Monthly Archives: October 2016

Parvusimperator Experiments with the RMR and Water, Part 1

You didn’t think I had forgotten about it, did you?

I got to thinking about the RMR (maybe it’ll come with me to class soon). Specifically, it really does seem to improve my shooting. Now, I frequent certain forums, and I recall a long discussion from 2014 about issues with the RMR becoming unusable in the rain. Basically, everything got soaked and you’d get a starburst effect all over the optic. This denied you the aiming point of the red dot and made use of irons very difficult. Or so it was claimed. There were pictures. Of course, not everybody had the same experience. Some had no problems in the rain.

And of course, there are other issues. How heavy is ‘heavy rain’? Does RainX help? Did Trijicon make tweaks? How are the eyes of the person doing the shooting? Cameras often don’t show sight pictures well.

Time for some experiential learning of my own. I’ve become a fan of trying things myself and forming an opinion for me. Even if it is more expensive. We have some accounts of rain making the things not work, and some of rain not being an issue. Plus, it’s been about two years, so Trijicon may have quietly rolled improvements into the optic to correct any problems there might be. Let’s find out for ourselves!

Alas, I don’t see much rain in my near future. And I’d then have to go out in the rain, and hope it was good, pouring rain to get a good test. So I thought for a minute, and came up with the next best thing: the shower.

No, I didn’t start shooting in the shower. Don’t be an idiot. But that gave me a heavy stream of water for me to test sight picture. So I started up the shower (yay hot water), cleared my Glockblaster (a few times), and proceeded to soak it.

I tried all kinds of angles relative to the stream of water. I cycled the slide. I got everything good and wet. And through it all, I still had a usable dot to aim with. I also had no problem using my backup irons through the soaked RMR window.

Awesome! To be honest, I didn’t think it would be a big problem for the concealed carry use case, since the pistol spends its time under a jacket. But this does give me confidence for the next rainy match, where I can do some more testing.

So there we go. Preliminary testing shows that getting your RMR soaked will not impede its usefulness as a sighting unit. I’m not sure about other people, or about small changes or about where you live. I wasn’t there to see their problems or check the finer points of design at the factory. And I’m not you. But I can get behind this fancy technology.

Lessons from Wargame: Airland Battle

Fishbreath and I are big fans of Wargame: Airland battle (which I will abbreviate as WALB, for I am a lazy typist). Now, I won’t pretend that it’s a perfect simulation, but it’s a solid one which should be relatively consistent in it’s assumptions/errors. So I thought it would be a good place to test some ideas, at least until I finally buy Steel Beasts (which also doesn’t do airpower). I have rather less time in Red Dragon, but I’ll add notes where appropriate.

I tend to roll with tank-heavy decks, with a good amount of airpower. So I’m usually rolling with America for NATO (because USAF) or USSR for Pact (because duh). Some observations and conclusions, in no particular order:

If we’re talking tanks alone, the T-80U is tops, followed by the Leopard 2A4 and then the M1A1. The T-80U has a marginally better gun, and gun-launched ATGMs, which gives it a bunch more range. Flank armor is weak, so hit it there. The Leopard 2A4 and M1A1 are pretty similar, and both are noticeably less good than the T-80U. Though numbers even things up.

Gun launched ATGMs are cool, because they give you more range. Puts the priority on seeing the other guy first of course. Though, that’s really important all the time, as we’ll see. Note that tank optics are a little nerfed in the game, to make you use recon units. Which is fine, but does deprive the Abrams of things that the US Army got right before everyone else, namely high end thermals. Otherwise, this one’s all about the gun. As for the numbers game, Uncle Joe said it best.

Of course, this isn’t a straight-up tank sim (like Steel Beasts). So when playing NATO, I’ll go with America. The M1A1 is almost as good as the Leopard 2A4, with the biggest deficiency being that you have to gas it up more frequently. This happens to me a lot. But playing America gets you a much, much better air force, better attack helicopters, and Bradleys.

It’s all about the combined arms, shock. No big surprise here. Games like this tend to strongly encourage playing as the bigger powers who give you more options. This was one of the few things improved in Wargame: Red Dragon–they allowed you to group lesser powers to get a well-rounded unit set.

I love Bradleys. One of my favorite combos is the M3(A1) recon vehicles with some M1(A1) Abramses. This gives me a long range sight with the good recon optics, plus a long range missile punch from the Bradley TOW-2 missiles. It does take a little micro to keep the Bradleys alive. I probably don’t have to remind you to put the big tanks with the heavy armor out in front.

ATGMs are useful on IFVs, who knew? It’s more that this armament set of smallish autocannon with lots of ammo + ATGMs on IFVs is useful for just about any target I encounter. I try to bypass towns, personally. Other loadout decisions might also work for your intended use case. I will say that the Bradleys are also quite formidable on the defensive, again, as long as you can keep them from being hit too much. The 25 mm gun with large ammo reserves and good fire control is pretty good against aircraft. Not much to be done about IFV survivability except go heavier. That seems familiar…

In that same vein, I’m big on American-style aggressive reconnaissance. Recon vehicles alone seem to have a nasty habit of dying. As part of an armored spearhead, they live longer.

