Mar 282020

By ILya Koshkin

Late last year I somehow managed to convince my wife to go take a rifle class with me at Frontsight.  The class is basically a close range carbine class that focuses on the fundamentals of aiming and presentation with vast majority of the shooting done within 50 yards off hand.  There is some positional shooting done (prone and kneeling) and some shooting from 100 and 200 yards. Given that the class has a huge emphasis on the fundamentals of gun handling and safety, I thought it was a good class for her to take and I was right.  She learned a lot and had a sense of accomplishment by the end of the class. I even managed to convince her to go take another class with me, but the whole coronavirus situation put that on a temporary hold.
I have a bunch of ARs, so I simply gave her one of the lighter ones I had that was equipped with a collapsible stock.  Before we went to Frontsight, she shot an AR-15 exactly once in her life and the class was perfect to give her some basic proficiency.  I can teach someone to run an AR just fine, but convincing her to practice when we are home is tricky. However, once we got to Frontsight, she was pretty much captive audience for two days and I let the instructors do their job.  The progress she made in those two days of class was really tremendous (I was learning to properly operate my AK, so I stayed all four days, while she did the first two days and then flew home to go back to work).

I am 6ft tall and weigh around 270lbs (if weighed before dinner. After dinner all bets are off, but I am not subjecting my scales to that kind of abuse).  My wife claims to be 5’4” (since she started going to gun classes with me I stopped debating that point) and weighs quite a bit less than half of what I do.  
When she agreed to go to that Frontsight class last year, I picked out the lightest AR I had that was set-up with a collapsible stock and figured we are good to go.  That same rifle worked well for my 15 year old nephew a couple of years ago, so I figured it should work fine for her. Let’s just say I did not think that through really well and upon returning home I kicked off a new build specifically for her.  I picked up most of the components during Black Friday which saved me a ton of money. A few remaining pieces have been slowly trickling in and now that I am home because of the whole corona silliness, I finished the build. The only thing left to do is tune the gas system, which will have to wait until local ranges open again.
The AR-15 she used back in November is the top one in the picture and the new one I built for her is on the bottom.

The new build is as follows:

  • Odin Works Zulu 2.0 stock 19.7 oz
  • Odin Works O2 15.5” handguard 9.7 oz
  • Faxon 16” Match Pencil barrel 19 oz
  • Smith Vortex (I think) flash hider 3 oz
  • M4E1 lower receiver  8.61 oz
  • Voodoo Low Mass Carrier 9.5 oz
  • Bravo Mil-Spec Upper 7 oz
  • Crimson Trace CTS-1400 Red Dot Sight 3 oz

That adds up to 79.5 oz or almost exactly five pounds.  With all the small parts, TriggerTech adjustable AR trigger, Defiance grip and a sling, it adds up to 6.8  lbs. I used all standard lower parts except for the adjustable AR trigger from Triggertech and Strike Industries pins that make disassembly a touch easier.

The rifle she used for the class last year weighed almost the same.  In its present iteration it has Crimson Trace’s excellent 3.5x Battlesight, so it weighs 8.1lbs with the sling, but during the class she used a HiLux MM2 red dot sight.  The prismatic scope weighs 13 ounces more than the red dot, so as configured during the class it was right at 7.3lbs.  

I built it several years ago and it has worked flawlessly since:

  • AR15 Performance Scout profile 16” barrel  28 oz
  • Double Star forged lower 8.6 oz
  • Standard LPK with Geissele SSA-E trigger
  • Mil-spec upper (Bravo, I think, but it has been a while)  7 oz
  • Bravo KMR Alpha handguard 10.2 oz 
  • MilSpec BCG 11.4 oz
  • Carbine buffer extension tube 3.8 oz
  • Mission First Tactical Buttstock 6.2 oz (this is easily my favourite inexpensive furniture)

There is only half a pound of difference in overall weight, but there is a huge difference in swing weight since that extra half pound of weight is all in the barrel.

She finally got the hang of it toward the end of the class, but the weight and, most importantly, the weight distribution, of the rifle gave Lea a ton of problems.  There was just too much weight up front for her to be comfortable with the gun and we did a LOT of presentation drills. While recoil did not bother her too much when the rifle was mounted to the shoulder properly, she did manage to get a black eye after being bumped with the stock: it was too low on her shoulder and there was no cheek weld so she got hit with hard plastic.  She took it like a champ, this being a freak accident, and only made fun of me a little. However, some other family members (my brother mostly) had way too much fun at my expense, and I did not enjoy explaining that there was no spousal abuse here.

