Tag Archives: firearms

Tactical Shotgun Build: The Pump

Time for a different kind of build. This is a shotgun for tactical and defensive purposes. It’s very different from a gamer shotgun. Shotguns don’t get a lot of love from a lot of people, but I’m not one of them. Know your weapon and its limitations. The shotgun is the king of CQB. It is a way of cheating at pistol problems, which is perfect for, say, home defense.

This is going to be the first of a few articles on the shotgun. We’re starting with the pump shotgun, and what follows is how I would go about setting one up. There are many good reasons to use a pump shotgun, viz:

  1. Pump shotguns will cycle anything. Light loads, heavy loads, or if you’re job is Law Enforcement, breaching rounds and less-than-lethal rounds. You can even mix and match in the same mag tube. The pump gun will not care.
  2. A good pump shotgun is way cheaper than a good semiautomatic shotgun. There’s a really significant cost savings here. Especially if you look at used pump shotguns.
  3. Pump shotguns are politically acceptable just about everywhere. Even in godforsaken commie states, you can get a great home defense weapon with a pump gun, and no one will think twice of it.

Note of course that pump shotguns require you, the user, to run the action. As such, practice! Seek training! The novice may screw things up if he is not careful.

Anyway, on to the build!

Base Gun
In terms of model, there’s lots of debate between Remington and Mossberg. See also: Ford vs. Chevy. I would suggest the higher end Remington 870 Police or Mossberg 590 model as your base gun. And I would suggest you look for a nice used shotgun, possibly a police trade in. You can save a ton of money on a great gun this way. Don’t worry too much about the furniture. Both Remingtons and Mossbergs have great aftermarket support. My choice would be whichever I could find the best deal on. I’ll be sure parts are listed for both. Note that the Mossberg safety is more lefty friendly, if that matters to you.

Barrel: 14″ SBS
Not all of you will agree with this one, and that’s ok. Yes, I’m advocating filling out a Form 1 to turn your shotgun into a short-barreled shotgun, paying your $200 for the tax stamp, etc. and then legally setting your shotgun up as an NFA item with a 14″ barrel instead of the usual 18.5″-20″ barrel. Yes it’s a pain. Having handled a buddy’s short-barreled shotgun, I really like the handiness and weight reduction that comes from a shorter barrel. It makes the weapon a much better choice for confined spaces. I’ll understand if you don’t want the hassle, but remember, your standard pump shotgun with an 18.5″ barrel is the same overall length as an M16. A little awkward in a hallway. Also note that this step is a little easier to do on an 870 because of the gun design. You can do this conversion with factory parts for either gun though.

Forend: Surefire DSF-870/590
Here, the appropriate light-equipped forend for your shotgun chosen in step 1. Surefire makes them for both Remington and Mossberg. I really like the Surefire forends because they make mounting a light, and the controls for said light, really easy. They’re also quite rugged, and don’t smash your hand with the light like a lot of other mounting solutions do. You could also get the Magpul forend, attach some rail, and then add the light of your choice, but I’d rather get something that I know won’t smash my fingers and won’t break under recoil.

Magazine: Vang +1 magazine extension
A +1 extension is about all the length we can add given that we’ve shrunk our barrel. And I’m okay with that. This gives us a capacity of 5 rounds in the magazine, plus one in the chamber. And that doesn’t sound like a lot, until you consider the buckshot in each of those rounds. 6 rounds of 00 buck is a “six bad guy gun”. Given that our goal is something compact and handy, this is perfect. Note that if you did not opt to take my advice on the shortened barrel, you can get a longer extension to match the length of your barrel.

Magazine Parts: Vang steel follower, Wolff Extra Power Magazine Spring
A couple things to improve reliability. The steel followers don’t get hung up with dirt as much, and the Wolff spring makes for better feeding. Be sure you get the right spring for your magazine extension. There’s also a hole in the middle so you can tell by feel if your magazine is empty.

Safety: Vang Big Dome (870)/Vang Big Speed (590)
This is a bigger safety. Easier to feel and work than the smaller ones. I like these a lot.