There are two schools of thought on recon: recon by stealth and recon by force. I like the latter. It fits with my tactical conceptions. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do recon, but understand your role and the vehicles. Bradley’s ain’t stealthy. Something like the SPz 11-2 Kurz doesn’t bring a ton of firepower to a fight. And the American school fits me better, so I like it more. Glad to see it can actually work too.

The Soviets have some great SHORAD in Tunguska. That thing is amazing. Interestingly, my favorite from the NATO perspective it the cheap and cheerful M1097 Avenger, which was a surprise to me. It is not as obviously amazing, and I probably wouldn’t have picked it if I didn’t desperately need to make do while I wait for Eagles to swat things out of the air.

You knew the Tunguska was great. Guns, missiles, mobile like a tank. Love it. It is sometimes advisable to order it to shut down its autocannons so that it doesn’t announce its presence to enemy armor. The success of the M1097 was a surprise to me. It’s a HMMWV with a big rack of stingers on the back in a turret. But Stingers are excellent MANPADS, and it’s a great thing to hide and use to ambush marauding aircraft and helicopters. And then move to a new hiding spot before the inevitable counterstrike. It’s the kind of SHORAD you could really load up on. Maybe load some WVRAAMs to for a bit more range.

My Soviet decks, and especially my American decks tend to lack a lot of infantry. Especially the well armed ‘shock infantry’ that a lot of the other European powers have. A bunch of this is because I prefer armored thrusts and ripostes to slugging it out. This basically means I’m gonna have a hard time dealing with built-up areas. That’s the price I pay for my builds. Also, Fishbreath likes the infantry-defensive type fight (maybe he’s got a British character to his tactics?), and so I usually leave that to him. Instead, I’ll take the deep Thunder Run any day of the week.

Specialization is good. Urban combat sucks. Bring infantry if you’re stuck there. Or avoid it entirely. You can get a lot of success with deep thrusts. Especially if you’ve used some probing moves and skirmisher-type engagements to figure out where the enemy isn’t. Protip: that’s where you should be striking.

I’ve got some good rounds with a German armored deck that comes with their excellent Panzergrenadier shock infantry. If you’re gonna storm a town, go heavy. In Red Dragon, Panzergrenadiers ’90 are awesome.

If I’m gonna go infantry, I’m going with infantry that bring stuff. All the stuff. The bigger rocket launchers the better. Oh, and that buzzsaw that is the MG3. Cue the Panzerlied. Maybe I should build a Castle Iter Rules deck. It’s also in Red Dragon that you can get Marder 2s, a formidable IFV with staying power. You still don’t quite have the Death From Above air support that is the USAF though.

Okay, let’s get to it. The USAF is the best AF, hands down. Want air superiority? They’ll get it. Want something to die? You got it.

Airpower rocks, news at 11. Von Rundstedt’s ghost is yelling “Duh!” over my shoulder as I type this, I’m sure. If you can see it, you can bomb it. And if you can bomb it, it’s gonna die. The USAF even has plenty of SEAD to take out those pesky Soviet SAMs. Or you can use the F-117A. I’m pretty sure it was never intended to be used like some kind of stealth stuka, but I don’t care. It’s my go to if I want to get rid of some pesky command vehicle. Also, can I say napalm and cluster weapons rock? Because they totally do. I love you, Dow Chemical.

The Soviets have the best overall air defenses around with the aforementioned Tunguska and the excellent medium-range Buk. They really need it given the mighty USAF, plus several other NATO members that have decent air forces that are good at bringing pain. Beware Tornadoes.

Nothing new here. The Russians invested heavily in SAMs, and it shows. Also, cluster bombs are super effective. Shocker. Defense in depth is helpful. Tornadoes and similar are especially problematic because they come in low and fast, giving minimal time to react. The big vulnerabilities are against fighters, and against widely-deployed AAA, but I’ve usually spent my points on other things by then.

The F-14 Tomcat/Phoenix combo is stupid awesome. It’s my go-to American fighter, despite the availability of the F-15C.

This is an interesting function of some in-game limitations. Given the smallish size of the battlefield and lack of early warning from ground based radar or AWACS (and thus no early interception opportunities), my options are to have fighters loiter over the battlefield on patrol, or scramble to intercept. I’ve found loitering to lead to a bunch of annoying ambushes from enemy fighters or medium range SAMs, and it almost always means I don’t have air cover when I need it because of fuel concerns. If I’m intercepting, then the long range of the Phoenix missile makes up for all other shortcomings of it and the Tomcat. The Tomcat was built as an interceptor and it’s quite good at this. Being able to launch first even gives it a good shot against Flankers. So even though the F-15 is the better air superiority fighter, the F-14 is better in Wargame. Although its much less famous, similar conclusions apply to the MiG-31 Foxhound for the USSR (which is much more of a pure interceptor design than the Tomcat).

Parvusimperator Reviews Trijicon HD Sights

I decided I should replace the stock sights on my PPQ. The PPQ is a really great gun out of the box, but it comes with crappy plastic three dot sights. I don’t like the three dot sight picture, so let’s see what’s on the market.