Aside from having a little bit too much weight up front for her, there were a couple of other things I simply did not think about.  One was the plastic stock, so for the new build I used Odin’s Zulu stock that has a soft recoil pad and neoprene sleeve on the buffer tube.  It adds a little weight, but that weight is right by the shoulder and I was not really going for an ultralight build in order to keep the recoil soft.  Zulu stock also has a small secondary spring in the buffer tube which softens the vibrations of the buffer slamming into the back of the tube and lowers felt recoil a little bit.

The biggest reason I ended up getting a lightweight bolt carrier was that Vuduu (Adams Arms) were discontinuing it and it cost me less than a standard BCG would.  The bolt has Lifecoat on it, so it should be easy to clean and I like this carrier’s integral gas key. No need to worry about staking. The carrier is not quite THAT light, so I do not anticipate reliability issues once I get the Superlative Arms gas block properly tuned.  Worst case, I will switch to a heavier buffer, which keeps with my theme of keeping weight toward the buttstock of the gun.

I did try to shave off a lot of weight up front, so I used Odin’s rather svelte O2 handguard, especially since they had a bundle on sale that included the handguard, stock, endplate, mag button and charging handle with matching anodizing.  I did want to make this build look good. I chose a long 15.5” handguard to make sure there is no chance of touching the barrel.  

The barrel is Faxon’s Match Pencil profile.  It is reputed to be fairly accurate owing to the Wylde chamber and 5R rifling, and I will test that.  I have used their less expensive NATO chambered pencil barrel and had good luck with it. Given how thin it is, it will heat up and I wanted to give it plenty of space to dissipate heat.  This handguard is very lightweight despite the length and not ultraslim. With slim handguards and small hands, it is possible to get too close to the barrel and the gas block for comfort at the end of a long shooting string.

The flash hider is fairly beefy and I might switch it out to something else later, but I already had it so I used it.  Years ago when California decided to outlaw flash hiders I took them off of all my ARs, so I still have a few here and there.  Now that I left the People’s Republik of Kommiefornia in the rear view mirror, I can use them again.

Another problem I had not anticipated was the grip.  Trigger reach with MFT beavertail grip turned out to be too long and the little gap at the back of the trigger guard was uncomfortable even with the little rubber spacer from Ergo.  For all of the malfunction clearances, where you support the gun with your right hand and manipulate the controls with your right hand, After a little digging around I stumbled onto Aero Precision’s M4E1 lower that has an integral trigger guard and smoothed out edges.  Kriss’ Defiance grip matches it perfectly, so that there is no gap to dig into your finger when supporting the rifle one handed. The Defiance grip seems to work really well for small-to-medium hands, so both of us find it comfortable. I might get another one and experiment a little on other rifles.

I’ll post an update once I finish messing with the gas block and get a good grasp of what the barrel can do.  Many pencil barrels have significant POI shifts when they heat up, but the lower grade pencil barrel from Faxon was pretty decent.  I do not mind groups opening up. It is a very thin barrel after all. However, I want the aggregate POI to remain the same. I have high hopes for this Faxon barrel, but time will tell.

Stay tuned for the shooting report.  Once I get an idea of how the rifle does, I may also re-visit the optics choice a little.  For now, it will stay with CTS-1400 red dot from Crimson Trace. It has good collimation quality and has held zero flawlessly so far.

 Posted by at 10:48 pm
Mar 062020

I stumbled onto this excellent piece by The New Rifleman. That right there is an excellent does of reality:

Also, the Everyday Marksman started looking at the Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 with my reticle in it. I value his opinion, so I am really happy to see he likes my reticle:

On an unrelated note, just got an e-mail from Palmetto that they have a bunch of Chinese SKS rifles for $350 until March 9th. Milsurp rifles are really drying up, so if you are in the market, this is a good price.

Palmetto generally has some really interesting daily deals that are worth checking. I never paid a ton of attention to Palmetto Armory in the past, but I was researching different weir ARs and stumbled onto their KS47, which is basically an AR that takes AK mags. So far, it has not skipped a beat with any ammo I was able to throw at it. Next step will be some accuracy testing. I ordered a few different ammo types, so I will chrono them and check accuracy.

 Posted by at 10:42 am
Jan 052020

This is a topic I keep on coming back to since I like accurate rimfires, especially when it is cold outside and I am strongly inclined to shoot indoors.