Extra Ammo: VCS Detachable Ammo Carrier
This is a nifty, nonpermanent, secure method of attaching more shells to your gun. The carrier provides some velcro for the side of your receiver, which allows the attachment of ‘cards’ of shells. These have a velcro backing and six shell loops. With these, you can rip off an empty card, and slap on a full card from a pocket or magazine pouch. You also have the option of running the gun slick if you prefer, and its easy to add a little extra ammo to the side quickly if you need to. If you’re cheap, you can affix velcro to the side of your shotgun with some glue.

Stock: Magpul SGA
I really like the Magpul SGA stock. It’s sort of a hybrid between a more traditional stock and a pistol grip stock, providing some of the benefits of both. It also doesn’t obstruct the Mossberg’s safety like a pistol grip stock would. It comes with a couple different risers to get your cheek in the right place, plus spacers to let you adjust length of pull. And that’s the biggest thing for me. Apparently, shotguns are designed and built for people with giant, ape-length arms. I don’t have such arms, and I find regular shotgun stocks annoyingly long. Here’s a great fix. They also come out of the box with some good sling attach hardware, and I really like slings on my gun.

Sights: Aimpoint T-1
There’s a lot of ways to put sights on a shotgun. I’m a big fan of electronics. If you’re shooting either slugs, or Federal Flite Control buckshot, you’ll want something better than the old school brass bead. Ditto if you use your shotgun at night. That means rifle sights or ghost ring sights. Or a red dot, which is faster and simpler for the shooter. Of course we’re going that route. Our choice of Aimpoint T-1 gives us something durable with best in class battery life. Note that this will require the receiver to be drilled and tapped to allow us to mount some picatinny rail on it. That’s ok. It’s an easy task for a gunsmith. Note that if you are not going to follow me in the optic-equipped shotgun, your life will be made much easier if you select a barrel (or shotgun) that comes with the iron sights you want already mounted. Otherwise, consult your local gunsmith.

There you have it. How I’d make a kick ass ultimate pump action shotgun.

Movie Guns: Colt Model 733 (Heat, 1995)

I love Michael Mann’s movies. All of them are great. He’s a guy who goes the extra mile to work out all the little details of the story, both in the dialogue and in the details of the scenes. Among his best movies is Heat (1995) starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer. This movie features one of the best gunfights ever to hit the silver screen. This scene, a fighting retreat from a bank robbery gone wrong, sees robbers McCauley (played by De Niro) and Shiherlis (played by Kilmer) endeavor to fight off the cops (led by Pacino as Det. Hanna) using Colt Model 733s converted to fully automatic.1

The Colt Model 733 is one of the models that falls under the umbrella term “Colt Commando”, and is based off the old-school CAR-15 projects that saw service in Vietnam. The Model 733 has a collapsible stock, fixed carry handle with A1-pattern sights, 11.5″ barrel, and a carbine-length gas system. They fire the standard 5.56 mm round. These are converted to be capable of fully automatic fire,2 and this is used to excellent suppressive effect.

If you’re expecting lame, cheesetacular gunplay, you’ve got the wrong movie and the wrong director. Mann gets his stars some real weapons training, so they look like they know what they’re doing. And I can find exactly zero, yes zero, faults with the gun handling in this film. Reloads are accomplished using good technique. Guns run out of bullets appropriately. Thirty round magazines hold thirty rounds, not 300. And De Niro and Kilmer fire their weapons in nice, controlled bursts. There’s even a great bit where De Nero, while carrying a duffelbag full of money on his back, supports a wounded Kilmer with one arm, and keeps shooting his carbine effectively with the other.

McCauley and Shiherlis conceal their Colt 733s under their extra-baggy 90s suits with the help of bungee slings. And yes, they’ve got a vest under the suit too to hold a whole bunch of magazines. The (converted) 733s provide massive amounts of suppressive firepower, and are vaguely concealable. At least concealable enough to let them take up positions in the bank without hassle. And the firepower means they can defeat police body armor and outrange the usual mid-90s standard patrol officer armament of handguns and 12 gauge pump-action shotguns.

As a brief aside, Heat was used as the model for several actual, real-world bank robberies, including one that would lead to the 1997 North Hollywood shootout, which would see illegally converted automatic rifles outrange and generally overmatch LAPD-issue handguns and shotguns.

