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My new PDN article: sight-seeing!

I've got another new article up at the Personal Defense Network, and those of you who are pushing 40 (or pulling 50) will be particularly interested. It's called
"I Can't See My Sights!"

It's the distillation of all the things I've learned over the past few years about how to adapt to vision changes, particularly those related to the march of time. If you have contrast or color blindness issues, or if you wear bifocals, this article will likely have something of special value for you.

Please go read it, and be sure to share it with your friends and family!

-=[ Grant ]=-

Sights for autopistols.

I was reading about the
Kimber Solo over at The Firearm Blog the other day, and something struck me as odd. No, it wasn't the anachronistic thumb safety (on a double action, striker-fired gun) nor the smooth front and back grip straps (which make it impossible to control in anything resembling realistic defensive fire.) It wasn't even the incredibly specific ammo requirements (the likes of which we haven't seen since the introduction of the Seecamp LWS 32.)

What I found odd was the rear sight. Now most people will probably look at it and think that there's nothing at all odd about its vaguely Novak-like profile, but that's exactly my point. That 'low profile' design has been around forever, but still makes no sense in terms of functionality. That something so superfluous is nearly ubiquitous is amazing.

The design is said to be less prone to snagging, one of its major selling points. The problem I have with this concept is that it is non-snag in the direction of holstering, not in the direction of drawing! It seems to me that snagging the rear sight while holstering isn't really an issue, where snagging during the draw might (note I said 'might') be a problem. So why the huge ramp on the front side of the sight?

The design has no real function, but does present a problem where the shooter needs to operate the slide one-handed. The rear blade is now snag-free in the direction that we need it not to be - there is no hook or shelf on the slide which the shooter can catch on a belt (or the edge of a holster) to help manipulate the slide. Net result: a "feature" which actually has less than zero purpose.

Admittedly, the likelihood of needing to operate the slide one-handed is slim. Still, why design that possibility out of something when there is no compensating gain to be had?

(Hmmm...thumb safety. Low-profile "snag free" sights. Extremely picky about ammo. Hey - they've managed to recreate 1985!)

-=[ Grant ]=-

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 ]=-

Hope for the terminally myopic?

The Firearm Blog alerted me to this post over at A new sighting enhancement, making use of a “zone plate" optic, is due to hit the market soon. The device makes it possible to focus on both near and far objects at the same time, without the penalty of large, expensive optical systems.

I'll be anxious to try one of these on a rifle. My eyes cannot focus on close objects without optical help, and I disdain scopes in general. While I can still shoot irons on rifles with long (22" and up) barrels, the shorter carbines are next to impossible for me to use. It is those short, handy rifles that I must scope, which obviously negates the value of a short, handy rifle!

If the MicroSight works, I've got several favorite rifles that might just shed their
pregnant guppy personas.

-=[ 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 ]=-

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 ]=-

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 ]=-