Tag Archives: firearms

Suppressor Vindication

A couple years ago, I wrote an article talking about how suppressors should be general issue for the modern infantryman. At the time, I thought this idea was good but a little out there, since it was the only one of my force multipliers not adopted by a major military. A little while later, I discovered that someone at the US Marine Corps had a similar idea, and they were putting it to the test.

Now, it appears this testing has produced some results, and these results have been analyzed. The United States Marine Corps has announced that they’ll be issuing suppressors to every infantryman. Check out the full story here, courtesy of Task & Purpose.

I think that’s awesome. Better communication. Hearing protection works better. More effective infantry. Fewer hearing issues for the soldier after he musters out. But you already gathered that. It’s nice to see the Corps coming to the same conclusions.

Let’s talk a little bit about how they plan to implement that in the short term. They’ve got a contract with Knight’s Armament for NT4 suppressors. The NT4 is an older suppressor, with the design dating back to 1998.

This is not a state of the art suppressor, but it’s a known one. It’s in the system already. It’s pretty durable as far as suppressors go. And the mounting is super cheap: the NT4 just requires replacing the crush washer behind a standard A2-type flash hider with a shim kit. So an existing rifle is ready to get quieter for less than $5. And all M27s already have a venting gas block to bleed off excess gas from the suppressor. It’s not the suppressor I would choose if I had to buy a new general issue setup right now, but given the system as it is, the choice is a reasonable one.

It’s great to see this idea get some serious traction. Bravo Zulu, Devil Dogs!

FN HAMR

When the US Marine Corps put out an RFP for companies to submit automatic rifle candidates, FN responded with a SCAR derivative that had some neat technological tricks. Let’s take a look.

The HAMR-16 (Heat Adaptive Modular Rifle) looks like the SCAR-16 that it was derived from at first glance. Same monolithic upper, same folding/telescoping stock with two-position cheek riser. Same polymer lower with short-throw (90 degrees of total travel) safe/semi-/full-auto selector. Same love-it-or-hate-it reciprocating charging handle.1 The barrel has a notably heavier profile than on a regular SCAR-16, and there is a heatsink protruding from under the handguard.

All of that might be expected to handle the sustained fire requirements of the IAR program. But FN hid an extra trick inside the HAMR. They put in a bimetallic thermocouple on the barrel, just in front of the chamber. As the barrel heats up from use, the thermocouple draws a linkage forward, activating a secondary sear. So when the gun got hot enough, it would automatically convert from closed-bolt to open-bolt operation. After the gun cooled, the thermocouple would push the linkage back, automatically returning the weapon to closed-bolt operation.

I might have suspected such a system to potentially cause problems, but the USMC 60,000 round reliability/endurance test showed otherwise. The goals for the IAR were as follows:

  • Three Units Under Test (UUTs) were provided for each model under evaluation.

  • The UUT shall have a Mean Rounds Between Failure (MRBF) of 900 for Class I and II failure combined (Threshold), 5,000 (Objective). The MRBF for Class III failures shall be 15,000 (Threshold), 20,000 (Objective).

The definitions for failure classes are as follows:

  • Class I failure: A failure that may be immediately corrected by the operator within 10 seconds or less while following prescribed immediate action procedures.
  • Class II failure: A failure that may be corrected by the operator, and that requires more than 10 seconds but not more than 10 minutes to correct (less the TM/OM defined cool down period if a hot barrel condition exists). Only the equipment and tools issued with the weapon may be used to correct the failure.
  • Class III failure: A failure of a severe nature. The failure (1) can be corrected by an operator but requires more than 10 minutes; (2) cannot be corrected by an operator and requires assistance (no time limit); or (3) requires higher level of maintenance or correction by an authorized operator cannot be accomplished because of unavailability of necessary tools, equipment, or parts.

The HAMR-16 met the objective goal of 5,000 mean rounds between class I and II failures, and was the only entrant to do so. It did not experience any class III failures, so MRBF for class III failures could not be computed. It was also the only entrant to not experience any class III failures.

