Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Taking the long shot.

I've enjoyed learning to shoot my pistols at long range targets, i.e. 75-110 yards, and find it an excellent training regimen as well as a skill I want to master.  I was amazed at how accurate a 9mm bullet can be, even when fired through a 3.9" barrel.  There is no where near as much bullet drop as I would have expected over that distance. 

Since most of our pistol shooting is at targets inside of 10 yards, we tend to get a little sloppy on applying the fundamentals.  "Defensive accuracy" gives us the flexibility to shoot faster and still make an effective shot.  But at long range, the slightest disregard of the shooting fundamentals can cause a deviation in bullet strike from the target of 4 feet or more.  After a few apparently wild shots, the temptation is to give up and decide pistols can't be used that far away.  But when you take your time, think about the fundamentals, and carefully observe them, it's amazing how close to the target you can hit consistently.

Any other long shot shooters out there?  If you're looking for a way to move to the next level in your shooting, find a safe place for it and try hitting some targets a long range.

2014 update:  Just tried some 100 yard shots with my new 3" barrel SIG Sauer P290RS and find that the same rules apply as with any other pistol.  Focus on the fundamentals.  Take your time, and you can hit targets at distance.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The 1911

I pretty much owe it to the venerable 1911, not to let the 100 year anniversary of the Army's adoption of this fine old firearm pass unremarked.

I met my first M1911A1 as I was wooing the love of my life.  Her father had brought back a better than average specimen from the battlefields of Germany in 1945.  He shot it rarely over the years, letting it rest on the shelf in his closet in the Hoyt 1918-production GI issue leather flap holster it had probably been issued in, fully loaded, cocked and locked.  As you might surmise, he was slow to let this wiry teenager after his daughter have anything to do with his guns until it became apparent that I wasn't going away.  After going off to military school, learning a bit about safe gun handling, and proposing to his daughter, I finally got my hands on it.  I remember it being challenging to shoot at first, with a bit of kick, and a LOT of noise.  No one wore hearing protection back then and my sensitive little musical ears felt every bit of it.  The thing I remember most about that pistol was the only shot my father-in-law ever took with it with me watching.  He hit a foot long 2x4 floating down the Nottaway river at 50 plus yards dead center.  I suspected a lucky shot until years later when I first saw his expert qualification badge on his WWII dress blouse hanging among some old clothes in the attic and heard some of the stories of the black GIs in the labor service company he commanded.

Army issue 1911s were fascinating.  They were pieces of history in many ways, many so old, used and loose as to be inaccurate and unreliable.  (Keep in mind, in the modern Army, the pistol is viewed a not much better than a rock as an actual combat tool.)  And as with all Army issue gear, 'improvement' was officially frowned upon.  But one could occassionally go through a rack of 1911s to pick out the best one, and if you were in the right position, you might even be able to replace a few parts to deal with any obvious problems.  This is how I wound up with a better than average pistol in most of my assignments to combat units.

Since retirement from the Army, I've tried out a number of different pistols built on the 1911 design, and by many different manufacturers.  Colt, Springfield Armory, Kimber, Dan Wesson, Para Ordnance, and even Taurus 1911 designs have been in my gun safe from time to time.  Several other high end manufacturers produce quality machines (Caspian, STI, Wilson Combat, Ed Brown, S&W, SIG-Sauer), and actually, for around $400 you can now purchase a good basic 1911 made by ATI, Armscorp, or Rock Island Armory, all of Phillipine production.  If you decide to get into 1911s. the place to start is http://forums.1911forum.com/ and check out the many youtube.com postings on manual of arms, maintaining and shooting 1911s.

My most recent 1911 was the new Ruger SR1911.  It is similar to the design of the Army M1911A1 I used while on active duty, but had added features I like: significantly more visible sights, an extended beavertail, a skeletonized hammer, and an full length trigger.  Ruger really got it right on this one.

I might have paid a little more for mine than they will eventually sell for ($701) but I consider that a fair price for the gun.  To date, I have fired 275 rounds through it, with narry a hitch.  No failure to fire, no failures to extract or eject, no failures of any kind.  And the pistol is ACCURATE. 

Oh,... there was one flaw.  I found the grip screws loosened after about 150 rounds requiring me to tighten them with an allen wrench.  That may be enough to keep some of you from buying one, but let that bide.  If that's a problem for you, you don't deserve to own the best 1911 I've ever had, since my father-in-law's, of course.