Anyway, let’s look at the weapons choice. Remember, it’s 1995. So most modern bullpups aren’t available when you think ‘compact firepower’. The Steyr Aug is available, but due to import restrictions, it’s a lot rarer than the Colt 733. I would guess an Aug would be harder to convert to full auto, though I have no experience doing that with either weapon. Also, go see all of my previous discussions about the handling issues that come up with bullpups. Reloads are way easier with an AR-15. Short barreled AR-15s are still super popular among entry teams. The Model 733 is a fine choice. One I wouldn’t mind having in my own collection for more legal shooting endeavors.


  1. Presumably illegally. These are bank robbers, after all. 
  2. Generally speaking this is illegal. Obvious disclaimer: We here at the Soapbox are not suggesting or encouraging you to break the law. Conversions are only for dealers. Do not commit federal crimes. We do not condone such things here. 

Fishbreath Shoots: CZ P-09 .40 S&W Review

If you read a certain previous article of mine, you might remember that I decided to build a USPSA Limited race gun out of a CZ P-09. Well, my base model P-09 arrived, I took it to the range, and now I have some thoughts for you.

The Gun

The CZ P-09 is a full-size, polymer-frame, double-action pistol. In common with all of CZ’s handguns, the slide rides inside the frame. The slide is cut down in the front to save weight, swelling to the usual squared-off profile at the ejection port. CZ provides an accessory rail forward of the oversize trigger guard. As is common with your polymer pistols, it comes with three interchangeable backstraps.

One of the innovations CZ brought to the table with the P-07 and P-09 is the so-called Omega trigger system. The most interesting feature thereof is the safety. From the box, the P-09 comes with a decocker installed—a pure decocker, unlike the safety/decocker on my Berettas1. Push down on it, and the hammer falls to the safety half-cock position without risk of falling all the way to the firing pin2. Provided in the box, though, and easy to swap to, is a pure manual safety. It can’t be engaged while the hammer is down, and offers no way to safely drop the hammer. All it does is prevent the sear from disengaging while activated. Swapping the decocker for the safety (or vice versa) is a five-minute job, and more or less tool-free3. As I mentioned in the race gun proposal article linked above, the option for a pure safety was a major driver of my choice of the P-09 over the Beretta 96.

Size and Feel

The P-09 is a duty-size pistol. Compared to my M9, it’s very slightly shorter nose-to-beavertail, roughly the same width at the slide, and significantly taller. Unlike with the M9, however, I can hit the P-09’s magazine release without breaking my grip. The P-09’s grip thins toward the top, where the strong-side thumb goes, and this gives me enough extra wraparound to get my thumb to the generously-sized button. I had planned, in my race gun build, on adding the extended magazine release. Turns out I won’t need to.

The sides of the grip are nicely textured, and the backstraps have substantial knobbly bits to hold your hand in place. The front of the grip has the most aggressive texture I’ve seen on a bog-standard factory gun. It proved highly effective on a hot, sweaty day at the pistol bay. Textured patches on the left and right of the frame above the trigger guard provide a nice obvious place to put one’s finger when off the trigger.

The controls are nicely sized and well-placed, even for my average-sized hands. The safety is easy to flip off and difficult to engage, accidentally or otherwise. The trigger reach is significantly shorter than on the M9. I do quibble with the placement of the slide release—it’s far forward, and would be hard to hit under pressure—but in the manual, CZ recommends the slingshot method for dropping the slide from slide lock. With that out of the way, there’s little need for an easily manipulable slide release.

Now, for a few final notes. Despite being bulkier than the M9, it’s lighter. Not tremendously lighter, but notably so. It’s also less well balanced, which should come as no surprise. Polymer pistols always have that issue; a metal-framed pistol is going to have a more favorable center of gravity (nearer your hands) in both loaded and unloaded conditions. Lastly, both are similar in terms of grip angle, which is shallower than that of, say, a Glock. If you’re coming from that direction, there will be a bit of transition to get the point of aim down.

Disassembly and Ease of Maintenance

The P-09 field strips in the same manner as CZs the world around: pull back on the slide a hair to line up a notch on the slide with a notch on the frame, then pop the slide release out with the corner of a magazine. The slide comes off, and then you have a pretty standard tilting-barrel pistol. Compress the recoil spring, remove it from its shoulder on the barrel, remove the barrel. Mine came from the box in desperate need of lubrication, but after a liberal coat of oil, it slides much more freely.