For comparison, the winning HK entry that would become the M27 IAR had an MRBF for class I and II failures of 1,622, and a MRBF for class III failures of 20,000.

The HK entry was estimated to have a significantly longer barrel life than the HAMR. It was also somewhat lighter, with the HAMR weighing in a bit over ten pounds (unloaded and sans grip pod it’s usually shown with), and the M27 weighing a bit under eight pounds (unloaded and sans accessories). I might also expect the HAMR to be a bit more expensive than the M27.

I would have rated the HAMR better at being an automatic rifle, and the M27 better at being a backdoor carbine improvement, for what that’s worth.

As for my opinion of the project, I think it’s a very cool design with some well thought out innovations. However, I’m not a big fan of the automatic rifle concept, so I’d pass. It might be interesting to see what the thermocouple/sear setup does in a more standard SCAR design as far as reducing cook offs goes.


  1. Lots of people hate it, but SOCOM did request it in the original design. For what that’s worth. 

Fishbreath Shoots: Ruger Super GP100 .357 review

Ruger’s been making a big push into the competition world lately, with a USPSA Single Stack-ready 1911 and a Ruger American with slide cuts for Carry Optics. First on the menu from the recently-established Ruger Custom Shop, however, was the Super GP100 in .357 Magnum, a revolver designed from the ground up for practical shooting competitions.

I’ve had this year’s competition revolver in hand for some time now, taken it to two ranges and one match, and put a fair few rounds through it generally.

So, let’s get down to business.

The Gun

The Super GP100 is a .357 Magnum revolver1 built with competition in mind. Though it bears the GP100 name, it is in fact a hybrid design. Its frame is Redhawk-size (that is, large enough for an 8-round cylinder), but its dual-spring lockwork comes from the GP100. The cylinder locks in three places for maximum durability, and is cut down quite a bit to reduce weight.

The trick about revolvers for USPSA (this is one of them) is that an 8-round cylinder is the cost of entry. Under the rules, you can fire eight shots before reloading if you’ve declared Minor power factor, and six if you’ve declared Major. The USPSA rules further say that a stage cannot require more than eight shots from a single shooting position. Fewer than eight rounds loaded, and you have to reload flat-footed. Nobody likes that.

So, although it’s a .357 revolver, I’ll be shooting .38 Special almost exclusively2.

Size, Feel, and Look

To kick things off, it is a big gun. A 5.5″ barrel at the end of a large revolver frame makes for neither a small nor a light handgun. For its purposes, though, this is fine.

It feels pretty good in my hands. I have two minor gripes, however. One, the cylinder release is a bit hard to hit with my strong hand, and is relatively small. (I understand Ruger is working on an extended part.) Two, the stocks aren’t shaped in such a way as to fully promote a hands-high grip—the natural place to put your hands, given the contour of the stocks, is a bit too far down for the proper double-action grip. That can be fixed with aftermarket parts, however, something I may investigate later in the year.

As far as its general appearance, I find it quite handsome indeed. The diagonal cuts in the barrel shroud give it a somewhat retrofuturistic air, along with the fiber-optic front sight, but otherwise, it’s a revolver with classic revolver lines. It wouldn’t look entirely out of place on the set of Firefly, which is an aesthetic I can get behind.

Disassembly and Ease of Maintenance

I do not have very many revolvers, but the Super GP100 is middle-of-the-road on ease of disassembly. Swapping springs or removing the hammer at a match would be a no-go, although the latter is only because there are hammer shims inside to deal with3.

Of course, the manual says that no disassembly is required for basic cleaning. I suspect I’ll take them at their word, and only do the detail strip now and then.

Range Notes

Before the first match, I had two range sessions to come to grips with the gun, one at an indoor range where I did quite a poor dot torture (and ended up adjusting the zero on the sights), and one at an outdoor range with a bunch of steel plates between 15 and 30 yards.