Okay, 2014 update:  I sold my SR1911 (gasp!)  Yes, but I only did it to replace it with an SR1911 CMD, the 4" barrel version of the same pistol.  I've found it to be just as accurate and reliable as the original full-size gun, but a bit easier to carry and conceal.  Still highly recommended!

.22 rifles

A friend recently asked me to be on the lookout for a good .22 rifle.  This isn't the first time I've had that question, but with my lifelong experience with these devices, I have a lot of opinion on the subject.
Dad's rifle had a shorter barrel than this example

The first .22 rifle I shot was my dad's old 'shooting-rats-in-the-dump' gun.  It was a Page-Lewis single-shot lever rifle that took only .22 Shorts, one of the classic early 20th century so-called "boy's rifles."  Unfortunately no one in our family knows what became of it.  It would have been a great teaching tool for my grandsons.  This is one of the classics I'm always on the lookout for, though I have never seen another one anywhere despite haunting gunstores and gunshows all over the country for years now.

The Marlin 81D from Sears
By my teen years, my dad bought a Marlin 81D from good ole Sears Roebuck.  It's a tube fed, bolt action rifle with a heavy walnut stock and solid construction that takes .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle ammunition.  That one we still have, or at least my little brother has it.  I've fired hundreds of rounds through it, and really learned to shoot a rifle with that gun.  I've dispatched many a squirrel with it down along the Nottoway River and our whole family has enjoyed shooting it for years now.
Over the years I've come in contact with, fired and learned to use many different .22 rifle designs.  The Mossbergs come to mind, notably the 152 with it's fold down stock, the Remington bolts, Winchester bolts and pumps, and the famous Ruger 10-22.

As I've grown older and both more able to research and buy the options, I have become a fan of CZs .22 rifles.  My recent favorites include a CZ-452 Full Stock rifle, a CZ 452 Lux (with the 24.5" barrel) which have the quality CZ bolt action and takes .22 Long Rifle ammo only fed in magazines of 5 or 10 rounds.  At the moment, I have a CZ-452 Scout that is for my grandboys when they're old enough to learn to shoot as well as my own main .22 rifle, a CZ-452ZKM "Special Training" rifle.

CZ-452 Scout waiting for Marshall and Calvin to grow up

All of the .22 rifles I've been discussing so far are what I would call general purpose or field use rifles.  They're suitable for teaching, training, hunting small game, and general target shooting.  Although they are all inherently accurate, none are as specialized as the purpose built competition rifles, like the Anshutz.

So with all this as background, I'd like to return to the original topic here--what's a good .22 rifle?  Since almost no one who asks that questions is looking to become an Olympic competitor, I always recommend keeping the cost down and getting something that is reliable and can be shot a lot without needing constant repair or adjustment.

There is an excellent series of .22 rifles being sold under the Mossberg name called the "Plinkster."  The model 702 is the semi-auto version, and the model 802 is a bolt-action.  Both rifles take 5 or 10 round magazines and have synthetic stocks (many are black, but several new models with camoflage pattern stocks in a wide variety of colors have recently appeared).  I've only seen these rifles with a blued metal finish, but I'm informed they can also be found in stainless.  They can be found for $100 to $200 at Walmart, Bass Pro, Dicks, Gander Mountain, as well as many gunstores.  I've owned and used several examples of this gun and find it a fun, accurate, easy to use rifle, it's main feature being it's low price.  The semi-auto version can jam or misfeed from time to time, and as with the Ruger 10-22, maintaining the magazine is important to keeping the gun running well, but the Plinkster is the rifle I recommend as a good low-cost entry level rifle in .22LR.

One note on action types: I like bolt action rifles for most purposes since they are simple to learn, reliable, and easier to maintain and keep clean.  Semi-autos are fun because you can shoot a lot quickly, but I find that they encourage the shooter to be less attentive to fundamentals as well as shooting up too much ammunition.  Other actions such as lever, pump or slide action, etc., are preferable to semi-autos for learning to shoot, but tend to be a little more expensive.

So my recommendation:  If you want to spend less than $150.  Get a Mossberg bolt action rifle and six bulk boxes of ammo (that's 3300 rounds).  If you want a high quality, classy rifle, (i.e. $500 or so) buy a CZ-452 or a Ruger 77-22 bolt. 