Deeper maintenance, on the other hand, seems a bit trickier. Most of the components of the action—ejector, lifter, sear, double-action roller—ride on one pin. The hammer and disconnector, which are pinned together, ride on the hammer pin. The firing pin and related parts are retained by a roll pin, that nemesis of home gunsmiths everywhere. I’ll have more to report on this front when I get into its guts for my various race gun modifications.

Range Notes

I swung by the local gun shop, picked up two boxes of Remington UMC4 180-grain .40 S&W, and hit the range at lunchtime today. One hundred rounds isn’t enough to draw serious conclusions, but nevertheless, here we are.

Trigger

Out of the box, surprisingly poor in single action. On my M9, which hasn’t seen any trigger tuning beyond a lighter hammer spring, even sitting down, watching my finger rather than the sights, and dry-firing with every effort to find creep, there’s very little to be had. The takeup, which pushes the firing pin plunger out of the way, is distinct from the actual trigger pull.

The P-09 is, in comparison, not great. The takeup is less smooth, building to what feels almost like a striker-fired wall (or a ‘rolling break’, if you want to use the euphemism). This is extremely noticeable sitting and dry-firing, if you’re looking for it; it’s less obvious on the range. Even being below my Beretta-based standard for a double-action trigger, it’s as good or better than the best factory-made striker-fired triggers5.

Neither gun is anything to write home about shooting double action. The Beretta is lighter, which is expected based on the lighter hammer spring, but also smoother. It doesn’t matter, really; with the safety installed on the CZ, the double-action pull is an in-case-of-failure-only tool.

Accuracy

I’m not a pistol marksman, neither on the level of major gun reviewers nor even on the scale of our own parvusimperator. I am an average shot at best, so I won’t bore you with tales of bench shooting, or a picture of a terrible 25-yard target.

That said, the P-09 seems to suit me pretty well. This was my first range trip; the first shot out of the first magazine at my traditional 7-yard familiarization target ended up dead on in the center ring. The 15-yard plate rack at the local range is a traditional nemesis of mine, and I managed to clear it with the dregs of my second box right before leaving. It points naturally. The night sights on mine out of the box are blockier, more target sight than I would prefer on a competition gun. They are night sights, though, which are pretty cool.

Recoil

Here we come to one of the more interesting results. The P-09 is a very soft-shooting .40; it doesn’t feel that much punchier than the M9. The typically low CZ bore axis has something to do with it, I’m sure, converting the muzzle flip into much more controllable backward force. The choice of recoil spring may have some effect on proceedings, too. Either way, it’s much more pleasant to shoot than I expected it to be.

Reliability

Two boxes of good ammo is hardly enough to say one way or another, but I had no failures of any kind.

Conclusions

As usual, I won’t muck about with star ratings. I will say, however, that the P-09 presents an excellent value proposition. The version I got, which includes night sights and three magazines, set me back just over $500 from Bud’s Gun Shop, including transfer fee. For that price, you get a handgun with industry-leading magazine capacity, excellent controllability, good ergonomics, and a passable trigger. If you like your guns double action, as Saint Browning intended6, this one’s a good buy.


  1. Rather, it’s like the pure decocker available on other Berettas. 
  2. Unlike my Berettas, it does not appear to rotate any part of the firing pin out of the way, though. 
  3. Unless you have excellent fine motor control, you’ll need needle-nose pliers or something to replace the decocker spring. Installing the manual safety is entirely tool-free. 
  4. UMC stands for Union Metallic Cartridge. How did we let that one sneak away into the mists of time? 
  5. At least, those factory striker-fired triggers trying to be single-action triggers. I’ve test-fired the Walther PPQ from the Parvusimperator Arsenal, and I find it to be pretty darn good. Rather than emulate a single-action pull—something impossible to do with the half-cock nature of most striker-fired pistols—it aims to be the best darn double-action pull you’ve seen. At that, it succeeds. 
  6. I am informed that Saint Browning never made a double-action pistol, but I pose that he would have done if he’d had more time7
  7. Objection! Speculative. -parvusimperator 

Parvusimperator’s Carry Optics Experiment: Out-Cheaping Fishbreath

Between the two of us, Fishbreath is normally the penny-pinching tightwad. Usually.