I could have gone with a black rear and fiber optic front from Dawson, like I did on my VP9, but I wanted something different. Plus, Dawson’s manufacturing tolerances annoy me. The VP9 is made by just one company, HK. With just one set of specs and tolerances. This ain’t no 1911, where dovetail dimensions differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. I understand that adjustment is going to be needed on a 1911. But this is the age of computer aided design and CNC machines. I should not have to spend a large amount of time with files fitting sights to my modern pistol. To hell with that.

Instead, I went with the Trijicon HD Sights. These are an attempt to get sights that work in both high and low light conditions. They have a plain black rear with two tritium lamps, but no white rings around the tritium, so as not to provide distractions. The rear sight also has a wide, U-shaped notch. The front sight has a tritium lamp surrounded by a high-visibility thick plastic ring, in orange or yellow. That ring is made of traditional glow in the dark stuff that gets “charged” with light. As a result of the ring, this is a wide post for the front sight. That’s really been my only hesitation with these. I like narrower fiber optic posts. But, given that the rear sight is commensurately wider, I still get nice broad light bars on either side.

The tritium makes the Trijicon HDs expensive. But Trijicon is at least nice enough to make them for just about everything. In addition to the common guns, namely Glocks and M&Ps, Trijicon makes HDs for SiGs, the PPQ and other Walthers, the VP9 and other HKs, and even Fishbreath’s PX4. Dawson doesn’t even make sights for the PX4.

A quick aside. Mounting sights on the PPQ was super easy. The factory front sight is held on by a small screw that holds two plastic wings apart. To remove, just take out the screw and squeeze the wings with some needle-nose pliers. Done. The replacement front sight is affixed with a screw, like a Glock. I know this is supposed to be less sturdy than a dovetail, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to install.

The rear sight is kind of interesting. There’s a reverse-threaded screw with a square head on the right side of the sight. There’s a spring-loaded detent in the frame that has a slot cut in it to lock in with the screw, and it presses the sight into the square-cut slot. I’m not aware of anyone else who’s done this, and I have no idea how sturdy it is. But since I don’t use my rear sights as a hammer, I’m not too worried. Again, it was super easy to swap out the sights.

Then, I took it to the range to compare it with the aforementioned Dawson sights on the VP9. Both the VP9 and the PPQ have excellent ergonomics and triggers, so I figured this was as good a test as any.

The result was pretty much as I expected. For quick stuff in close-ish, the Trijicon HDs were competitive with the fiber optic for speedy sight acquisition. At range, it was a little harder to focus on the top edge of the sight on the HDs, since the bright dot is quite a bit bigger. Also, the wide front post covers more of a smaller target at range.

I’m a firm believer that for whatever sights you have on your gun, there exists some lighting condition and shooting problem to screw you over. In this case, you get pretty quick acquisition and good low-light capabilities, but make the long distance problems more difficult. It’s a pretty reasonable trade. I really like these as general purpose pistol sights.

Of course, if you aren’t sold on needing/wanting tritium, you can get nice, high visibility sights for a lot less money. This comes down to what are you comfortable with. Which optical conditions do you want to screw you over? Or, you could put a U-Boat1 on your carry gun, and always be ready to illuminate the living daylights out of an obscure target. But then there’s extra weight and bulk to play with.

Unfortunately, the best way to know if sights are right for you is to try them. Happily, some of the nicer gun stores have a set in a countertop display, which is pretty neat. If you want tritium, I don’t know of another commercially available solution to also get high visibility built in, short of having someone custom build them. They’re way better than any other tritium sight I’ve tried.

1.) Surefire X300U

Retro Review: Parvusimperator Looks at the M16A2

Let’s have some fun with an old review. I’m a huge fan of the M16, as you well know. There was a pretty comprehensive set of changes put in from the M16A1 of my father’s Vietnam-era generation to my generation’s M16A2 (and M16A4, though that’s mostly an M16A2 with a picatinny-rail equipped flattop upper). Let’s look at them one by one, and I’ll tell you what I think. We’re starting from the muzzle end, of course.

Muzzle Device Changes
This is the later “birdcage” flash suppressor with the bottom ports not cut. Meh. I could take these or leave these. I suppose it’s a little better, because it’ll blow less dirt back in the face of the shooter when prone, but that’s hardly a big deal on the M16A1. I guess I’m okay with this, but I’m going to be looking at the price very closely. This isn’t worth a lot to me.

Front sight Changes
This one is really subtle. There were five detents for the M16A1 front sight as you adjust it for elevation. There are four on the M16A2. Because…better? Something about glare and flat faces, I don’t know. I don’t think this one matters.

Barrel Changes
That profile. It’s now fatter…in front of the gas block. The rest of the barrel is unchanged. There is literally no good reason for this. It’s beyond stupid. There were some dumb soldiers using their M16A1 as a prybar. Apparently this was the fix, not discipline. Is there any wonder we’re in such a sorry state now?

