot. Even the light 20 gauge, of which I'm a huge fan, is substantially harder on the shooter than the lever action - there’s more recoil and the manual of arms is a little more complicated (you don't have carrier releases on lever actions, for instance.) I've found that the pistol-caliber lever action is a gun that even the least experienced and most sensitive shooters like to use. If you have non-enthusiasts in your household, having a gun that they actually like to practice with will go a long way to helping maintain their proficiency!

Again, the lever action isn’t perfect for everyone or every situation. It is, however, a compelling choice for many.

-=[ Grant ]=-

To progress requires change, but not all change is progress.

I've been bombarded with emails over the last couple of days about (yet another) lever action rifle adorned with a red dot scope. I've heard it called everything from "tactical cowboy" to "poor man's Scout Rifle", but all such sobriquets miss the point.

The lever action rifle, as historically outfitted, needs none of that nonsense.

Please understand that I'm all for moving forward. I'm a technology junkie; I love what is new and demonstrably better. Sometimes, though, we spend a lot of time and energy to re-create something which we already had in simpler, more reliable form. Just because something is a change doesn't mean it's really a step forward.

The red dot scope affixed to the old lever action is a case in point. The lever action has traditionally been fitted with a buckhorn or semi-buckhorn rear sight, the operation of which seems to be a mystery to everyone under the age of 40. Buckhorn sights were designed for fast acquisition in poor lighting conditions, but were capable of delivering higher precision when necessary. They were the reason that the lever action was regarded as the premier reactive hunting arm, as contrasted with the bolt action which was viewed as a more contemplative, proactive piece.

Today the red dot sight is touted as being the ideal reactive tool, but in my experience really isn't any better than the good old buckhorn. It's no faster, it's no more accurate, but it does add weight, complexity, battery dependency, and a disturbing tendency to drift out of zero with no apparent provocation.

(In nearly every rifle class over the past several years, at least one of the ubiquitous red dot sights brought by students has proven itself incapable of being properly zeroed. I don't want to point any fingers, but the usual suspect starts with 'E' and ends with 'ech'. If you simply must have a freakin’ red dot sight, at least make it an Aimpoint. Rant off.)

My suspicion is that people are looking to technology to make up for improper handling of the lever action. I've watched lots of people live and far too many on YouTube, and very few (if any) illustrate an understanding of the dynamics of the gun in action. The lever action should come to the eye immediately, and one should be capable of triggering a suitably accurate round at almost the instant the butt touches the shoulder. It takes a bit of practice and requires proper handling techniques, but it’s hardly rocket science.

In the not-too-distant past we called it ‘snapshooting’, and it combines manipulation, continuum of sighting, and an intuitive comprehension of the balance of speed and precision. That can’t be gotten from a holographic sight, no matter how much money one spends.

One of these days, when I have some free time, I'll delve into this in more detail. For now I remain firmly in the traditionalist camp until a
real improvement on the old design has been demonstrated. It’s not that I’m averse to change, but if I’m going to spend the time, effort and money to make a change I want some benefit from it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check the Facebook message that just popped up on my iPhone. Could a real Luddite say that?

-=[ Grant ]=-

Monday meanderings.

It appears that our spell of excessively hot weather has ended. Last week the digital thermometer at our house recorded a high of 111 degrees. (Yes, that's in the shade - who'd be stupid enough to go out into the sun on a day like that?) We set an all-time record for consecutive days over 90 degrees (9 and counting.) I'm just looking forward to being able to spend a full day (more or less) in the shop.


From The Firearms Blog comes the news of a(nother)
special edition S&W 627 in .38 Super. This one should have a sticker on the box that says "Now With More Ugly!"


I'm pleased to note that QC at Ruger is improving - the last couple of SP101s I've seen, of recent production, are much improved over those of years past.
Gail Pepin at the ProArms Podcast tells me that she's visited the plant recently, and their production floor has changed considerably. She credits their new emphasis on 'lean manufacturing', with its attendant focus on reducing waste and rework, for the quality bump.


The Firearms Blog also brings us happy news of Winchester's reprise of the
Model 92 Takedown. I'd be tempted if they'd make it in .357 Magnum...


Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to go to work!

-=[ Grant ]=-