Now and then though, I have my moments. When we last left my plans for next season, I was going to get a snazzy custom-built open gun. I’m now reconsidering, not because of the cost of the gun, but because of the hassle of the ammo. Open guns require 9×19 mm or .38 Super Comp loaded to make major power factor. Usually, this is the sort of thing one loads himself. You can buy some commercial major 9×19 mm or .38 SC, but it’s very expensive. Like $0.40-0.50 per round expensive. And I don’t have a reloading setup, and getting one would be kind of expensive. And I really don’t have much of an interest in reloading right now.

Then I thought about competing in other divisions. And I still want a 2011, possibly even a semicustom one. And I might still get one, and it might even see some competition in the Limited Division, where I could probably use factory .40. But there’s another division I can compete in today, and be technically near-optimal: Carry Optics. And with the changes in magazine rules (now as many rounds as you can fit in a 140 mm magazine), I won’t get traumatic flashbacks to living in Soviet Cuomostan1.

Let’s review my equipment list, and all the money I’m not spending.2

Base Pistol: Glock 17, $0.00
It’s a full-size 9 mm pistol. And I’m comfortable with it. And in this division, any polymer-framed pistol is going to work fine if you do your part. There’s no competitive advantage to any of them.

Trigger Job: Polish and Small Parts Tinkering, $0.00
I’ve got a bunch of glocks, so I have a bunch of parts I can tinker with to get the trigger feel right. And I have a dremel with polishing wheels, so I can polish stuff up.

Optic: Trijicon RMR02, $0.00
This optic works. RMRs have great battery life and are plenty tough. The window is a little small, but this will certainly work well, even if it isn’t optimal.

Optic Mount: Mark Housel Slide Milling, $0.00
I already got the slide milled for this RMR. It’s a sturdy mount. Mark does good work. Also, the cut is cerakoted, so I don’t have to worry about rust. It does lock me into the RMR on this gun, but I really don’t care.

140 mm Magazines: ETS and Magpul, $0.00
I already have a bunch of these from competing, because they’re reliable and a little easier to pull off of a belt than a big stick. They all hold at least 20 rounds in an easily-reloaded package. And that’s good enough for club matches. I can get a few more with extenders.

Holster: Dale Fricke Michael, $0.00
This is a production-legal, straight-drop holster. Does not require a weaponlight, which aren’t allowed in carry optics. It’s legal and it works great. There are more optimal holsters, but we can get those later, when I want to optimize. I have a good holster to do some testing. Plus this one is named for an archangel. How cool is that?

Magazine Pouches: Kytex Glock Mag pouches (3), $0.00
I already have these from taking classes with Glocks. Since I can load as many rounds as I can fit into my 140 mm mags, I don’t need a Ramboload of mag pouches. So I don’t need to purchase more.

Tuning required, $0.00
It’s a 9 mm Glock shooting factory ammo, with no changes to the recoil system. It’s about as reliable as you can get. Did I mention it’s a Glock? Time spent: Zero hours. Cost of parts and tools needed: $0.00.

There you have it. One super cool carry optics pistol, ready to rock. If I do get that 2011 in .40, expect some testing to see which gives me a higher hit factor. And I spent less than Fishbreath.


  1. Also known as New York State. 
  2. Or, I guess, technically money I’ve already spent, but SHUT UP. 

Project LSAT

When you look at the soldier’s load, ammo is a natural place to consider weight reductions. Less weight means more ammo. To deal with ammo weight, we can make the bullets smaller, or change their composition. We’ve tried Caseless Ammo, and that proved to have some significant technical challenges. What if we kept the case, but made it from something else?

Enter the LSAT project.

The idea behind LSAT was to create lighter cartridges using polymer cases and telescoped1 cartridge construction, and compare those to using caseless ammo based on the G-11 project. Of course, polymer isn’t brass, and this presents some design challenges. With a brass case, you can make a sturdy rim2 that an extractor claw can grab. You can then pull the case, spent or live, out of the chamber. This doesn’t work for polymer cases. A polymer rim of similar design isn’t strong enough for an extractor claw to pull the round out. You can only push the polymer case, which makes ejection a challenge.

