Nov 222018
 

I wrote a little while back in my interest in Straight Jacket barrels made by Dracos.  They are pretty expensive, which has kept me from trying them for some time.

For this Black Friday, they are giving a crazy discount on their AR-10 barrels in 243Win, 260Rem and 7-08.  $250 for a new barrel and $150 for a blemished (cosmetic).  Normally, these are $850 and $510 respectively.  If you are a reloader and want to try one of these barrels, this is an awesome opportunity.

https://www.dracosbarrels.com/shop/

 Posted by at 7:53 pm
Oct 262018
 

I have built a good number of AR15s over the years both for myself and for others, so I have developed a healthy set of preferences.  Recently, someone asked me about the build for a very specific AR15 that I had in a picture, so I figured I should explain a little more why I built it the way I did.  In general, I have talked a little about basic component choices for ARs here.

Here is a picture of the specific build in question:


Before I get into the specifics, let me walk you through my reasoning for this build.

This is my take on a general purpose 5.56 AR-15.  It is not optimized for any one thing, but I want it to do everything an AR-15 carbine is supposed to do in a pinch, from CQB to long(ish) range engagement.  For a 5.56 long(ish) range is out to 600 yards or thereabouts.

What his means is the rifle has to be light enough for speed and balanced well enough for speed while still maintaining reasonable accuracy for longer distances.  What was also an important consideration for me was that the barrel maintains consistent POI even as it gets a little warm.  I put links with a bunch of components I like at the very bottom of this post, rather than embed links everywhere through the text, so if you want to see how much all these things cost, just scroll down.

For the barrel to be consistent, it should not be a pencil barrel.  I have seen plenty of ultralight barrels that are quite accurate, but they do warm up quickly, so I decided to go with a medium weight design.  This one is from AR-15 Performance.  They offer a good bang for the buck and I can buy their improved bolt already matched to the barrel.

They change the configurations they offer, so the specific barrel I used is no longer on their webpage.  Here is what it is:

-16″ length: I am OK loosing a little speed for maneuvaribilty

-Diameters: 0.8″ under the handguard, 0.75″ gas block, 0.718″ in front of the gas block.  Basically a simple mid-weight/SPR type profile

-5/8-24 barrel threading leaves a little more metal at the muzzle.  I do not know if this makes any difference, but I see no downside.  I use a 30cal muzzle device and it seems to work fine.  When I move to a free state and start buying suppressors a thread-on can for my 308 will also work on this barrel if need be
-Wylde chamber for best results with both 223 and 5.56 ammo.
-4150 Chrome Moly with melanite treatment all over the place.  Supposedly, it lasts longer than stainless, but I do not think I am in danger of shooting either one out any time soon.
-Mid-length gas system: I tend to go with the longest gas system I can get in a barrel.  Most carbine length gas systems I have seen appear grossly overgassed, so with those I prefer adjustable gas blocks.  With most mid-length gas system barrels I get proper gas volume with simple non-adjustable gas blocks.
AR15 Performance makes good barrels, but they are not the only game in town.  Given all the excellent options out there, I generally use AR barrels that are in the sub-$300 range and aside from ARP, I have been quite impressed with Faxon match barrels for the money, same fro Criterion Hybrid barrels.  It hatd to go wrong with either one of these.  For a little more money, Rainier Ultramatch is also very good (and a little prettier to look at).  Basically, for this type of a build any 16″ barrel with a diameter in the 0.75″ – 0.80″ is fine.

Speaking of gas blocks, this particular build has a simple set screw version that happened to fit this barrel very tightly.  Generally, I prefer clamp on gas blocks like those from Daniel Defense and a few others.
For ultimate precision or if the system is overgassed, there are many nice adjustable gas blocks out there, like those from Superlative Arms and a few others, but given a choice I use simple non-adjustable ones when I can.
The handguard is a carbon fiber weaver from Brigand Arms.  Since I do a lot of shooting off hand and I did not use an ultralight barrel, I wanted to use the lightest possible handguard to keep the balance point from moving forward too much.  Brigand handguards are the lightest available and very strong.  The only downside is that if you manage to stick your figner through the weave and touch a smoldering hot gas tube, you will not enjoy it.  Ask me how I know…
The bolt is from ARP, but the carriers I like are single piece ones from Voodoo.  You can either buy just the carrier or the entire BCG.  Aside from being one piece, they are also coated with something that makes them slick and easy to clean.  All my builds going forward will be using these.  They offer both standard and lightweight carriers.  Use standard weight with non-adjustable gas block.  If you are going with an adjustable gas block, go for the lightweight carrier.
The charging handle is an ambidextrous affair from Radian called the Raptor.  Being able to work the charging handle with either hand is important for me.
The upper receiver is a standard Aero Precision piece.  You can get exotic with these, but I usually do not.
The lower receiver is from VC Defense which gives me ambidextrous bolt release.  I often shoot with a sling, which keeps my support hand occupied.  After a mag change, being able to drop the bolt back with the shooting hand is useful.
LPK and trigger are from Geissele. It is SSA-E trigger in this case which is a very good option for general purpose use.
The stock is the Ultralight from Ace which uses a rifle extension.  This part is important since a rifle extension/buffer/spring seems to shoot notably softer than the carbine one.  It is also very light, which helps me keep the balance point right under the magwell.  This design also allows me to rotate the buttpad slightly which help with the precision side of things.
Spring and buffer are absolutely standard.
I live in California, so I have to use a finned grip, which is stupid, but must be done to comply with our crazy laws.
The ambidextrous safety, like the charging handle is from Radian Weapons and it has two modes: 90 deg and 45 deg.  I use a 45 degree set-up since that makes for a better thumbrest (California stinks).

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Aug 282018
 

One of the nice things about the whole gun and optics world is that you get to meet a large variety of people who are exceedingly good at what they do.  That is a great thing for people like me who are always trying to figure something out.