If money were no object, I’d pick a fancy Anchutz and be done with it. My buddy Brian, on the other hand, swears that when the Lord created rimfires he meant the Vudoo. Based on the accuracy Brian is getting, he may be onto something, but that is still more money than I want to spend. FOr the longest time, I have been aiming at Volquartsen Summit with its straight pull biathlon-like action. That is still in the $1300-$1500 range. While cheaper than the Vudoo, I am having a hard time dropping that much cash all at once on a rimfire rifle. Money is always an object not just for me, but also for people who have been peppering me with questions lately on what is the best rimfire rifle on a budget.

Historically, I would send the tinkerers into the 10/22 land which provides for ample opportunities to rebuild your rifle multiple times. Many people enjoy the tinkering process (and I do have a 10/22 just for such occasions).

For people who just want to shoot tiny groups, my sorta standard recommendation was always CZ. I have a lot of mileage with a CZ452 that is more accurate than any inexpensive gun has any right to be.

However, apparently gun companies noticed that there is a market for accurate rimfire rifles and options abound. CZ is easily one of the bigger players there with the new-ish CZ457 line. Ruger has introduced their Precision Rimfire RPR. It is styled right, since it kinda looks like a chassis gun and seems to be adequately accurate. However, it feels a little too plasticky to me and the accuracy results, while good are not as consistently good as from some of the competition. Honestly, when trying to line-up behind it, there is something about the RPR that feels off to me. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is there. Maybe it is the grip or something else, because the stock is very adjustable.

Another option is one of many Savage B22 variants. I looked at a few and for the money they have a lot to recommend themselves, but the ones I have seen did not have the slickest feel. Accuracy-wise, they seem to be broadly comparable to Ruger American (which is the basis for the RPR).

Then, more recently, I discovered that Tikka has a T1X rimfire in 22LR and 17HMR. Tikka makes some tremendously accurate and reasonably inexpensive barrels, so that got my attention. Naturally, I did what all nerdy people do in situations like this and read every shred of published information available on the internet.

These seem to have remarkably consistent barrels, so if you really want world-class accuracy on a budget, it seem to come down to Tikka T1X and CZ457. CZ has an edge with user swappable barrels, but honestly, I just want an accurate 22LR. If I want an accurate 22WMR or 17HMR, I’ll just buy another gun. Tikka is available in 22LR and 17HMR, but the barrel are not user replaceable.

If you like traditional wooden stocks, there is a CZ out there with your name on it. CZ457 Varmint runs a bit under $500. If you prefer synthetic stocks, T1X standard stock fits my six foot tall frame exceedingly well. T1X in either 22LR or 17HMR is also right under $500 like the CZ.

If you want a chassis or a fancier stock, there are good options out there for both CZ and Tikka. CZ can be had from the factory in a Manners stock, but then you are right at $1k. MDT, Oryx and KRG all make chassis systems for both CZ and Tikka, with the most affordable being the KRG Bravo for Tikka T1X which costs right around $350.

Another weird thing I found is that most CZ 457 models are not threaded for suppressor use. Several models are, but to get one of those you are looking at extra $150 or so. Both T1X models have threaded muzzles.

Ultimately, it is kind of a coin toss, but I think I will pick up Tikka T1X in 22LR, slap a picatinny rail on it and a nice FFP precision scope, and head over to the range. I’ve been kinda itching to try some sort of a precision rimfire competition, so perhaps I will eventually add a KRG Bravo chassis to it as well.

 Posted by at 1:09 am
Nov 222019

I was having lunch with a friend of mine earlier today and, as it often happens, the conversation turned to guns. We talked about politics prior to that and a fifteen minute conversation was all it took to solve the majority of world’s problems. We had a little time left, so we figured we should tackle something substantially more complicated: what gun he should buy next. He used to be a LEO, so he has had a lot of training with submachine guns. However, now that 300 Blackout is here, I do not see a ton of value in that. A 300 Blackout SBR would be kind of cool. In a perfect world, he would just get a HoneyBadger SBR from Q and be done with it. Except you have to deal with NFA and there is a six month backlog on the gun itself. Next best thing, I figured, would be a Honeybadger pistol. With that approach, you do not have to deal with NFA, but apparently the folks at Q are doing something right, since the backlog for that one, as of today, is around 15 months or so. I am a big fan of Q’s guns, so I checked to see the situation with the Sugar Weasel pistol. That is also backordered. Sugar Weasel uses the same barrel and gas system as Honey Badger, but the stock is a little less sophisticated and the receiver set is essentially mil-spec. It is very slightly heavier than the Honey Badger, but it kicks ass otherwise.