There were also some questions of barrel flex, especially under prolonged fire. Well, all that flex is going to happen between the chamber and the gas block. But that part of the barrel was left alone so they didn’t have to make new M203 brackets. A thicker muzzle end won’t do shit besides balance stupid. If this was an actual concern (and I strongly doubt it, but I’m not staring at the data) then they should have added notches or made new M203 brackets.1

There’s also the subtle matter of new barrel twist. The M16A2 was designed to work with the new SS109/M855 round. The NATO standard 5.56 mm. The Belgians, who developed that round, called for a 1 in 7 twist. Some experts think a 1 in 9 twist would work better. But the Belgians also wanted to make the barrel stabilize the associated tracer round, which was quite a bit longer. So they called for 1 in 7. I can’t blame anyone involved in the M16A2 design for choosing the manufacturer-specified twist rate for the new round.

New Handguards
Okay, these I like. I like these a lot. Way better than the old triangular-type ones. They’re more comfortable. They don’t have those “teeth” things at the top that break. There’s only one kind of part to stock in the inventory instead of two. And they’re better ventilated. Fun for the whole family.

Delta Ring
Colt angled the ring holding the handguards on. The new slip ring (now called the “Delta ring”) was designed to be easier to grab and pull down to remove or replace the handguards. A small change, but a good one.

Brass Deflector
I guess if you shoot rifles wrong-handed, you probably oughtn’t get brass in the face for your trouble. Pretty small change, doesn’t actually impact anything.

Range adjustable sights
Another feature I hate. Unlike the barrel profile, I understand the reasoning. It’s just wrong. These were added because the USMC has a focus on long range rifle marksmanship on known-distance ranges, and also because they wanted something that would do well in high power matches. The sight is better for this. However, the two apertures aren’t very well designed (the big one is too small for its intended use, and the small one is too big for its intended use). Further, I categorically disagree with the train of thought here. Range estimation is hard. Range estimation when you’re getting shot at is very, very hard. Studies have shown that soldiers are really, really bad at range estimation. And the whole point of SCHV rounds is that you have a large point-blank zone. So for the most part, put the sights on target, pull the trigger2, and the error should be small enough not to matter. Remember, these are iron sights, and Ivan or Charlie or Haji isn’t going to obligingly stand still at 500 yards and wait for you to shoot him. The original -A1 type sights were better.

Various Lower Receiver Reinforcements
The lower receiver got beefed up a bit in some critical areas. Apparently they were breaking. Anyway, I’m all for stronger, but soldiers can break anything. So I’d really like to see some data on this, in terms of breaking strength and what standard abuse modes will do to it.

New Pistol Grip
You were so close, Colt. So very close. The shape and size are the same as the old grip. But this one is made from a tougher plastic and it has more texture. I like textured grips, and yay tougher. What went wrong? The nub on the front. This is why finger grooves suck. If they fit your hand, they feel good. If they don’t, you’re gonna have a bad time. Because my hands aren’t like the dude that called for the nub, it doesn’t fit my hand right. I’d grind it off, except there are even better grips on the aftermarket. The best of breed are currently the TangoDown Battlegrips.

Burst trigger
I hate hate hate hate hate the burst trigger. Hate it. I hate the conceit that soldiers are too dumb to be trained to use autofire correctly. I hate the conceit that three is the only correct burst size. I hate the notion that the psychological aspect of carrying your own fully automatic rifle in your hands to respond to the enemy’s in kind isn’t worth having. I hate that it means you get three super crappy trigger pulls instead of one mediocre trigger pull. I hate that you never know how many rounds are going to come out, because it doesn’t reset. So, if you have one round in the magazine, the gun will fire the chambered round, plus the one in the mag. You reload. You pull the trigger again. Only one bullet comes out, because the system “remembers” where it left off. You want suppression? Do you need to break contact right fucking now? Automatic fire. Accept no substitutes. I’m so glad this “feature” is dying a much deserved death these days. Probably the worst feature on the gun.

New Stock
I’m split on this. On the one hand, yay tougher. On the other, it’s longer. It’s a great length for prone shooting on a known distance range, slung up with your rifle. It’s less good in combat when you’re using all kinds of positions. Especially if you’re not tall.

Overall, meh. Honestly, the best thing here are the new handguards, and you could easily put those on an M16A1. Also of note is the Diemaco/Colt Canada C7 rifle. Which is an M16A2, but with A1 sights, a safe/semi/auto trigger, and various spacers to adjust the stocks. That’s pretty good. Way better than the M16A2. Sigh.

Now, of course, just buy an M4. Duh. Or M4A1 if you want a barrel that’s in a heavier but sensibly-cut profile. Both are available with a proper safe/semi/auto trigger. The M4 has always been available this way in the catalog. It’s not Colt’s fault some stupid colonels didn’t buy the right triggers.

1.) This issue was finally fixed in the newest M4A1 builds, which use a nice, medium-profile barrel. It’s thicker under the handguards, and there are notches cut in the sides to accommodate the M203 mounting brackets. And, to the surprise of exactly no one, this barrel actually works as intended, holding up to lots of full auto better. There’s a separate question of whether or not this is needed for general issue…
2.) This is why red dot sights work so well on the AR-15 and other SCHV rifles. Modern technology has fixed this issue. Now, everybody uses an optic, whether an Aimpoint or an ACOG. Which is a separate discussion, but any optic will beat good irons, let alone stupid ones like these.