Some years ago I ran into David Tubb at SHOT Show and he was careless enough to give me he contact info.  I try to avoid abusing it, but I do reach out every once in a while when I have a question about guns, precision, etc.  If you do not know who David Tubb is, here is a link to his brief biography.  He forgot more about precision shooting than I will ever know and as soon as I can figure out how to convince my wife, there is a Tubb Adaptive Target Rifle in my future.  That is an exceedingly clever design.



A little while back, I decided to ask him about all the different weirdly constructed barrels out there.  We see all sorts of carbon fiber barrels out there and I use one of those made by Proof Research (and it works exceedingly well).

However, now there are all sorts of other designs out there.  Tacom has their structured barrel, for example.  So, I called David to pick his brain a little and see if he has any wisdom to share.

He mentioned that the “straightjacket” method originally used by Teludyne looks very promising.  I did some research and figured that a company called Dracos (part of Falkor Defense) is selling AR barrels, while Teludyne converts existing boltguns barrels to their straight jacket technology.


Best I can tell, this is a new take on a tensioned barrel, where you turn down the actual steel barrel to a very thin wall thickness, center it in a much larger diameter aluminum tube and fill the empty space between with some sort of a non-metallic (I think) material.  I am not sure what the material is, but sounds like some sort of a concrete-like substance.

End result is a very thick barrel (close to 1.5″ OD) that is incredibly stiff, comparatively light, and supposedly long lasting.  Apparently, some third party testing determined that the chamber stays a lot colder with a straightjacket barrel than it does with a conventional design.

That seemed like an interesting idea to me, so I figured this is worth doing an article on.  I went on Dracos website and discovered that the barrel runs close to $900 which is a bit out of my “just playing with it” price range.  However, they have blemished (cosmetically) barrels on there that still carry the full warranty.  Since I have just de-comissioned my LR-308, I figured I can pick up a 6mm Creed barrel and install it in the same upper.  The twist in that barrel is a little on the slow side for the caliber: 1 in 9″, but I live in California where we can no longer order ammo online.  I can, however, reload with whatever bullet I want.  With that in mind, I sent them an e-mail asking about bullet recommendations.  Basically, I was looking for the heaviest bullet they could stabilize in that barrel.  That was mostly me being cautious.  The best bullets on the market I know of are made by Badlands Precision and both of their 6mm offerings work in the 1-9″ twist, with the 84gr ICBM being of most interest to me.  Still, I figured they must have tested their barrels with a good range of bullets out there.

That is when they dropped a bomb on me: “using handloads voids your warranty”.  While in principle I understand why they have that policy.  In practice, for calibers like 6mm Creedmoor, is there anyone out there who only uses factory loads?

Anyway, the customer service people at Dracos were exceedingly nice and polite.  They cancelled my order and I am generally walking away from this experience with an overall good impression of the company.

The only centerfire caliber where I shoot almost exclusively factory ammo is 5.56, so I’ll keep an eye on their website and next time they have a 223 Wylde blemished barrel, I’ll pick one up and do some experimentation.

It will be very interesting to see if with a barrel this stiff I can lean against stuff with the barrel without changing POI.

 Posted by at 3:39 pm
Apr 072018
 

If this was an AA (AR-addict Anonymous) meeting, I would have to get up and loudly announce: my name is ILya Koshkin and I am addicted to building ARs.  They are kinda like Legos for gun nuts.

I am really picky about my ARs, but it took me a lot of experimentation to finally figure out what works best for me.  I recently had a conversation with a friend of my brother’s who is starting out with ARs and the conversation was on whether you buy one or build one.  Personally, I am firmly in the “build”camp, since that is half the fun.



With that in mind, if I were building my first AR, knowing what I know now, here is how I would go about it in terms of component selection:

-Start with a simple forged mil-spec stripped lower.  That is the one part that has to be purchased through an FFL.  Everything else can be bought on-line.  One’s first build is not the time to mess with exotic materials and the like.  Something simple like Aeroprecision will do.  There is a bunch of these out there under many different brand names.

-AR triggers can get expensive, but inexpensive GI triggers stink.  Hiperfire EDT trigger is a meaningful improvement over the GI trigger without being outrageously expensive.

-Lower parts kit are more or less the same from any reputable maker, so get one without GI grip or trigger.  Something like this will work fine.

-Personally, I tend to use Ace UL stock, but I know that it fits me.  For a first build, I would do a collapsible stock that can be adjusted to different lengths of pull.  That is also a good idea if other family members all of different stature might be shooting the gun occasionally.  There are many excellent makers and the choice is sorta personal.  I am partial to MFT Battlelink.  I think it is often overlooked for flashier designs, but it has a lot going for it for not a lot of money. Ditto for pistol grips.  There are many options out there, but I tend to lean toward MFT, since they fit me well.  However, that is a personal choice.

-Finally, you need a buffer tube, buffer and spring.  Once again, no need to get exotic.  A mil-spec kit is all you need.

 

For the upper half:

-Start out with a stripped upper receiver or one with a trapdoor and forward assist already installed.

-Barrel is the heart of the rifle and it should be purchased together with a matching bolt if possible.  For all my new builds, I tend to use melonited barrels and bolts from AR15 Performance.  I think this is easily the best bang for the buck going right now: Barrel with gas tube; bolt and carrier.  One nice thing you get with these guys is that if you buy bolt and barrel together, they will check the headspace for you.  In general, even if you decide to swap components out later, I recommend keeping the bolt and the barrel together for the life of the bolt.

-Charging handles can get pretty exotic, but there is nothing wrong with getting a simple GI one at first.  However, the NiB coated version is a little smoother and easier to clean.

-Handguards are kinda individual, but a 12″ or 13″ long free floating handguard is a good start.  There is a huge number of these around from different makers, and they are often on sale.  A brief look on Brownells website yielded a MI M-Lok 12.65″ handguard for less than $150.  That is a good deal.  In general, MI, Samson and many others make a very decent handguard.  Look for sales and do not spend more than $200 on a handguard for the first build.