Trigger

Pretty good, out of the box. Better than the 929 Performance Center I tried out at a different local gun store. I haven’t had the chance to play with a slicked-up Smith, so I can’t draw an exact comparison, but even with only lighter springs (no polishing), parvusimperator remarked that it felt pretty good.

The trigger scale says about 7.5lb double action and 2.5lb single action. Single action is a clean break. Double action has a bit of clickiness to it at one point, but I don’t mind.

Accuracy

More accurate than me!

It’s a revolver with a 5.5″ barrel. Not only is the sight radius correspondingly huge, but when it came back from warranty service4, the factory included a copy of the target showing a sub-1″ group at 15 yards.

Given that I’m shooting it double action in a practical shooting sport, that’s plenty sufficient.

Recoil

Tame, at least with .38 Special, which is what most people will be running through it. The gun weighs 44 ounces, plenty to soak up the pop from piddling minor loads.

Reliability

Because this is a competition gun, I didn’t even bother shooting it with stock springs. That, of course, raises questions of reliability.

Unlike my CZ P-09 race gun, which has happily consumed every load I’ve ever fed it, the Super GP100 with lightened springs (a Wolff 9lb mainspring) is a little more finicky. It happily runs on Prvi Partizan .38 Special, but handloads with decade-old CCI primers, though they were reliable in single-action, failed once or twice per cylinder in double-action. Winchester primers of the same vintage worked fine5.

One frequent complaint about .38 Special in competition revolvers is that the ejector won’t fully eject empties. I can confidently say that’s not a problem here—the ejector stroke is long enough to pop empty cases fully out of the cylinder.

Match Notes

Now, we arrive at the meat of the post. The Super GP100 is a competition gun. How can I fully review it if I don’t compete with it?

First thing’s first. Here’s the match video sans commentary. Here it is with commentary, which is probably not going to be too interesting to people without USPSA knowledge ahead of time.

So, how was it in match conditions? Pretty good. Although the stocks, as I mentioned earlier, aren’t quite shaped how I’d like them to be for the grip I want, they’re perfectly acceptable. I didn’t find myself taking the wrong grip out of the holster or off of the table starts, which is a good minimum benchmark.

You might notice in the video that I struggle with reloads in a few places. This is in part due to my inexperience and choice of the wrong basic technique6, but also in part due to the combination of factory ammo without a roll crimp and Ruger’s traditionally-tight chambers. Prvi Partizan-brand .38 Special in both the factory moon clips and the SpeedBeez version binds unless it’s dropped just so7, with the gun almost exactly vertical. Because of the taper on 9mm, it wouldn’t be a problem with the 9mm version, if you’re okay with spitting on revolver tradition8.

Match accuracy is, as I indicated earlier, just fine. I missed a few small steels at long range, but that’s on me more than it is the gun. The sights do come from the factory regulated for a 6-o’clock hold, which is fine if you like it. It’s not what I’m used to, however, especially after a long run of Carry Optics, in which you put the dot on the thing and pull the trigger, so before the next match I’m going up to the range to adjust them for a dead-on hold.

Conclusions

I’ll grant you that I’m not the best person to review competition revolvers. I only have the one, and I don’t have experience with tuned Smith & Wesson guns for comparison purposes.

That said, I’ll still put my recommendation on this one. The problems (iffy reloads with factory ammo, less-than-perfectly-ideal stocks) are relatively minor, and both easily solved (by handloads and by aftermarket grips) are smaller than the benefits (match readiness is a $5 pack of Wolff springs, not a $150 trip to a gunsmith). The value proposition is there, and the performance is nothing to sneeze at either.