So make yourself an ARK: ragging on the platform

Not very hard, I admit: I’ll grant you that the AR-15 is an excellent example of a weapon design which is easy to work on, easy to assemble, and easy to maintain. As far as building your own goes, the AR-15 is a lot like democracy: the worst system, except for all the other ones we’ve tried.

That being said, though, no other rifle has the same reputation as the AR-15, whose marketing says that any enterprising citizen with some tools in the basement can knock one together from your various parts kits. This is technically correct, and while I’m on the record saying that technically correct is the best kind of correct, I have to throw the flag here, for two separate reasons.

First: the AR-15 in its original design does require specialist tools, to attach a pinned gas block. Fortunately for modern end users, set screw and clamp-on gas blocks are much more popular, because they, y’know, work just as well. If you build to the original spec, you need a drill press, which brings us to…

Second: the fairer comparison is an 80% AR lower against an 80% AK blank. You’ll need a drill press for the AR lower as well as the AK blank; there’s just less of a market for AK building because it doesn’t have that Lego feel.

Beyond that, the AR has a ton of annoying fiddly bits which, while still better than, say, rivets, are still a pain. Consider the barrel nut. Rather than having a single purpose and a single torque specification, it has two purposes and a massive torque range: it holds the barrel to the receiver, and it supports the gas tube through its notched flange while being locked in place by same. This is an example of too-clever-by-half thinking. The barrel nut ought to just be a regular nut, and when designing a regular nut, it’s best to rely on torque over some external device designed to inhibit the rotation of the nut. If the gas tube needs support, design a separate part for that.

Consider also the roll pin. Sure, it does its job, but at what cost? In most cases where I may want to remove a part, I prefer set screws or mechanically-retained pins. (Remember, I have c-spring retained trigger and hammer pins on my lower receiver.) I will grant that the roll pin is fine in some places. For instance, I don’t intend to ever replace the trigger guard on my lower receiver, so roll pins are fine! Similarly, I don’t plan on unpinning the gas tube from the gas block; if I have to replace one, or if I want to change one, I’ll replace them as a unit. Same deal: roll pins cool.

Parvusimperator asked me to gripe about the dust cover, but I (intelligently) bought an upper receiver which already has the dust cover installed.

The worst part is that most of these failings need not be failings! It’s dead simple to make an AR-15-compatible receiver. Upper receivers especially already exist to meet a myriad of needs. Why not improved end-user serviceability? Lowers are a harder pill to swallow, since ‘needs special parts’ is a terrible thing to see on the side of one. Then again, ambidextrous lower receivers are a thing, and most end users are only going to bother changing furniture, triggers, and maybe buffers, none of which are big offenders in the special-tools market. The same reasoning holds here. We already have specialist AR-15 lowers for the ambidextrously-interested. Why not for the bolt-catch-replacingly-interested?

So make yourself an ARK: 7.62×39 AR reliability

In a previous post, I alluded to the canonical article on AR 7.62×39. That is this article, an excellent resource by a guy who goes by Major Pandemic1. It identifies two issues with AR functioning in 7.62×39 rifles: cycling, which I will use to mean exclusively the movement of the action, and feeding, which I will use to mean the process by which ammunition is stripped from the top of the magazine and pushed forward into the chamber. These two issues are, at their base, related, and Major Pandemic hits upon the solutions pretty quickly, along with one which I believe to be superfluous. This is because he hit them in the wrong order.

It’s impossible to claim an AR-pattern rifle is unreliable without first making sure the gas system is functioning as designed. Thanks to parvusimperator’s recent book acquisitions on and general encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the scary black rifle, I have a few instances to cite. First on the list are the M16 and M16A1, where a change in powder from stick-type to ball-type yielded a change in pressure curve. The result: unreliable functioning2. Rounding out the list are your various carbines, from the CAR-15 in the 1960s and 1970s to the M4 carbine through to the super-short Mark 18/Close Quarters Battle Receiver, all of which fall prey to another issue: changing the barrel length without changing the gas system. When you shorten (or lengthen) a barrel, you decrease (or increase) the dwell time. That figure, the measure of how long a bullet stays in the barrel (and barrel pressures remain high), combines with the pressure curve to determine where the gas port should be placed, and how large the gas port ought to be.

Fortunately for 5.56 NATO shooters, the hard work has already been done, and barrel manufacturers have the sizes and locations pretty much figured out. Unfortunately for we 7.62 Russian Short shooters, the same body of work is not yet done, and shooting a different cartridge with a vastly different pressure profile is the very definition of messing around with the gas system. When doing your function tests, be prepared! If you run into cycling issues, try a lightweight buffer and/or a lightweight spring. (I believe the received wisdom is to try them in that order. Parvusimperator will correct me, if not.) If that doesn’t suffice, you may have to increase the size of your gas port. With a drill, I mean, and a bit. Don’t increase the size too fast: my 7.62 AR functions perfectly with a factory gas tube size of about 1/12″. If you get to larger than 1/8″, you’ve almost certainly done something else wrong. A bluing pen (if you’re using a blued or nitrided barrel) should give you some finish around the gas port.