-Gas block: adjustable gas blocks are all the rage, but totally unnecessary until you get a little more experience under your belt.  Personally, I prefer clamp-on designs, like this Daniel Defense, but there is nothing really wrong with a more common and less expensive set-screw design.

 Posted by at 10:44 am
Dec 232017
 

written by ILya Koshkin, December 2017

Fairly frequently, my blog posts here are a result of a question I receive in an e-mail or a private message on one of the forums I frequent.  This is one of those.

The gentleman asked what I would choose to use on a SCAR 17 out of the three options he has access to: Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 non-illuminated, Nightforce 4-16×42 ATACR F1 and NightForce NXS 2.5-10×42.  I am sure he can get a hold of other scopes, but these are the ones he owns.

He also mentioned that he views the SCAR 17 as more of a DMR rifle than anything else so a 6 ounce weight difference is not something he cares about too much.

His Mark 6 has Tremor 2 reticle, ATACR has Mil-R and I am not sure which reticle he has in the NXS.

Since weight has been mentioned, NXS 2.5-10×42 weighs in at 19 ozs, Mark 6 weighs in at 14 ozs and ATACR F1 at 30 ozs.

First, to do away with the obvious: any of these three scopes will work quite nicely.  These are fairly high end designs.  However, we all have our preferences and I have mine, so I will go through them the best I can.  While I do not own a SCAR, I do own an AR-10 with a Fulton 18″ 308Win barrel and I have tried many scopes on it as I do my tests.

First, we have to think about the reticles: if you want to hold for both elevation and wind with the reticle, then some sort of a Christmas tree or similar design is the way to go.  Since both of the Nightforces do not come with such a reticle, I am going to assume that dialing elevation is either an acceptable or a preferred method.  The Mark 6 does have Tremor 2, which works, but I am not a huge fan of Horus reticles.

Mark 6 and ATACR F1 are FFP designs, while the NXS is SFP.  Generally, for shooting at unknown distances, I am firmly in the FFP camp.  However, on moderate magnification scopes where you would be mostly using the reticle subtensions at top magnification where they are accurate, SFP works fine.

Another thing to note is that the Mark 6 is a non-illuminated design.  To me, in this price range, that is a problem and really is the biggest issue I have with the Mark 6  (and I am really looking forward to testing the new Mark 5 3.6-18×42, which has illumination at a much more reasonable price).  Also, I really do not like how Tremor2 looks at lower magnifications, so to me that effectively disqualifies the Mark 6.



Between the two Nightforces, it becomes a  more difficult call.  There is an 11 ounce weight difference, which to me is noticeable on an eight pound rifle.  Both track well.  ATACR F1 is optically better, but the 2.5-10×42 NXS is no slouch either and is easily my favourite of the NXS line.

The final selection really depends on the engagement distances and that is something I did not ask.  If the plan is to shoot out to the practical limit of 308Win in a 16″ barrel (i.e, out to 900 yards or so), better optics and higher magnification and FFP reticle of the ATACR make it a better choice.  However, if the plan is to incorporate a lot of positional shooting, then the lighter and handier NXS acquits itself admirably.  Same for shooting inside 500 yards or so.  I am not a magnification hog, so to me 10x is perfectly is sufficient.

Ultimately, this being a 308Win and me being a precision guy at heart, I would recommend going with the Nightforce 4-16×42 ATACR F1.  I am willing to tolerate a little more weight with a bigger caliber, for a 5.56 DMR, I would likely lean toward recommending the NXS 2.5-10×42.

In the interest of full disclosure, the set-up I have on my LR-308 when I am not testing anything on it is SWFA SSHD 10×42 with a Meopta MeoRed set up in a 45 degree mount to make sort of a “poor man’s 1x/10x setup”.  While on a 6.5 Grendel that has similar exterior ballistics my default setup is Elcan Spectre TR 1x/3x/9x.

However, I also know that I tend to use less magnification than most people out there, and that plays into my recommendations.  Had the NXS been a FFP model, perhaps I would have leaned that way, given lighter weight.  For example, one of my favourite scopes currently on the market is Burris XTR II 2-10x 42.  Optically, the NXS is a little better, but the Burris is FFP and has been just about beyond reproach mechanically in my experience.

This is a bit of a side topic, but it is worth mentioning: mid-range scopes are getting quite good.  If I were starting from scratch today, that XTR II would be sitting on my LR-308, and I likely wouldn’t bother with the more expensive designs.  With higher magnifications, XTR II glass starts showing its limits, but the 2-10×42 is a peach.

If I wanted a little more magnification, I would likely go for the Vortex PST Gen II 3-15×44 FFP .  I generally like the Gen 2, but the 3-15×44 is the best of the line and really compares well even against more expensive designs.

My favourite general purpose precision scope out there is Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50, but at $3k you have to be wiling to spend some money to buy one (and I am in the process of setting one up on my lightweight bolt action Fix rifle from Q).  For everyone else, PST Gen 2 3-15×44 offers a lot of the functionality for one third of the price.   I can’t afford to put a Tangent Theta on everything, so I decided to look at the PST Gen 2 3-15×44 and XTR II 2-10×42.  The more I look at them, the more satisfied I am with the performance.  If I decide to spend some money, I can swap the Gen 2 for the Tangent Theta and clealry gain performance.  However, I am struggling figuring out what a clear upgrade to the XTR II 2-10×42 is.  There just aren’t a whole lot of high end scopes in this price/size/configuration range.

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 2:35 pm
Dec 112017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin

 

Revisited in December 2017: If I could Have Only One, Alternate Scenario

 

This is a follow up to the post I wrote earlier where I think my way through three weapons (handgun, rifle and shotgun) that are all supposed to do a bit of everything.

Now, I am going to change my boundary conditions a bit: this time around I am not looking to have everything do everything.  I like having some crossover, but I am not going to mandate maximum versatility for every weapon system.  Also, I am going to open the door to potential carry, concealed or otherwise, for the handgun.