To deal with this problem, the LSAT light machine gun uses a swinging chamber. When the chamber swings down to feed a round, the previous round is pushed forward into the ejection chute. The chamber then swings up to interface with the barrel for firing.

The focus of LSAT was a Light Machine Gun first setup, since the current US Army LMG, the M249, is considerably heavier than an M4. There’s more weight savings to be had there. The end result was a weapon prototype that weighed 9.4 lbs for the polymer-cased telescoped ammo version3. The version firing caseless ammo weighed a little more because of the need for extra components to provide an adequate chamber seal. Polymer-cased telescoped ammo is 40% lighter and takes up 12% less volume than conventional brass-cased ammo, so a belt of 100 rounds of 5.56 mm LSAT ammo weighs about 2 pounds, rather than the roughly 3.3 lbs for a 100 round belt of 5.56 mm NATO.

Let’s briefly talk about the LSAT rifle before getting into some analysis. The LSAT rifle is much less further along designwise than the LSAT LMG. Much of this is due to the fact that the US Army’s existing rifle, the M4, is already really lightweight. It’s an excellent weapon, and weight savings from ammo changes will be less noticeable with a 30 round magazine than with a 100 or 200 round belt. Further weight savings here are likely going to require materials changes.

Recently, the LSAT program started looking at the development of 6.5 mm cased telescoped ammunition, and weapons to fire them.

And now for the breakdown. First, I like the idea of continuing research into small arms development. And I like the idea of trying to keep it evolutionary rather than trying to force a revolution like with Project SPIW or the OICW. I like the LSAT LMG and the 5.56 mm LSAT round best. I’m a big fan of weight reduction, and the weight reduction in both weapon and ammo weight are big wins for the infantryman. I also like that combination for really only having one variable being played with. We’re still using the same 5.56 mm rounds, with the 5.56 mm bullets that we know, but we’re trying to use new materials to reduce the weight burden.

I’m also fine with the 5.56 mm LSAT rifle being put on the back burner. Weight savings from lighter bullets is less attractive here because we’re dealing with significantly fewer bullets. Plus, we already have a solid, lightweight rifle. Weight reductions there are probably going to come from rifle materials, not bullet design. I’m also ok with having a different round for the belt-fed infantry support weapons and the carbines. Linked and loose ammo are basically two different things anyway.

What about the new 6.5 mm projects? That really depends on the goal of those projects. If they’re looking to replace 7.62 mm NATO with a 6.5 mm LSAT round, I’d be okay with that. Or at least, I’d be fine with looking into that and testing the daylights out of that concept. And I would also be fine with a DMR-type ‘heavy rifle’ that fired the same round, in the same vein as the Dragunov rifle.

I would not be happy with any kind of effort to switch the general issue carbine from 5.56 mm anything to 6.5 mm anything. I do not approve of the extra load. I do not approve of adding a whole bunch of extra range that the average grunt can’t use. I do not approve of ignoring a mountain of historical evidence across multiple wars that most infantry combat occurs at relatively short ranges of less than 300 meters. I do not approve of excessively optimizing to fight in Afghanistan. I do not approve of small arms solutions to problems of rules of engagement and airspace deconfliction. I do not approve of any deviation from the classic solution to the sniper problem of mortars and artillery and airstrikes.

Any effort to make the standard infantry rifle a morbidly obese4 affair with a fat, overly energetic cartridge is a return to 1950s US Army Ordnance Department thinking. That nonsense brought us the M-14, which is a piece of junk. Let’s not make the same mistakes of the past. History teaches us what our parents and grandparents did wrong so we can make our own mistakes, not steal theirs.

I’m happy to debate the merits of a different cartridge for the medium/general purpose machine gun role, but that’s a very separate question. And trying for a ‘single cartridge’ means compromising too many ways. Since the SCHV rounds are the least bad present compromise, I’m happy to try out polymer cased telescoped rounds there, where at least the projectile itself can be kept constant.


  1. Telescoped like the 40mm CTAS rounds, but way smaller of course. 
  2. Even on ‘rimless’ cases like 7.62 NATO. 
  3. This unloaded weapon weight is very nearly replicated in 5.56 mm NATO caliber by the Knights Armament Stoner 96 LMG. 
  4. Projected weight for an empty, opticless 6.5 mm LSAT ‘carbine’ is 8 lbs, which is about 33% heavier than an empty, opticless M4 carbine. It would make a good DMR. 