Which ever gun you get, shoot it extensively without a scope so you really learn to shoot well.  Then, if you really need one, add a scope later.  That's only a $25 expense if you go to Walmart.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What pistol should I buy?

Of the 300 plus people who have taken my classes, probably close to half don’t yet own a pistol and are taking the class, at least in part, to learn about different pistols so they can make an educated purchase.  Of the many friends and acquaintances I have that know I teach firearms safety, most ask me the question at one time or another—“What pistol should I buy,… what do you recommend?”

I used to give a very quick and specific answer to this question.  Whatever I was carrying at the time, a choice usually based on a cursory analysis and often influenced by marketing,… well that was the pistol I liked best, so that was the pistol I recommended.  I’ve been at this for a while now, having spent over 20 years in the Army and then buy-sell-trading my way through revolvers, semi-autos, plastic guns, wonder nines, 10mm’s, single action only, double action only, single/double action, etc., etc., etc.  As a result, I have handled, fired and possibly carried a very broad variety of pistols, so hopefully from my experience there will be some useful information here for a potential pistol buyer.

For he who is wondering what pistol to buy, a couple of preliminary questions need to be asked and answered.  What is the pistol for—self defense or hunting, fun and relaxation?  How much do you want to spend?  Pistols can be purchased for $100 up to thousands, but a good average rule of thumb is that a quality self-defense capable pistol will cost $500 with accessories.  Are you right or left handed?  Do you have the hand and arm strength of the average male, more or less?  How big is your hand and how well does the pistol fit in your hand?

Handguns were traditionally designed for right handed use by persons with above average hand and arm strength.  Exceptions to this are many, with several models being built to accommodate the needs of people with different characteristics.  Still, far and away the best means of evaluating a pistol is by firing it, and second best is handling it without firing.  For this reason, it’s always best to rent various pistols you might be interested in buying to get an idea of how the pistol fits you.

I always offer my services free of charge to those who complete my courses in the selection of a pistol.  I am usually already at the main gun shows in our area so it’s no trouble to take a look at a specific pistol and help evaluate how it fits the buyer’s hand and intended use.

Cruising the gun boards, www.thefiringline.com, www.thehighroad.org, www.glocktalk.com, as well as the many brand-specific boards, can give you lots of detailed information on specific brands as well as their various models and styles.  So if you’re doing your own research, please take advantage of these great resources. 

My CZ-75 Compact
Now, my recommendations for defensive pistols:  at the moment, my top choice is the CZ-75B, far and away my favorite handgun design.  It’s the pistol I use for competition and general purpose use.  The ‘CZ-75 Compact’ is my carry pistol.  Both of these are steel, relatively heavy, but accurate and very easy to control with the 9mm cartridge in which they come standard.  These CZs are single/double action and can be carried cocked and locked.  They are affordable at $450 to $550, although prices are inching up, and factory 16rd magazines, holsters and other accessories are readily available for them. 

Ambidextrous controls on the 9UC
Next I would recommend the Bersa Thunder Nine.  This is also a larger, heavier pistol, but is accurate and very controllable in 9mm.  A compact version, the Thunder 9UC (for ultra compact) is available as well.  These pistols too are single/double action with a decocker so they cannot be carried cocked and locked.  These are among the best buys on the market at $300 to $400.  The drawback to these is the limited choice of holster and the lack of available affordable magazines, though the stock magazine holds 17rds.

The Smith & Wesson M&P series, the Springfield XD series, and the FNP series like the Glocks, are very popular, available in multiple lengths, calibers and features, and all run in the $500 to $600 range.  I find all of these a little blocky and uncomfortable to carry, though all of these pistols are wildly popular and readily available.  Magazines, holsters and accessories are readily available as well.

Kel-Tec's "small nine" the PF-9
Many people like small pistols for ease of carry and concealment.  The drawback to such firearms is that they are more difficult to shoot accurately than full-sized pistols.  However in this area I recommend the S&W J-frame revolvers or the Kel-Tec pistols, especially the PF-9.

Your questions or comments?

Friday, February 4, 2011

How should I practice?

To complete any of my classes, you must demonstrate the ability to handle your firearm safely, load it and put it into action, quickly and effectively engage your intended target, take your firearm safely back out of action, and store and maintain it for further use later.  So far, so good.  But as I remind every student, skills demonstrated on class day deteriorate, and they deteriorate rapidly.  The only way to retain the skills from any class or training, and to improve, is to PRACTICE.