When I was looking for maximum versatility for everything I settled on Remington 870 with ghost ring sights, AR-15 in 6.5 Grendel and long slide 10mm Glock.

I will leave my choice of a shotgun alone since I am not a shotgun guy and a pump gun with ghost ring sights covers defensive scenarios and hunting within a reasonably close range well enough for my needs.

The selections for handgun and rifle, however, change.

A handgun for me is primarily a defensive and plinking weapon.  Hunting with a handgun, while interesting, is not much of a priority, so if I have a different weapon system for hunting I can compromise on that.  Also, once you need to carry a handgun, a longslide Glock is less than ideal, and a 10mm cartridge in a smaller gun is a bit more pop than I am looking for.  I have experimented with it a little and the after shot recovery is slower than I like.

With that in mind, the choice of a handgun changes to a different Glock.  The ideal option would probably be Glock 19 with co-witnessed red dot and irons, but I do not own one of those (something I may rectify if I manage to get my hands onto a Gen 5 Glock).  So, in the spirit of trying to work with the guns that I actually own, I will settle on my Glock 17.  Mind you, it is a bit modified, which makes it very suitable for this.  The grip is made a bit smaller and shorter, so it can accept both Glock 19 and 17 length magazines.  It also prints quite a bit less when you carry (not that I can carry in public in California, but that does not prevent me from experimenting at my own house and where legal).  The slide is the Atom from Unity Tactical, which makes it fairly easy to mount a red dot, co-witnessed with iron sights.  At the moment, I have Insight MRDS on there, which is not an ideal choice.  It is a nice red dot, but it is bulkier than I like, uses a battery that noone else uses, and mine has a 3.5 MOA dot.  On a handgun, I use primarily for defensive purposes, I prefer a larger dot (7-8 MOA seems ideal).  With handgun mounted red dot sights, out of all I have seen, the two I like the most are Doctersight III and Shield RMS.  My Doctersight III also has a 3.5 MOA dot, but since it sits on a long slide 10mm that I built for hunting, I am OK with that.  Shield RMS sits on a Glock 43, which was one of my contenders for this and if concealed carry was the primary purpose, it would be my choice.  Hence, until such time as I get my hands onto another Doctersight or Shield, Insight MRDS it is.  I just took a class with it at Frontsight and it worked well enough, but eventually it will end up on a carbine of some sort.  I think it works better there.

The trigger is, again, Travis Haley’s excellent Skimmer design.  It is about as good as non-competition Glock triggers get.

A natural question, of course, is why I am going with a 9mm vs a host of other cartridges people like.  While cartridge discussions can go on forever, all data suggests that with modern bullets there is no practical difference between 9mm, 40S&W, 45ACP, etc for defensive use.  I’ll leave it at that.  I can shoot 9mm well, with rapid follow up shots and reasonable accuracy.  It does not hurt that it does not jam.  For basic defensive use, anything smaller than a 9mm seems to compromise effectiveness, while anything bigger compromises shot-to-shot speed.  With hunting out of the picture, 9mm seems to be the sweetspot.

With rifles, I am probably going to make the most radical change of all.  As much as I like my ARs, if I have a shotgun and a handgun aimed at home defense, my rifle becomes a bit more dedicated for hunting and precision shooting and that means “bolt action”.  Also, since the shotgun covers closer distances quite nicely when hunting is concerned, I want the rifle to be able to reach way out there.  If it was precision shooting only, the choice would be obvious: I have a DTA SRS bullpup precision gun that is freakishly accurate with both barrels I have (338LM and 6.5x47L).  It is, however, kinda heavy.  

My general purpose hunting rifle is an old Tikka M695 in 280Rem that sits in McMillan.  It is more accurate than any gun this inexpensive has any right to be, but the barrel is on a thin side.  While it is an absolutely superb hunting rifle (especially with the stunning Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50 scope on it), it is not the best fit for target shooting since the barrel heats up pretty quickly.  It maintains accuracy well enough, but I do not want to overheat it.

Enter The Fix.  It is a new bolt action rifle designed by a company called Q out of New Hampshire.  It appears to be a very new take on boltguns and with their design I get a 7lbs rifle with a 20” 6.5 Creedmoor Bartlein barrel, AR-style ergonomics, compatibility with AR-10 magazines, fully adjustable folding stock and an excellent two stage trigger.  With the Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50 scope in an Aadmount and a sling, it will weigh less than 10lbs.  That is something I can use for both hunting and target shooting, with 6.5 Creedmoor taking me out to 1200 yards on targets and further than I need to on game.

 

The Fix has a very short lift bolt ( 45 degrees), so it remains to be seen how quickly I can manipulate it.  Another nice feature is that the barrels are easily user replaceable, so I plan to take advantage of that and add a 300WSM barrel/bolt combination to it for hunting purposes (and a wider, softer recoil pad…).  Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, The Fix is still sitting at my FFL, so I can not make any pronouncements on how well it really works.

Until I spend some time with it, my choice is the DTA SRS.  It is a bit on a heavy side, but the bullpup configuration makes it surprisingly well balanced.  Besides, I do a hell of a lot more target shooting than hunting anyway.  I have two barrels for it: 338LM and 6.5x47L.  While the  6.5x47L is a very pleasant cartridge to shoot, the 338LM is a bit of a handful, while still manageable.  The reach, power and stability at distance with the 338LM though is something you simply do not get with smaller calibers.  With a If I can see it, I can hit it.  With a 250gr Bulldozer bullet from Badlands Precision moving out at close to 3000fps, if I can hit it, I can destroy it.  Here is a picture of the DTA with the excellent VORTEX Razor HD AMG 6-24×50 on it:

 

While with a smaller caliber, I would default to the Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50, with the 338LM, I want a bit more magnification.  On a rifle where weight did not matter, I would just step up to the Tangent Theta TT525T 5-25×56.  This is where the AMG 6-24×50 comes in.  It is barely an ounce heavier than the TT315M, while offering excellent optics and turrets.  On a gun where I want more than 20x of magnification and that might be carried into the field, the AMG is an easy choice.