  1. You can get it in 9mm too, but 9mm is not a fit caliber for a revolver, no matter what the Revolver Nationals stats say. 
  2. Because of USPSA power factor rules, I’m likely to go (in the low-power direction rather than the high-power one) to more esoteric cartridges in the future, like .38 Short Colt or custom cut-down .38 Special. 
  3. To put the hammer back in, you stick one shim to it with gun grease, put the hammer pin through that shim and into the hammer, and push the opposite shim into the frame with a piece of paper. 
  4. It came with a misaligned barrel shroud assembly. Ruger was highly accommodating, and had it turned around inside a week. 
  5. I understand that primers have been getting more sensitive over the years—thus saith the Lee reloading book, along with some random forum posters. Today’s CCI primers might work. Perhaps I’ll pick up a box at the reloading-supplies counter of the friendly local gun store. 
  6. I’m writing a post on this, too, but it comes down to gross motor movements with my dominant hand against fine motor movements with my weak hand, and I should have realized that before practicing the latter a bunch. 
  7. I bought a reloading press to solve this problem. It was always an inevitability once I started shooting competitive revolver, because you get to keep all your brass, but this is a bit ahead of schedule. Anyway, a roll crimp into the SNS Casting 158-grain coated bullets’ crimp groove drops easily9
  8. I’ve come down hard on 9mm revolvers, but it’s good-natured. If you’re considering shooting a revolver at USPSA matches, pick whatever caliber you want. (And granted, 9mm has advantages.) The division needs you. 
  9. Because I bought a gun that Just Works, like parvusimperator’s Open blaster, I have to find my tinkering where I can, and that’s evidently at the reloading bench. Next year: .38 Short Colt? 

Book Review: Chassepot to FAMAS: French Military Rifles 1866-2016

Ian’s book is out. How is it?

Disclosure time: I was a backer of this book on Kickstarter, for what that’s worth. Mostly because I wanted to support Ian and his new publishing company. Take that as you will. I was pretty ambivalent about French Military rifles when I backed it.

First off, the production values of the book are amazingly good. The book itself has a really nice cover: it’s hardbound in a leathery, old-world sort of way, and it’s full of really good color pictures. These pictures were done carefully with good lighting, and they are always very clear. I don’t think I have nicer reference books, and Fishbreath can confirm I have lots of reference books.

Next, the material. French rifles aren’t commonly discussed in a book in English, which makes this a pretty unique work. And, the French tend to go their own way a lot, so lots of the engineering is unique. The reasoning and doctrines may also be not what you are used to. I’m not an expert on French Rifles, so I can’t attest to how thorough the book is. But Ian is pretty well known as a knowledgeable source on firearms in general and French military firearms in particular, so this is as good as you’re likely to get in English.

The French often come up with their own answers to doctrine or engineering questions. Or, perhaps that’s because the American stuff I’m most familiar with usually cribs from someone else for small arms. Anyway, because the French stuff is usually somewhat different, it’s a more interesting book than it would be if we were just revisiting clones of the Mauser action.

So let’s get down to it. Should you buy this book? I’m gonna go with a ‘yes’ if you’re even remotely interested in firearms or enjoy Ian’s content over at Forgotten Weapons. And I really do, even if I sometimes disagree with him.

Big Iron: Gearing Up for Revolver Competition

That’s right. It’s happening. This year, your correspondent is dedicating himself to the noble art of the wheelgun, embodied in the Revolver Division of the United States Practical Shooting Association.

In the spirit of previous posts, such as my CZ Limited and CZ Carry Optics shopping lists, I’m going to talk first about why I decided to embark upon this new task, and then about the gear I chose to carry me through it.

Why Revolver?

Because nobody writes ballads about semi-auto gunslingers1. The history they carry with them means revolvers are inherently romantic.

On top of that, they’re fascinating bits of clockwork. Take a gander at an exploded parts diagram! All kinds of tiny parts working together in non-obvious ways to turn and align a cylinder, bring a hammer back, push a transfer bar up (maybe), and let the hammer drop, just at the right time. It’s a kind of mechanical beauty.

Next up, revolver competition is fertile ground for a young(ish) guy like me. I may not have the hundreds of thousands of rounds of experience that the leaders of the pack do, but I do have fast, non-arthritic hands and good movement speed by USPSA standards. I think I can work that to do better in revolver than I can in more traditional divisions.