In every sporting or even work discipline, particularly those involving manual skills, it's obvious that practice is important to maintaining and improving proficiency.  People don't need to be convinced of this--they accept it as a matter of course, even if they don't do it.  But why then, do shooters, as a group, fail to practice often if ever?

I think the answer is simple.  People think the act of shooting is so simple that they don't have to practice.  Lots of excuses are offerred--no time, too expensive, no good place to shoot, and on and on.  But even as these are offered, people know they should practice, especially when they try to handle their firearm again after a period off.

My theory:  It's a mental thing.  Even soldiers and police find ways to avoid shooting, and in the worst cases, of even handling their firearms.  Rationalizations are creative beyond belief.  It's been twenty five years since I was in an armed Army combat unit, so things may have changed, but I remember having to push units to get to the range, shoot, train for combat.  Firearms training is high risk for leaders in a peacetime Army.  I encountered few officers who pursued shooting as an individual passion and sought personal improvement, and frankly, I wasn't that good at it while on active duty.  I have become FAR more proficient since retirement.

So what kind of practice should we have?

First and foremost, practice frequently.  I am now in the unique situation of being able to easily and conveniently practice ever two to three days.  But I realize that most cannot do anything like this.  Still, I think it is worth it for anyone who relies on firearms for any specific purpose to practice at least monthly--more frequent is better and less frequent is worse. Optimum would probably be to shoot 1-2 magazines or cylinder's full every week. 

Second, don't lose bullets.  Use targets big enough that all your bullet strikes are known.  If you have to use a target backing that's the side of a big screen TV box, either do that or bring your target in close enough that you can see where every bullet hits.  It's only when you know where your bullets are striking that you can identify and correct problems.

Third, learn the fundamentals.  Don't just memorize the list, but use the fundamentals as a framework to analyze yourself, how you're shooting and what you're actually doing.  It's only when you know what you're doing that you can adjust if necessary to make the bullet hit where you want it to.  And remember, accuracy first, then speed.

Finally, remember practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent.  Don't do the same thing over and over and expect different results.  Only Congress does that.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How do you make the Sigma acceptable?

The S&W Sigma series semi-automatic pistols were computer designed for ergonomic comfort and reliable performance at an affordable price.  Unfortunately, when you add the price point criteria, you wind up with a good gun with a trigger so bad it sours the whole experience with Sigma (or smegma, as one wag titled it--look it up, it isn't positive).

I've seen a couple of articles on how to make the Sigma trigger better, and have seen a few specimens that have been thus improved.  Check out http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=99483.  But none seems to me to be any where near the trigger feel and function that I would like.  I understand it is a double action only pistol so it will never be 1911-like is lightness and crispness, but surely it can be better.

I like the feel of the Sigma.  My first carry pistol was a Sigma SW40VE and my daughter's first was an SW9VE.  The low cost--as low as $200 for a good used one--was the big attraction, and we learned to shoot them well despite the crummy trigger.  The easy availability of 16rd magazines for the 9mm version is another big plus.  I've moved on through and to other pistols since then, but I think a Sigma with a good trigger could be one of the best buys around, particularly for those only wanting a single pistol for home or self defense.

Has anyone turned a Sigma into a dream shooting pistol?

Friday, January 28, 2011

...which 'Fundamentals' are most fundamental?

Depending when and where you learned to shoot, you might be familiar with “the Shooting Fundamentals,” or at least some version of them.  We NRA Instructors not long ago received a “new, improved” list to teach in NRA sponsored classes.  So how could the ‘fundamentals’ change?

The act of shooting seems simple.  Ask anyone whos seen guns used in a movie, on TV or in a video game.  Everyone thinks they can do it before they even see a real gun for the first time.  But they’re often stymied by unexpected sensations of shooting to the point that they are often unsafe to themselves and others.

The thing most people say the first time they handle a “real gun” is, “It’s heavy.”  Even small pistols and revolvers seem to be heavier than they look.  This becomes an issue when they first realize that holding this several pound chunk of material steady at arm’s length might be a problem.  The next shock is how loud and sharp the sound of a shooting firearm is.  For some it is absolutely unbearable.  For almost all it is painful and the physical damage to hearing is well documented.

Teaching people to shoot is, at first, largely about helping them overcome these unexpected sensations, and then teaching them to manipulate the device to make it do what they want.  In that sense, it’s a lot like teaching the use of any other tool.