 Posted by at 5:08 pm
Dec 102017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin

Revisited in December 2017: If I could Have Only One

I revisit this topic fairly regularly, usually inspired by a conversation with someone. Somewhere through the conversation, I get asked (usually by someone who thinks that he can buy one gun and not have the urge to buy any more) “what if you could only have one gun?” At that point, I ask for boundary conditions: are we talking handgun or rifle or shotgun? Are we talking home defense? or hunting? or armed resistance to an overbearing government? Do I have my own ammo supply or do I have to count on foraging for ammo? Etc.

Also, I update my choice of “Only One” when it comes to different optics categories once a year, which I did a few days ago. Now, it is time to think about guns.



First, I am going to set the boundary conditions (I am likely to go through a couple of different sets of these in follow-up posts, so bear with me).

Imagine that the government has really limited your 2nd Amendment rights. The whole country is subject to something akin to current California gun laws exacerbated by the fact that you are only allowed to have one item of each gun type: one handgun, one rifle and one shotgun. You have to be able to use them for anything and everything you may ever want to do. You have to be able to protect your home, hunt, etc. Since these are the only guns you have, they also serve to satisfy your hobbies (if firearms and shooting happen to be your hobby, as they are for me).  You are not expected to forage for ammo. Assume that the legal changes have been happening slowly enough, so you had time to stockpile enough ammo to last you for the rest of your life. The only time you have to carry your ammo is when you decide to go hunting. The rest of the time you can safely assume you are operating near your house or car, so there are means of ammo re-supply. You do not get to pick multiple sighting devices you can swap around. You can have a secondary sighting system on your gun, if you so choose, but you can not have eight different scopes pre-sighted in and ready to be swapped out in QD mounts. Since we are talking about California style gun laws, concealed carry is not a concern. My chances of getting a concealed carry license in Los Angeles are about as good as my chances of becoming a professional salsa dancer (for the record: I am big, fat and tone deaf).

Shotguns are not my field of expertise, but since I just took a shotgun class with a Remington 870, I’ll stick with that. My 870 is a very simple weapon with an upgraded recoil pad and Trijicon Front And Ghost Ring Rear Sights I installed years ago (they are a little crooked, but they don’t seem to be falling off). If I had to do it all over again, I would probably come up with some sort of a co-witnessed red dot/irons set-up, and I still might.  For the time being, I will simply say that my 870 as is, with ghost ring sights and a cylinder bore, is good enough for me. I spent some time shooting slugs, buckshot and birdshot through it to know at which distances I am comfortable with it. To my great surprise, slugs are accurate enough for me to take off-hand headshots on steel at 40-50 yards and center-of-mass shots at 75-100 yards.  Birdshot patterns adequately out to 20 yards and buckshot seems alright out to 35-40 yards. I am not a clay shooter, so this is good enough for me. Since I am not really a shotgun guy, I basically treat my shotgun as a very powerful short range rifle and use rifle style ghost ring sights on it.


With rifles and handguns, I have a bit more mileage and a little bit more training, so I am fairly specific with what I like and what works for me.  I re-iterate: for me.  YMMV

Obviously, there are many different rifle/handgun combinations that would satisfy these conditions, and practical differences between them come down to personal preference and training.  I am viewing this particular set of boundary conditions as requiring maximum versatility from each weapon system and caliber.  Since I removed any ammo commonality requirement out of the equation, the two calibers I converge on are 6.5 Grendel for a rifle and 10mm for a handgun.

As an aside, I have discussions like this with my friends once in a while as a thought exercise.  I recall that once a while back, we were having this discussion at my house with an American-born friend of mince.  Rather than go into a lengthy explanation, I walked him over to my gunsafe and explained that, me being a somewhat paranoid Jew with great appreciation of history and vivid recollections of Soviet Union where I grew up, I have thought about this before and have such a situation covered. In triplicate. And then some. I do not think he took my concerns particularly seriously (my American-born friends often don’t), but then again, he did ask the question.  I did not start that conversation.

Had I been forced to rely on external ammo sources, my choices would have been different: I would have a reflex sight capable 9mm handgun and a SPR-type AR chambered for 5.56×45. However, since I get to prepare my own ammo supply, I can diverge from that a little (besides, I am well covered with those firearms as well; naturally, in triplicate; and then some)

I am still going to go with a reflex sight capable semi-automatic handgun and a AR-type rifle. However, I am going to bump up the chamberings a bit.

Let’s start with the handgun. Fairly recently, I built myself a long slide 10mm Glock, ostensibly for hunting. I originally set it up to be able to accept a variety of red dot sights using a rear sight mount form www.sight-mount.com. After some experimentation, I decided that approach works well for testing different red dots, but for my personal use, I want a set up with co-witnessed red dot/iron sight arrangement.  So I have a second slide for it, milled for DOCTER sight III, Dot size 3.5moa.  In principle, if I lived in a civilized state, I would have simply bought a Glock 40 MOS and be done with it.  However, Gen 4 Glocks are not for sale in California (for reasons sufficiently idiotic I’d rather not get into them). When I decided to build this gun, I headed over to the store, and bought Glock 21SF chambered for 45ACP. As un-American as it sounds, I no longer shoot 45 (I sold my last 45, a Sig P220 a while back), so I took the whole slide assembly off and sold it on Gunbroker.  Then, I took most of the internal parts from the frame and removed them, since I wanted to build this gun exactly the way I like it. Then I headed off to Lone Wolf and GlockTriggers.com websites and did some shopping: 6” long solid top slide, 6” long barrel, and the rest of the parts I needed to build this thing.  The milled slide was done exceedingly well by a friend of mine who specializes on custom slide mods like this.  I highly recommend his work.  The trigger is Haley Skimmer which, to me, remains the best Glock trigger on the market. The iron sights I am going to put on are from Suarez International and they are still on their way.  WHat I am going for here is lower 1/3 co-witnessing.