He knows that I’ve built a few AR style guns over the years, so he asked me for some recommendations on what components I would choose if I were building a 300 Blackout AR pistol, so here we are. Generally, I do have one of these that I built a while back and I learned quite a bit about working with a 300 Blackout cartridge in a short barrel from it. However, the one I built has a folding stock from LAW Tactical and Dolos takedown barrel system. Altogether, it is kinda heavy, so I figured it is worthwhile for me to go through the exercise of building another one that is a lot lighter. I think I can shave a couple of pounds off of the weight of the one I have. Ultimately, I am going to go through a set of considerations for a 300 Blackout build that is mostly designed to replicate Q’s Sugar Weasel, given that my chances of finding one are fairly slim with their crazy backlog and all. I will explain why I suggest using Q’s components where possible and why. The links to most of the components I mention are at the very end, although I will link to a few things in the body of the article as appropriate.

Because 300 Blackout was designed to work with both supersonic and subsonic loads, you are dealing with very different gas volumes and pressures. If you also use a suppressor (and you should), you add some additional concerns. Basically, you end up with four distinct possibilities:

  1. Subsonic unsuppressed: least amount of gas volume to work with, so the gas port needs to be the most open in this case
  2. Subsonic suppressed: suppressor adds back pressure, so the gun will cycle with a smaller gas port opening
  3. Supersonic unsuppressed: a little more gas volume, but basically this works at a fairly similar gas port opening as subsonic suppressed
  4. Supersonic suppressed: even more back pressure, so if you use one of the earlier settings you will be overgassed.

With short pistol barrels, tuning the gas system can get kinda tricky and getting it to run reliably with every load is not likely if you do not pay attention.

The sorta standard recommendation from many manufacturers is to pick one scenario and run with that. I appreciate why they suggest it, but I think there is a way to work around it.

In principle, most short barrel 300 Blackout pistols end up using an adjustable gas block. However, switching between gas block settings with most of these is not something you can do on the fly. They are really designed to be tuned once and left alone. The two exceptions to that I am aware of are Collar Adjustable gas block from Strike Industries and Select Gas Block from Seekins. Both of these can be adjusted with a simple tool through the opening in the handguard. I have not used either one of these myself, but I might. I do know people who have used them.

With conventional gas blocks, I like the idea of using them together with a Bootleg adjustable bolt carrier. The bolt carrier has four gas settings, so you can adjust the gas block for the most lowest gas pressure situation (subsonic unsuppressed) and then experiment with the bolt carrier gas settings to make sure everything works with other loads. Unlike the gas block, the bolt carrier adjustment is easily accessible without disassembling the rifle.

With barrels, if I manage to find one in stock, my preference would be to get the Honey Badger barrel assembly from Q. I know I talk about Q a lot, but they make good stuff and there are a couple of things about their barrels that are rather unique. The barrel assembly linked above comes with an adjustable gas block secured by a jam nut and faster than usual 1-in-5″ twist rate. Both are a good idea. Also, their barrel comes with a machined taper up front for mounting a suppressor. If you eventually add one of their direct mount suppressors to the mix, that tapered surface makes sure proper suppressor alignment.

Aside from that, most barrels in the 7″ to 10″ length will work fine, but it worth your time to check with the barrel manufacturer what the had in mind when selecting the gas port diameter. For example, Noveske’s barrel are designed to run with subsonic suppressed and supersonic unsuppressed. There is a good chance that subsonic unsuppressed will not cycle.

I have had good luck with Seekins barrels and I know they can be tuned for all four scenarios. There are, of course others that work well from Odin and Rainier.

Handguards are kinda in the eye of the beholder. There are a lot of them and they mostly work. Some people like long handguards that are virtually as long as the barrel, but with a short firearm like this, I am concerned about accidentally sliding my hand in front of the muzzle. I’d go with something in the 6″ to 8″ length range depending on which barrel you end up using. Q’s excellent 6″ handguard is, naturally, out of stock right now, but it is certainly a good option. Lately, I’ve used handguards from MI for a couple of builds and I think they offer a very good combination of performance and cost.

As far as receivers go, I kinda like somewhat lightened receiver sets like Palouse from 2A Armament. There are lighter ones out there, but they get really expensive. Something like Palouse is not bad, but a standard mil-spec receiver set from someone like Aero Precision is not a bad option either.

Charging handles are also kinda personal. I have had good luck with ambi charging handles from BCM and Raptor, so I would go with one of those.

Lastly, we get to the arm brace. There are quite a few out there now, but I think SBA3 is your best bet for flexibility of use.

Lastly, I want to touch onto the subject of triggers. There very many good AR triggers on the market. If you already have a preference, go with that. Personally, I’d probably just go with Geissele’s SSA or SSA-E and be done with it. It is a know quantity and I have yet to have a problem with one.

 Posted by at 10:12 pm
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.

 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