Next, and obviously, get dedicated magazines. The 7.62×39 cartridge is obscenely tapered, and only magazines specifically designed for it will push your cartridges up in front of the bolt carrier proper-like. This isn’t .300 Blackout; it’s not shaped anything like a 5.56 round, and any magazine not designed to feed 7.62×39, in a word, won’t. Midway’s AR-Stoner brand works well, and they won’t break the bank.

That brings us to feeding issues. By this point, you shouldn’t have any. If you clicked through to Major Pandemic’s article, you’ll see that he decided to dremel out the divider between the feed ramps. Granted, Bushmaster’s successful, functional 7.62×39 AR took the same tack, but my suspicion is that they made the same mistake other manufacturers, plus innumerable individual builders, made: an undergassed or overbuffered gun leaving magazines insufficient time to fully feed the next cartridge before the bolt carrier returns.

If and only if you simply can’t get your rifle to function correctly, you may consider a few courses of action before breaking out the dremel. Different magazines may help. It’s a bit of a shame that you may have to match a specific brand of magazine to your rifle, but if you were expecting rock-solid reliability with any equipment you care to find, you should have bought an AK. You might also try shooting it more. There’s a break-in period to any gun, and springs and lubrication may not take at first. If you do resort to dremeling and you have a barrel with a finish, don’t forget the wee touch-up pen to get your corrosion resistance back.

I think I’ll close with one final note on barrel selection. Faxon Firearms, who I’ve mentioned before, seem to make an excellent product with a gas port able to run just about any example of our favorite Russian intermediate cartridge without issue. I recommend their product. If you ignore that recommendation, I would at least suggest you look for a nitrided/Melonited barrel. Nothing else really makes sense for 7.62×39: presumably, you’re going to want to shoot cheap steel-cased, bimetal-jacket ammo, and a harder barrel helps to offset the additional wear you get from that choice. Combine that with the much lower velocities you have to work with compared to 5.56, and you may be surprised at the barrel life you end up with.

Then again, you may not. As you may have noticed, we don’t have sponsors around here, so I’m engaging in the most rampant of rampant speculation, not being able to afford 1) a second barrel to beat up and 2) the 20,000-40,000 rounds of ammunition it would likely take to really blow the first item out. As always, we’re curious about your experiences with 7.62×39 ARs, dear reader, so leave a comment if you have any.

1. I’m hardly one to talk about strange monikers, though.
2. I found some rather morbid documented accounts of US soldiers found dead next to malfunctioned, torn-down M16s, suggesting the men were killed while trying to fix their rifles.

I would very strongly recommend messing with buffers, buffer weights, or even a reduced mass bolt carrier before touching the buffer spring. There are plenty of options out there to reduce the mass of the operating components if you want to go that route. Clipping spring coils is a good way to get plenty of malfunctions. -parvusimperator

Parvusimperator Reviews the M1 Garand

I hit up the gunshow and finally am able to cross a gun off my list: the legendary M1 Garand.

I ended up picking this one up for a bit less than $1,200. It’s in great shape with matching parts and parkerizing, and a stock in good shape. The bore and breech score highly on the gauges. I was going to just get a CMP rifle, but I moved recently, and their stock is drying up. Plus, there’s a several month wait. And a quick gunbroker check showed that I wouldn’t save much there for rifles in comparable condition. Once I factored in shipping and transfer fees, the difference in price wasn’t much. Maybe $50 or so. Screw that. I’ll take Garand in hand. This one even came with the cool CMP hard case, which is well made and lockable. So it’ll work for airline travel, should I want to fly somewhere with a rifle.

The Garand probably needs no introduction, but I’ll review it anyway. This was the standard American service rifle in World War 2 and the Korean War. It was the frontline rifle from 1936-1960 or so. It soldiered on quite a bit longer in the National Guard (some units went directly from the M1 Garand to the M16), and was also widely used by many American allies. South Korea was a particularly heavy user of the type. General Patton himself described it (perhaps a trifle hyperbolically) as “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” It fires the .30-06 cartridge from an eight-round en-bloc clip and weighs about 10 lbs, depending on example. It also spent decades dominating service rifle competitions.

Mine was made by Harrington and Richardson in February of 1956. Production would stop in 1957. On the one hand, I’m a little sad that my rifle didn’t see combat service. On the other hand, this also means it’s in absolutely superb condition. It’s just as good a touchstone this way, and now the only one who’s going to be putting wear on it is me. And make no mistake, I got it because it’s a touchstone. Both of my grandfathers served in the Second World War, and this is a nice way for me to have a connection to them, and the rest of the members of the greatest generation. Plus, it’s a nice companion for my Mauser Kar 98k and my Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk. I. Also, did I mention it’s pretty? Because it is absolutely gorgeous.

The lines of the M1 Garand are just right. That said, it’s also on the heavy side. 10 lbs is hefty. Of course, it’s also firing a full power rifle cartridge in the .30-06 (7.62×63 mm). You probably don’t want to go too much lighter. And again, this is a military rifle. Weight means strength, which means abuse resistance. And recoil absorption. Carrying it, I notice the weight. Shooting it, I’m very happy for the weight.