Longslide 10mm Glock with Doctersight III. 6

Longslide 10mm Glock with Doctersight III. 6″ barrel and heavy slide do an excellent job of taming recoil

I am not a particularly good handgun shot, but I usually hit what I am aiming at. It also helps that I actually practice. With typical iron sights, longer shots become a bit of an issue due to the need for holdover. Even with a comparatively narrow front sight and a long sighting radius, proper holdover is hard for me. Well, that is where a reflex sight really makes a difference. Since everything around the aiming point is open, it is much easier for me to do simple trajectory compensation. Don’t get me wrong, I do not advocate taking unnecessary long distance shots with a handgun. However, it is nice to have that capability and it is a good idea to practice these shots even if you will never take them in the field. My 25 yard shooting seems to have gotten a fair bit better ever since I started practicing at 100 yards with my 10mm. In terms of terminal ballistics, a full power 200gr load out of a 6” barrel has about as much pop at 100 yards as 40S&W has at the muzzle.  It is not the equal of a proper longarm, but it is nothing to scoff at either.  I am also planning to experiment a little with ENDO Tactical TSA-G adapter and forearm brace.  Perhaps that will give me more stability for longer shots.

I originally built the 10mm as a hunting semi-auto, but once I got it finished up, I realized that I can still draw it pretty quickly and the recoil of the full house 10mm rounds is nicely soaked up by the long and heavy slide. Another useful characteristic is that it shoots 40S&W just fine without any modifications: same magazines and everything. That adds versatility (and I also have a 357Sig barrel for it).

In practical terms, I am a bit faster with the 9mm, but since I am requiring maximum versatility with this set-up, 10mm it is. A revolver in a larger caliber would undoubtedly be a better hunting handgun, but with slower recovery and slower reloading it would be not be nearly as good for defensive use.  10mm is neatly capable of both uses and, keep in mind that with a 6” barrel I get pretty good velocities out of it. This is pretty much the best semi-auto compromise I could think of between hunting, plinking and defensive use.

Anyhow, with the handgun selection out of the way, let’s talk about the rifle. A couple of things were apparent from the start. Since this rifle has to cover home defense situations, this requirement can not be compromised a whole lot. For example, for long range target practice that I enjoy and for hunting I might want to pick a fairly peppy cartridge, but for home defense situations, I want to keep rifle weight and recoil down while maintaining the ability to make quick follow-up shots. That basically narrows the choice of the rifle and of the caliber down to intermediate cartridges: 7.62×39, 300AAC Blackout, 6.8SPC, 6.5 Grendel and a few others. All of them work equally well for home defense situations, with a suppressed Blackout likely taking the cake. However, in my post apocalyptic California nightmare suppressors are likely going to be illegal anyway. For hunting purposes, all of these work about equally well at distances at which I am likely to take a shot. However, for target shooting, the Grendel is an obvious choice (I happen to own rifles in all of these calibers aside from the 6.8SPC, so I’ve exercised them pretty well). Now, many people I know prefer a larger frame AR or similar gun chambered for 308Win or some other similarly sixed or bigger cartridge. I think they are wrong and these guns give up too much, in terms of shot recovery, weight (with ammo), handling and muzzle blast. Then again, to each his own.

The rifle type would likely be either an AR or AK variant of some sort. I am very partial to bullpup rifles, so I’ve got my sights set one exploring Desert Tech’s MDR, and Keltec’s RDB-C which forgoes the pistol grip (and is weirdly comfortable that way while complying to California’s lunatic laws). It is on my list of guns to get and test once it becomes available, but as of now, I stick with the AR platform. For most uses there isn’t really any practical reliability difference between AK and AR, but a well built AR is usually more accurate and can be configured for the Grendel. My version of this gun, sports a medium weight 18” barrel that is accurate enough to take me out to 800-900 yards in a pinch, while keeping the weight manageable for everything else. I took this rifle hunting with me and, while I am not a huge fan of humping up and down the hill out of general principle, the rifle weight was manageable. That is where I think it has a pretty notable advantage over large frame ARs. I have a similarly configured AR10 chambered for 308Win, and it is notably less maneuverable. It is not just the weight, but also the balance. That balance is really the reason I am so interested in bullpup rifles. My precision bolt gun is a bullpup Desert Tech SRS and it handles far better than a gun that weight ever should.

In terms of terminal ballistics, despite all sorts of fanboy commentary out there, the Grendel is not a match to 308 and larger cartridges, but with reasonable shot placement it is sufficient for typical big game in North America: pigs, deer, etc. Once distances start opening up, 6.5 Grendel is closer to 308Win than it is to 5.56.

Let look at drop velocity and energy for three bullets that I regularly shoot: 77gr in 5.56, 123gr in 6.5 Grendel, 175gr 308Win. I am going to look at drop in mrad, velocity in fps and energy ft-lbs. All data is from Shooter app on my phone. I am assuming 2000ft altitude, 60F, 50% humidity (which is very different from where I live, but clsoe enouhg for everyone else).

I am assuming that the 308 has a 16” barrel, while the other cartridges have 18” barrel. This keeps overall length of the gun about the same, although in terms of weight the large frame AR will likely still be a bit heavier. I am also assuming that the velocities are 2700fps for 5.56, 2525 for 6.5 Grendel and 2500 for the 308Win. These are the velocities I have actually chrono’ed. All barrels vary, so yours might be doing something different. Personally, I think I am being a little generous to the 308 since most 16” barrels I have seen were slower, but I like round numbers.

Also, keep in mind that I am only looking at one particular bullet for each caliber and these are not really hunting bullets. However, I like looking at SMKs for cross-caliber consistency reasons. With 308Win, I need to explore a little bit how well modern 155gr bullets do out of a 16” barrel. They are fairly efficient and go faster.