It’s Not the Arrow, Stupid

Fishbreath and I are gear junkies. We love tinkering. And there’s always the temptation to look at your gear, and look at how you can make it just a little bit better. Tinkering can quickly turn into obsessing. Jodie’s1 “interesting idea” becomes your “must have”. And you go nuts. Tons of perfectly fine pistols are ruined by people’s dumb ideas.

Let me be perfectly clear. As my old man says, it’s the indian, not the arrow. It’s your skill that makes the match day performance, not the gun.

Of course, I’m just some guy on the internet. Let’s look at a few examples.

EXHIBIT A: The Case of Mr. White.
Enter one Mr. Gabe White. A USPSA Limited division shooter out of the state of Oregon. He has a Master classification in this division. And yet, he has two noteworthy hardware limitations holding him back: his gun is strictly minor power factor, and he draws from concealment. He shoots a Glock 34. He can only score minor power factor with 9mm in Limited. So every hit outside the A zone costs him points when compared to the competition. And concealment slows his drawstroke. For usual rules of thumb, I’ve seen anywhere from one quarter to one half of a second as the difference between a concealed draw and an unconcealed draw. Another penalty his fellow competitors don’t have. And yet, he has an M classification.

EXHIBIT B: The Case of the First Two Limited Nationals
USPSA was originally a Run What You Brung sort of match. So if you had a lightly modified 1911 with sights you could see, a crisp trigger, and a dehorn job, and Jodie brought his new fancy compensated, optically-sighted gun, then you were stuck. One of the first divisions was a split between “Open” (No Limits) and Limited (No optics or compensators allowed). Around this time, some enterprising gunsmiths were figuring out how to make reliable 1911s with double stack magazines. They were expensive, and only a few guys could do it, so they were not common weapons. Enter Mr. Rob Leatham and Mr. Jerry Barnhardt. They took first and second place at the first and second Limited Division Nationals. Their pistols? Single-stack 1911s. Even though many of their competitors had the new double-stack models.

It’s not your equipment that’s holding you back.


  1. Yes, that Jodie. 

(More) Testing the RMR and Irons

I’ve spilled plenty of virtual ink on slide-mounted red dots. Specifically, the RMR. When last we left the subject, I found it less than ideal for unconventional presentations. Of course, class being class, I’m not always getting good, apples-to-apples comparisons. And I’m not always able to get a chance to record data.

So I thought I might spend a little time on my club’s new Quick Draw Range with a timer and some pistols. Out came the Glock 34. Out came the Glockblaster. Time for some work. I did two five shot strings with each pistols. A quick coin flip said the irons would go first. I alternated pistols between strings. All tests were from the 7 yard line, square to the target for the standard draw. I care more about the overall results, and the second strings, i.e. after I’ve gotten ‘warmed up’ for comparison purposes here. No test is perfect, but here’s my rather unscientific data:

G34 String 1GBL String 1G34 String 2GBL String 2
1.361.361.261.11
1.321.381.271.33
1.401.411.261.16
1.481.361.171.04
1.281.171.231.24
Avg: 1.37Avg: 1.34Avg: 1.26Avg: 1.18

Sigh. Okay. Let’s draw some conclusions from the data. First, I need to practice more. There’s a lot of variability in there. I need to iron that out. And I need to get faster. Further, we can see that the red dot pistol is faster on average, both cold and when warmed up.

As I said before, everything is a compromise. I think red dots are a good one overall, if you’re willing to put the time in to practice. I’d also like to get and try a frame mount. Frame mounts add bulk, but make the dot significantly easier to track in recoil. There’s an obvious shootability win there, but I’d have to see one in person to determine what I think of the increased bulk. Stay tuned.

PII: A Useful Cooperism

The Great Col. Jeff Cooper coined a fascinating and useful term, PII, ‘Preoccupation with Inconsequential Increments.” To wit, in his own words:

Years ago we coined the appellation, “Preoccupation with Inconsequential Increments,” or PII. This peculiarity lies in attributing importance to measurable deviations so small as to be meaningless. You see it in the people who shoot test groups in rifles, awarding a prize to a group which is only thousandths of an inch smaller than those unrewarded. One sees it in speed records awarded in one-thousandths of one mile-per-hour. One sees it in basketball scores which, nearing the century mark, are separated by less than three points. In all such cases Score A is “better” than Score B, but who cares?