For a traditional layout rifle, the Garand has pretty good ergonomics. The trigger is a little gritty, but otherwise a solid mil-type trigger. This isn’t a match trigger, and that’s okay. The sights on the Garand are absolutely amazing, especially for the time period. It’s a great sight picture that would be directly copied to the M14, and used with minor mechanical tweaks (but the same fundamental picture) on the M16A1 and M16A2. It’s great.

How does it shoot? Wonderfully. It is not abusive. It is very precise, and the iron sights are fantastic. Even more so when you consider that these sights were designed in the 1930s. Compared to its contemporaries, the Garand is amazing. Today, it’s still a super fun rifle for blasting. Plenty accurate. And I love the ping of the ejected clip. Hear that? That’s the Ping of Freedom.

So make yourself an ARK: Fishbreath builds an AR-15

That’s right. It finally happened.

Of course, it’s me, so I built it from a lower parts kit (some years ago) and random upper parts (a few days back), not simply by pinning a prebuilt lower and upper together.

Oh, and it’s in 7.62×39. That’s right: an AR-15 in 7.62×39. A 7.62×39 AR-151.

First thing’s first. Why ARK? Well, I have two existing 7.62×39 rifles. One is the BRK, the Bullpapniy Russkiy Karabin. Another is Kat, which is my competition Russkiy Karabin, or CRK. There’s an obvious theme developing here, so ARK it had to be. In traditional Fishbreath rifle naming style, the acronym has two meanings. The first, most obvious one is that the rifle is an AK caliber in an AR pattern: AR-K. The second is the also-traditional Russian name, the Amerikansko-Russkiy Karabin.

Why build an AR-15 in 7.62×39, you ask? I have a few reasons. First: it’s a deeply underrated caliber. It can do everything .300 Blackout can do, although I grant it’s harder to find subsonic 7.62×39 than .300 Blackout. In ballistic terms, the two cartridges are so nearly identical that the drop-compensating reticle in my chosen optic works for both with the same zero. The difference between the two comes down not to innate capabilities, but to modern development effort2.

Second: the AR platform is admittedly pretty neat. I can hardly deny that the ergonomics are good, and the Lego-for-adults aspect is deeply appealing to me, an adult who rather wishes he had more Legos.

Third: I can’t abide by being so normal as to build an AR in 5.56. Parvusimperator often accuses me of being a gun hipster… and I absolutely agree. An AR-15 in 5.56 does very little to interest me: hipsterish though this sentence may be, it’s played out. 7.62×39 is much more oddball, and therefore more interesting as an exercise.

Fourth: ammo is super-cheap, even if I have to pop by a local gun store. Much ink has been spilled on this front, so I won’t spend too much time on it. Suffice it to say that I don’t even mind having to occasionally pay friendly local gun shop prices for 7.62×39.

To be honest, though, it’s mostly the hipster factor. 7.62×39 AR is an odd combo, I like odd combos, and most of all, I like building things. Let’s get into the nitty gritty on parts.

Lower receiver
Surplus Ammo in Washington State, which is mainly a surplus ammo outfit, also makes decent forged lower receivers. It’s a lower. How much is there to say?

Lower parts/furniture
I got the standard Palmetto State parts kit, minus grip and stock. All the mechanical/internal gubbins are the same, with the exception of the trigger and hammer pins. I went with versions retained by wee c-springs for those, since I’d been hearing horror stories about the pins coming out under use at the time. It seems unlikely, pressing on the pins with my thumbs now, that they might, but better safe than sorry.

For the grip and stock, I went with the sadly-discontinued ATI Strikeforce set. The grip is heftier than most AR-15 grips, swelling to actually fill an average-sized hand, and nicely padded. The stock has an adjustable cheek riser which I’m not currently using, and is also padded. I purchased this set when I was planning to make this lower a 6.5 Grendel rifle, so that explains the slightly more marksman-oriented setup.

Upper receiver
Again, I went to Surplus Ammo, who had a billet upper in stock, charging handle included, for $75 delivered. I have a hard time arguing with that. It has a dust cover and a forward assist, as the Army intended. No side-charging or anything like that. It’s a $75 receiver. You can’t expect much beyond the standard for that money.

Faxon Firearms makes a 7.62×39 barrel with a 1-8″ twist. Unfortunately, it’s built to the surprisingly odd government profile, but crucially, it has a much larger gas port than your average 5.56 barrel. Since 7.62×39 is a lower-pressure cartridge by a significant margin, the extra gas port diameter is all but a requirement for adequate functioning.

The 1-8″ twist is also nice: a faster twist can better stabilize a heavy cartridge, and if I eventually load subsonic ammo for this rifle, that’s a handy trick.

Bolt carrier group
LJ’s AR Parts, who I had not heard of until I built this rifle, make a nitride BCG with an extended firing pin for better primer strikes on the harder primers of the standard cheapo steel-case ammo often fired through 7.62×39 rifles. That’s the one I’m using.

Gas block
I got one of the low-profile ones wot attaches by set screw. I prefer set screws to pins in basically every case.

Parvusimperator had a spare Troy Industries 9″ jobber lying around. It’s a nice lightweight handguard, ventilated so it doesn’t get hot easily. It also avoids the quadrail problem of heavy rails you don’t need by having a single top rail with attachable sections for other accessories.