Finally, my choice of USPSA divisions in the past has trended more and more toward speed, extra bullets in the pipe, and limited reloading. Revolver gives me a reason to slow down and work on accuracy, which will be handy for, say, Carry Optics, where I’ve previously wasted a lot of time on make-up shots.

The List

Reader, you know me. I am cheap. Getting into a new division, however, is frequently not cheap. I did my best to keep the costs down, and I think I did a pretty good job in the final tally. Prices are all-up

Ruger Super GP100 .357: $1,138

When I first investigated revolvers for USPSA competition back in 2018, the only revolvers fit for USPSA rules (which favor 8 round cylinders and forbid barrel porting) were the Smith and Wesson 929, which I objected to on cost and everyone’s-shooting-it grounds, and the Ruger Redhawk, whose single-spring lockwork limited how much tuning you could do. My 2019 shopping list, written after Ruger’s release of the .357 Super GP100 but before the release of the 9mm Super GP100, settled on the former.

The first question this raises, which I don’t think I answered in preceding articles, is why Ruger, when Smith has all the aftermarket attention? For one, aesthetics. I don’t mean looks alone, though looks play into it, I also mean the hipster points. I don’t like shooting the same gun as everyone else. That’s boring. For the other, practicality. I had the chance to play with both a 929 and a Super GP100 at the local we-have-everything gun store. I liked the way the Ruger sat in my hand better, I could reach the cylinder release and the hammer spur more readily, and I thought the trigger on the Ruger was better out of the box. There are more Smith smiths out there, but on the other hand, I spent twenty minutes replacing springs on the Super GP100, and I have what I’d consider a match-ready trigger.

The second question is, why .38 over 9mm? Two of the three reasons are the same as above: aesthetics and practicality. 9mm is not a suitable cartridge for a revolver, stylistically. On practicality grounds, I have a ton of 9mm pistols already, with higher capacities and faster rates of fire than a 9mm revolver. I do not have very many powerful handguns, and none at the junction of powerful and easy to reload occupied by a .357 revolver cut for moon clips. Is that a common need? No, but there are guns for way less common uses in my safe, so there is at least an argument that it’s a practical choice.

The third reason is tinkering. Like parvusimperator, I see the reasoning behind buying a competition-ready gun and doing very little to it. It’s nice to have a gun that Just Works. Of course, that leaves me with nothing to do with my spare time2. .38 leaves me room to experiment with reloading in more exciting ways than 9mm—shortening cases, wadcutters and semi-wadcutters, different crimps, and the like.

Oh, and the .357 Super GP100 is about $100 cheaper.

Anyway, this is not a full review of the gun. One of those is forthcoming at a later date, after I’ve had a few range sessions and at least one match to try it out.

SpeedBeez Kydex Holster: $73

My previous shopping list called for a Guga Ribas universal holster, but that preceded the availability of SpeedBeez’s Kydex option.

It’s thicker than any of my other plastic holsters, and there’s a way to place the gun in it so that it rests rather than clicking into place, making it appropriately speedy. It’s also cut low on the top, so that I only need a short pull up on the draw before the gun is free to come forward.

All in all, a good buy, and it saves me a bunch over the fancy custom holster, which I put toward some other items.

eBay Holster Hanger: $24 with coupon

The holster, of course, came with a belt clip, but when I was putting my gear together, the USPSA had not yet corrected the rulebook to note that revolver holsters are allowed to sit up to the length of an overlay (3 3/8 inches, I believe) from the inner belt, so the Kydex drop-offset piece it came with was too offset and also insufficiently dropped.

I found this one on eBay for $27.50. Between tax and a $5 coupon, I got it for $24.

It does the job admirably, although I’m not using it quite as specced. Because the mounting points on your average semi-auto holster are further toward the muzzle than they are on the holster called out above, I had to mount it in such a way that I can’t actually use the adjustable offset. That said, the mounting holes on the holster provide for what just so happens to be the perfect amount of offset, and there are other hole options on the holster body. I was able to get the holster set up perfectly for my taste, with the grip straight horizontal and the grip just protruding above the top of the belt, as required by USPSA rules.