Drop, mrad

Distance, yards 5.56:

77gr SMK @ 2700fps

6.5 Grendel:

123gr SMK @ 2525 fps

308Win:

175gr SMK @ 2500fps

200 0 0 0
300 0.8 0.8 0.9
400 1.7 1.8 1.9
500 2.8 2.9 3
600 4.1 4.1 4.4
700 5.7 5.5 5.8
800 7.5 7.0 7.5
900 9.6 8.8 9.4
1000 12.2 10.7 11.6

 

Velocity, fps

Distance, yards 5.56:

77gr SMK @ 2700fps

6.5 Grendel:

123gr SMK @ 2525 fps

308Win:

175gr SMK @ 2500fps

200 2269 2217 2174
300 2069 2073 2021
400 1879 1933 1873
500 1698 1798 1731
600 1525 1668 1594
700 1360 1541 1462
800 1206 1420 1335
900 1078 1303 1215
1000 1017 1192 1106

 

Energy, ft-lbs

Distance, yards 5.56:

77gr SMK @ 2700fps

6.5 Grendel:

123gr SMK @ 2525 fps

308Win:

175gr SMK @ 2500fps

200 880 1343 1837
300 732 1173 1587
400 603 1020 1363
500 493 883 1164
600 398 760 987
700 316 649 831
800 249 550 693
900 199 464 574
1000 177 388 476

Simply looking at the numbers a few things are apparent. In terms of energy and stopping power, 308WIn is undoubtedly the better cartridge. However, in this case, I am mostly preoccupied with good enough within a certain weight/size envelope. Otherwise, there is no limit to how far you can go. 300 WinMag is better than 308Win, and 338LM is better than 300WM and so on.

Looking at the energy, the 6.5 Grendel should be good enough for me to use for hunting out to 400 yards, which is further than I have any business shooting at an anumal from field positions. Hunting is where 5.56 is obviously very marginal. 308Win would give me extra couple of hundred yeards over the Grendel in terms of energy, but to be honest, if I ever take a shot at an animal at 600 yards, it will not be with either one of these cartridges.

For target shooting, with these fairly short barrels, the Grendel is actually a little flatter than the 308Win and drifts a little less (this would change with longer barrels as 308Win benefits mroe from a longer tube).

There are of course other cartridges to look at that are in between like the 6.5Creedmoor and others, but after looking at a bunch I have basically concluded that for me, 6.5 Grendel is what I judge to be good enough. YMMV.

As far as the actual rifle goes, to each his own. The bulk of my training has been with an AR paltform, so I choose to stick with that. Since I tend to follow what I preach, I own an AR-15 chambered for the 6.5 Grendel, built on VC Defense upper and lower receivers, BHW 18” barrel, 15” Lancer carbon fiber handguard and, CA-compliant FRS-15 stock (which is fugly, but comfortable enough). I have a rather excellent Geissele DMR trigger in that gun, and I often use it to test scopes since despite reasonaby light weight (7lbs without optics) it is very shootable and sufficiently accurate with both factory ammo and handloads.

Since in my scenario this is a rifle that might be used for self defense, I must have the ability to run it 1x or similar with a very visible aiming point. If I could have only one sighting system for it, it would have a Tangent Theta TT315M on it with a compact red dot sight mounted at a 45 degree angle.  Another interesting scope option that is even lighter than TT315M is Leupold’s new Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44 although I have some issues with the reticle options there.  As it is right now, I am messing with Elcan Spectre TR on it. Spectre TR gives 1x, 3x and 9x and the ability to switch between them extremely rapidly. I took it to a carbine class and at 1x it functions virtually like a red dot sight. Switching magnifications with Spectre TR is faster than with any other riflescope I have seen to date. However, at 9x, while very serviceable, it is not a match to a proper precision scope at distance. On the other, it is not too shabby either. The reticle is set-up with BDC holds for 7.62×51 and they work exceedingly well for the Grendel. Also, if you are looking for a riflescope that is sturdy enough to club baby seals with any of the Elcans should be on your list.

Elcan Spectre TR on a similar AR-15 (this is not on my Grendel, but this is the only picture I can find right now).

Elcan Spectre TR on a similar AR-15 (this is not on my Grendel, but this is the only picture I can find right now).

 Posted by at 11:59 am
Nov 132017
 

Every once in a while, I sorta step out of things that are within my range of expertise and talk about other things I experiment with.  That is why every once in a while you see me talk about somewhat random things, like bags, shirts and other accessories.

Mantis X is an accessory that is a little more relevant than most.  For a little while now I have been talking about miniature red dot sights and their applications on handguns.  While I do not talk about handguns all that much, I shoot them quite a bit and go take classes once or twice per year.   With all that practice, over the last twenty years, I have become a somewhat adequate shot (not good compared to people who are truly good, but good enough to understand my limitations).   Some classes I take are shooting classes with a lot of lead heading downrange, while some are more of what I would call “thinking” classes.  For both of them, to do well, my fundamentals have to be pretty solid.  Generally, noone has ever become a worse shot by practicing the fundamentals.



With that preamble done, I stumbled onto the Mantis X rather accidentally, and about 3 seconds after learning about it, I made arrangements to get one here to play with.  Basically, it is a small device that clamps onto the rail on your gun (be it handgun, rifle or shotgun) and using a bunch of internal accelerometers and stuff, it senses what exactly happens as you pull the trigger.  Then it transmits the data to an app on your phone.  The app plots what was happening before and after a trigger press, provides some statistics on how you have done overall and makes suggestions on what could be causing some of the problems.

Mantis X works for both live fire and dry fire.

I had grand plans to use on both handguns and long guns, but so far it has been so incredibly useful for my handgun shooting that it stays put on my Glock.

This thing is awesome.  I repeat: it is freaking awesome.  It seems to pick up subtle problems just fine.  I can do some basic troubleshooting and see the differences between what I do in dry fire vs live fire.  It gives me an idea of my wobble zone.  It gives me some data to see what happens when I speed up or slow down.  It tells me if I am doing anything differently when using iron sights or a red dot.  It tells me what happens when I experiment with different ways of holding the gun.  And the list goes on.