Muzzle device
I went with the Strike Industries King Comp, which is well-reviewed and seems effective enough. In my estimation, it works better than the AK-74-style brake. Happily, it’s not quite as bad in terms of side concussion as Parvusimperator’s favored brakes, although it does considerably increase the noise. Factoring in my ear protection, I had a hard time differentiating the report from Parvusimperator’s Garand and the ARK.

Ordinarily, these wouldn’t merit mention, but this is a 7.62×39 AR-15 we’re talking about, and standard magazines need not apply. I found Midway’s house brand, AR Stoner, works fine.

Finally, the bit I alluded to at the very beginning. I chose a fancier optic than is my usual wont: the Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS scope for 7.62×39/300 Blackout. I have to say, I’m sold on the concept: an illuminated variable-power optic with 1x or near-1x magnification on the low end, for use as a red dot-style sight close up, and a bullet drop compensation reticle for longer-range work. This one is a particularly nice example. Parvusimperator, that noted glass snob, said the glass is “not bad”. The reticle is perfect for my purposes: a large illuminated chevron, to be zeroed at 50 yards, plus drop markings for 300-600 yards, the latter being just about the maximum effective range for 7.62×39. Rangefinding markings for each range are built into the reticle ACOG-style, where the crosshatch on the vertical line corresponding to a given range matches the width of an adult male’s shoulders at the same range. There’s also a rangefinder marking off to the side for standing height.

Other handy markings include dots for a 5mph crosswind at each range, and dots for leading a running target (at 8.6 mph, the generally-accepted speed for a man running with a rifle). The latter isn’t especially useful to me, since I don’t really hunt for anything, much less the most dangerous game. The former dots are nice to have, though; crosswind shooting comes up a lot, although I don’t expect it to do so too much with this rifle.

Final notes
There’s a canonical article on AR-15/7.62×39 reliability I want to address fully in a later post, but I do want to touch on reliability concerns and my results here. I went into this project with some trepidation on the reliable-functioning front, but emerged from Saturday’s range test with no remaining concerns: 40 rounds of slow fire while I was zeroing my scope and verifying that zero yielded no problems. Nor did 60 rounds of rapid fire, including some fast double taps, from magazines loaded to a full 30 rounds. 7.62×39 AR owners commonly cite two related pain points: cycling and feeding. For 7.62×39, you want a biggish gas port for the barrel length: at 0.087″, the port on the Faxon barrel in the ARK would yield a tremendously overgassed rifle for 5.56, but seems just about right for the ARK.

I’ve hit my about-1400-words target pretty handily with this first article. Stay tuned for the next one, in which I rag on the AR as a platform!

  1. I repeat this not because it’s necessarily strange (though granted, it is a little strange), but for SEO purposes. Hello, Googlebot!
  2. In defense of this rather bold claim, I present the 7.62 US cartridge (scroll down a bit), which was a subsonic 7.62×39 cartridge capped with a ~200-grain bullet intended to be used with the PBS-1 silencer on the AK-47 and AKM. Sound familiar? In any event, I intend to try some subsonic handloads and perhaps a suppressor of my own down the road.

Parvusimperator’s SiG Predicton

To paraphrase a song lyric, Connect two three facts…

FACT: We know that Glock won the biggest law enforcement pistol contract with the FBI. Many had thought the SiG P320 was a shoo-in. Glock thought the contract was worth some effort, and the FBI went with Glock.

FACT: SiG has just disbanded its shooting team. It’s pretty complete; as of Friday, October 7, 2016, websites and facebook pages are gone. We know this team was created to market the P320. Shooting teams get axed for cost reasons. Not justifying the ROI, that sort of thing.

FACT: The Modular Handgun System Competition entrants have been informed of who’s in and who isn’t. We know this because of S&W’s investor communications indicating their elimination. So as of the end of September 2016, S&W knows. Which means SiG and Glock and the rest also know.

Now. Connect these facts. No luck with the FBI. And no more shooting team. Now, is this the the course of action you would take if you were one of the three downselects? Of course not. In both of these cases, the prize is the knock-on effects. It’s not just the FBI contract that Glock won. There’s a whole bunch of alphabet soup agencies at the federal level that are allowed to simply “Take what the FBI’s got” and skip their own evaluation. Plus a bunch of other police departments will no doubt to the same. The FBI is a big-name agency. Plus, a lot of smaller agencies/departments don’t have the budget or knowledge to do their own big evaluation. If the FBI did a massive one, and Glock came out on top, then it’s likely pretty good. Certainly good enough. Plus many citizens who will no doubt pony up dollars.

The Modular Handgun System (for it’s stupid, stupid name and high likelihood of being a boondoggle) holds promise of similar secondary contracts from smaller nations, plus more agencies, civilian sales, and “mindshare”. After winning the 1985 contract, the M9 was in the hands of action heroes for the next 10 years. And again, got a ton of sales.

So the smart money says SiG is out too. And with two contracts down, why spend the money on the shooting team? So that’s my prediction. We’ll soon hear that they didn’t make the cut.