An increment may be termed inconsequential when it has no significant relationship to the purpose of the exercise. Of course if the purpose of the exercise is in itself inconsequential some may not think this to be foolish. A very distinguished general at Quantico once caused the sign to be placed over the exit door of every office asking, in brilliant scarlet and gold, “What are you trying to do?” There was a man who knew more about human nature than most.

The Colonel knew what he was talking about. Know what one is trying to achieve. Beware the obsession with minutia that don’t really matter.

The enumeration of specific examples of PII is an exercise that I shall leave to the reader, who will no doubt find it enlightening.

Visible Lasers for Carbines

On pistols, I know many trainers who’ve had very good experiences with visible laser sights on pistols. The late Todd Green was a big fan, for example. Laser sights work well for target-focused shooting and shooting problems involving unusual shooting positions. They also reduce time to first shot, which is big from a defensive standpoint.

Do they make sense on a carbine?

Clearly, the answer is yes if one is using night vision devices. IR lasers are tops at night, if you’re hunting hogs or scum.

What about visible lasers? Visible lasers can be had for a lot less than IR ones. That much is obvious. Also, the nature of the laser means that a red dot or low power variable optic will make the most sense as the primary sight for most. If one had a gas mask on, the laser would be a much better choice as a primary sight.

This points to some of the use cases that might make lasers helpful. The laser will naturally make shots from nonstandard positions easier, because we don’t have to get all the way behind the gun to get a good sight picture. The laser can help.

We might also expect the laser to help on getting faster first shots, because we don’t have to get the rife all the way up before getting our initial shot off. I would love to test this in match conditions. And yes, this is a very gamer reason for a laser. Yeah, I’m a gamer.

Another thought for the laser is as a backup sighting device. We love backups. Normally, people mean ‘backup iron sights’. But iron sights are very different from a red dot or other optical sights. Lots of people have backup irons on their guns, but don’t practice with them. I’m pretty sure plenty of people don’t even zero them. Or, you could use a laser, which is going to give you a similar ‘colored dot in a tube’ as your red dot.

A brief word on sight models. As usual, there are some high end military type models available for quite a bit of coin. For experimentation purposes, I’m not going to be getting one of these. I’m going to start with a Crimson Trace Railmaster, which is a bit cheaper than a high-quality BUIS set. It’s not as durable as an ATPIAL, but it’s a lot cheaper. And it should let me evaluate the concept fine. Given my expected use cases, I’m not concerned about the relative lack of durability.

Red Dot Pistols In Class

I attended a pistol class this past Saturday. As ever, it was awesome. This time, I decided to try something a little different. I brought my Glock 17 with slide-mounted RMR. No compensator.

Knowing the instructors, I figured this class would focus on the short ranges typical of defensive handgun encounters for the CCW holder. I also knew this class would have plenty of unconventional presentations. I would not always start square to the target standing straight and tall. Plus, there would be plenty of mindset aspects that would ensure that I wouldn’t be focusing on my draw and presentation.

In short, this would be a great test of the RMR in conditions that wouldn’t be in its favor. To make this test as focused as I could, I used the same holster and weaponlight combo that I would normally use on my Glock 34.

I found that the RMR was, as expected, disadvantaged by class conditions. I found myself slower when I didn’t have a chance to focus on a good presentation, and when I wasn’t starting from the ‘standard squared-up draw’ that I practice a lot. Overall, the Glock 34 worked better in these class conditions.

Why is this? And why does the RMR work a lot better in the competition setting? In the competition setting, you get a draw once per stage, and there are many subsequent shots. These shots may be against very small targets, or targets at significant range. Here, even a slide-mounted dot can provide a noticeable advantage. Also, the draw is usually from a conventional, reasonably-squared off stance. So, in a competition setting, there’s a net advantage to the dot, even if your presentation isn’t perfect.

Clearly, I need some more practice with the red dot. Or, maybe everything is a compromise, and the dot may not always be the best choice for everyone all of the time.