I could not be more impressed if I tried.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 11:49 am
Jul 312017
 

As most of you are probably aware, I live in California.  California is special in many ways, some good and some not so good.  The state is beautiful and the weather is spectacular.  The people here do not have a particularly good reputation for friendliness, but I suspect it is the same thing as we have every place with large cities.  Living in a very densely populated area brings out the inner jerk in most of us, while the further away from a major city you get, the friendlier your neighbors are.

What is not so good about California is the politics.  It is a liberal progressive’s dream come alive and the results are finally coming in: California has the highest poverty rate in the nation if you adjust it by the cost of living.

Another thing that is not so great here is the spectacular stupidity that is our gun laws.  I am not going to bore you with all the details, but basically as of now, if you have a semi-auto centerfire rifle like an AR-15, you either have to register it with the state as an assault weapon (which means that you can not sell it within the state or if something happens to you, the state will confiscate it as it can not be inherited by your children) or you can go “featureless”.



Here is what “featureless” means: the cretins here in PRK who make these laws have decided that certain features in a rifle make it inherently dangerous and the public can not be trusted with them.  In a nutshell, you can not have a rifle with a detachable magazine and a pistol grip (or thumbhole stock).  Other things you can not have are collapsible stocks, flash hiders, bayonet mounts and forward pistol grip.  If you have two or more of these features, it is an assault weapon and, apparently, (sarcasm on) if you own a rifle so configured you are just bound to head out and mow down a bus full of nuns (sarcasm).  If you are trying to figure out how this makes sense, don’t.  It doesn’t.  Everyone knows it doesn’t.  The state of California wants the citizens fully disarmed.  They have, apparently decided that an outright ban is not going to work, so they are simply making owning guns in California sufficiently inconvenient to gradually chip away at it until noone here has them.

I think that their pipe dream is unlikely to come true.  There are approximately 18 million gun owners in California and every time our knuckle dragging, booger eating, mouth breathing elected officials in Sacramento come up with some new insane regulation, within days someone comes up with a workaround.

Basically, everyone is going featureless and to do that, the key thing is to do away with the pistol grip.  There are a few ways to do so and when you see an AR-15 in my pictures with a very funky looking stock, that is why: I had to go featureless.  I have decided to experiment with different featureless arrangements, and have tried most of them at this point.

The three most developed options are, I think, Thordsen FRS-15 stock, Hera Arms CQR stock and Juggernaut Tactical (JT) stock.

FRS-15 stock sorta mimicks the handling of a hunting rifle to a good degree:

Thordsen FRS-15 stock (tested with my 458 SOCOM)

Thordsen FRS-15 stock (tested with my 458 SOCOM)

It looks a little odd, but is reasonably comfortable and gives you a good degree of control.  Safety selector manipulation is a little tricky though.  The deal with wrapping your thumb around the grip is, best I can tell, is as follows:  if it is possible to wrap your thumb around the grip below the highest point of the trigger, you are basically a “mass murderer in waiting”.  On the other hand if the shape of the grip takes your thumb above the highest point of the trigger blade (or trigger pin, I am not sure), then you are no longer a menace to society.  Makes total sense, right?

Hera Arms CQR and Juggernaut Tactical (JT) stocks on the other hand retain the grip angle of the proper AR grip except without the ability to wrap your thumb around the grip:

Hera Rms CQR on the left; JT on the right

Hera Rms CQR on the left; JT on the right

Hera Arms stock is an integrated design that  incorporates the buttstock and grip into a single unit complete with several sling attachment points and potential changes in length of pull via buttpad spacers.  The small black cover on the bottom of the stock toward the back conceals a plastic Picatinny rail that can be used for alternative sling attachment points or a monopod.  The CQR stock in free states is sold as a thumbhole design, but for us in the PRK, it is sold with a black plastic plate that covers the thumbhole.  That plate can be removed in a non-destructive manner in a few minutes of removing screws.  For people like me who go to free states to take classes occasionally, this is a nice feature.  While shooting in California, you get to keep your thumb on the right side of the action, where it naturally rests on the safety selector switch (an ambidextrous safety is a necessity in this case and a short throw design makes for a more comfortable thumbrest).

JT stock quite simply retains the regular AR grip, so you can choose something that works for you.  The metal part right behind the grip is an integral part of the stock, so if you move to one of the three states, you can’t easily remove it.  One interesting feature of this stock is that it does away with the extension tube entirely and since it is made of rather thick aluminum, it makes for a rather smooth shooting experience without the annoying “twang” of the spring.  Another interesting feature of the JT stock is that it comes with a replacement rear takedown pin that incorporates a shelf of sorts for your thumb:

JT Thumbrest

JT Thumbrest

That helps shooting comfort a fair bit, but makes safety manipulation a little more difficult.

On balance all three options work.  I think overall I like the Hera Arms CQR the most so far on a low recoiling gun, but it will take a little more testing to be sure.

For kickers, like my 458 SOCOM, Thordsen FRS-15 has a lot to recommend itself.  Being able to actually have a proper grip really helps control the movement of the rifle (when you light off a 300gr pill heading out at 1900+ fps out of an AR-15, there is a lot more movement to the rifle then you get with 5.56).

The other option that I have not discussed is simply setting up a fixed length stock (remember, in California speak, “collapsible stock”=”mass murderer”) and a separate grip that does not allow you to wrap your thumb around.  The original such grip was the MonsterGrip and there are quite a few newer and cheaper versions that seemingly take a standard grip and add a fin on the back.  If you like your particular grip, you can also wrap it in kydex and create a fin on the back that prevents the wraparound grip.  The advantage of newer such grips and of the wrap around method is that the grip angle is the same as on normal ARs.  The original MonsterGrip slants back more.  I will revisit these in a little bit and post some pictures.

I am sorta attracted to the idea having a kydex wrap for one of my grips.  That way, if you head out to one of the free states to go hunting or for a training class, you can remove the kydex wrap for a few days.

 Posted by at 8:27 am