The NRA ‘Shooting Fundamentals’ up until recently were:  1) Position, 2) Grip, 4) Breath Control, 5) Trigger Squeeze and 6) Follow through.

NRA instructional materials distributed after 2010 revise this list by treating position and grip as separate introductory topics, the addressing the following five shooting fundamentals:  1) Aiming, 2) Hold Control, 3) Breath Control, 4) Trigger Control and 5) Follow through.

With my military training in ‘delivering blocks of instructions,’ and having taught 91 NRA classes over the past 10 years, the large majority to persons new to shooting, I have my presentation pretty well memorized.  But despite the fact that I’ve had to relearn some of the material, I am glad  that this change came along because it pushed me to reexamine how I am communicating the same basic information to new shooters.

I remain convinced, however, that the same basic tasks are before one who would make use of a firearm, and that either of these lists of fundamentals is equally useful in conveying the information needed to perform those tasks safely and well.  Both facilitate the shooter reaching an understanding of what is happening physilogically and psychologically--which is how the fundamentals address the act of shooting.  Also, remember that effective hearing protection makes the learning process and the practice it takes to get shooting skills down much more comfortable.

Friday, January 14, 2011

...the "men's Barbie"

When you get into guns and shooting, you typically start out cheap—less than $500 for your first handgun.  After you’ve been shooting for a while, you realize that you need to get a rifle—handguns just won’t get it for ‘serious work.’  If you start out cheap in rifles, you will be looking at the $100 to $250 military surplus rifles: Mausers, Mosin-Nagant’s, Arisakas, etc.  But when you take the next step and want to try hunting, you realize you have to upgrade to the more expensive American made rifles to have the accuracy for a quick clean game kill—Remingtons, Savages, Winchesters, etc.

But after a lot of range time, you come to realize that a few highly accurate rounds are not as effective as a lot of quasi-accurate rounds.  If you’re cheap this means you’re headed for the SKS. the AK, or the FAL.  But then, when you finally become a shooting sophisticate, you graduate to the ultimate, the AR.

When you buy your first AR, you realize that you’re now one of the big boys.  You can lay out $750 to $1000 on a single gun at a single time.  This usually means you are not married, or have a unique marital relationship of some type that other shooters can only view with envy.  Either that or your divorce is imminent. 

You quickly realize that the ARs you can buy all over the place are not wildly different from the M4 or the M16 you used back in your military days.  You suddenly wish you’d paid better attention back during basic training, but quickly come to understand that this thing isn’t that complicated.  Heck, you can master it in a couple of short practice sessions with no more of a reference than youTube!

But then, you fall into the trap.  Ever watched in amazement when you buy your daughter a doll for $19.95 and wind up spending hundreds on “outfits, dream houses, convertibles, swimming pools, etc., etc. ad nauseum?”  Well guess what, it’s about to happen to you!

And by the way, I think it’s all because of marketing.  What good red blooded American man would put a flashlight on his rifle?  How about a sissy laser or some kind of screwy short stock?  One who was convinced by the Bernays inspired ‘marketeers’ who convince us that we need to add to the efficient, adequate, useful design that the AR is.  There are so many options—16” bbl, 20” bbl, shorter or longer—stock type, sight type, flash hider or muzzle brake, grip style, action type (impingement vs. piston), etc., etc.

All that having been said, my AR has a 16” barrel, with an M4 profile, just like the guys fighting hajii in Iraq and Afghanistan are using, although it mounts one of those super cool flip-up MagPul rear sights so I can also clip on a rifle scope in case I ever decide to try long range shots.  It has a standard A2 stock.  I did put in a 2-stage Rock River trigger to make it easier to shoot without making too many mistakes.  Not very sexy, I know, when you could add an adjustable stock (so you can use it with body armor), a flip up front sight (which you don’t need if you’re using a scope), a laser or holographic sight (which the military seems to just love and a lot of people can use to shoot better), and or even a bayonet.  C’mon.  Who thinks if you have a rifle like this you’re ever gonna have to bayonet the enemy???

AR's are fun for guys because there are hundreds of variations you can make to your gun.  You can even buy the basic part, the so-called 'lower' with your favorite inscription engraved on the side of it.  You can get it with a personalize serial number.  I mean, you have more choices than your daughter ever dreamed of with Barbie!