SpeedBeez Moon Clip Rack: $160

The SpeedBeez moon clip rack is the most competition-focused piece of equipment I own. What possible other use is there for an 8-rack of moon clips?

It does its job well, and is more or less the standard for moon clip shooters. What more is there to say?

SpeedBeez Moon Clips: $130

While I was at SpeedBeez, I figured I’d order some moon clips. For a bit more than I was prepared to pay at TK Custom in my 2019 shopping list, I got two and a half times as many.

Of course, there are tradeoffs. These are 0.020″ clips, whereas both the stock Ruger option and TK Custom’s standard are 0.025″. A tiny difference, but enough of one to matter. I bought a half case of PPU .38 Special to start out my revolver career. Loaded into the three stock Ruger clips, they drop into the cylinder cleanly. Loaded into the SpeedBeez clips, they wobble just enough to bind, slowing down a good proportion of my reloads.

There are a number of ways this could be fixed (a slightly more aggressive chamfer on the cylinder, a slightly more aggressive crimp on the case, thicker/stiffer moon clips), but unfortunately, I’ll have to live with it until I can implement one of the other solutions.

Crimp seems like the easiest thing to manage, especially given the ease of recovering brass when it’s stuck to your discarded moon clips, and the fact that my more-aggressively-crimped dummy ammo drops right in. One of those Lee classic turret presses is pretty tempting, not gonna lie.

SpeedBeez Moon Clip Tester: $37

I had a bit of budget left over, so I got one of these to simplify moon clip checking. Nifty little gadget. Does its job.

Original Precision Moon Clip Tool: $76

There are some ridiculously spendy moon clip tools out there, but this one does both moon clip loading and unloading for the price of one of TK Custom’s fancy moon clip loaders by itself.

It doesn’t work quite as well as a really purpose-built tool would, I suppose, but it’s perfectly adequate for loading a bunch of clips while I watch a Youtube video or something on my workshop computer.

Ammo Can Moon Clip Box: $15 and some scrap wood

Readers, I confess that your correspondent is beginning to come down with cabin fever3. So, two weekends back, I ordered a surplus .50-cal ammo can from Midway, set about some scrap wood in my basement with circular saw and drill4, and put together a moon clip box.

It has sixteen pegs arranged in two squares, with a missing peg in the middle of each square so I can get my hand down and into the box. Each peg holds up to four clips, for an ammunition capacity of 512 rounds pre-loaded—enough for all but the most grueling of match days. Handy little piece of kit for the revolver competitor on the go, and when the rust developing on this box grows beyond the tolerable, I can pop the caddy into one of the newfangled plastic jobbers.

If I can’t be at a match, at least I can be making my match days better!

Total: $1,653

Not only did I get more gear than I called for in my 2019 shopping list, I came in under the $1,705 total therefrom.

Granted, $1,653 makes it my spendiest gun project to date. (The Limited/Carry Optics CZ P-09 cost about $250 more.) Plus, reloading gear to come…

Even so, though, revolver’s been one of my dream divisions for a long time, to the point that parvusimperator wrote down his guess when I was debating between the Glockblaster 2.0 and the revolver last summer, and on my final selection a month or two ago, opened the paper to reveal he was correct. I like revolvers. (Clearly.) I’m looking forward to the chance to shoot one in competition, when they finally start back up.

And when they do? Why, you can expect a full review of the Super GP100 with attached match report, and you can certainly expect some match videos. Until then.


  1. At least, nobody I listen to. 
  2. This is a joke. I have way too much to do and way too little spare time to do it in already. 
  3. A little less, now that I can get out to driving ranges and golf courses, but man, would I really like to have shot a few matches already this year. 
  4. I really need to get myself a drill press, or at least a plunge router. 

Cadillac Gage Commentaries: Design Goals

It occurred to me that I should probably pull some specific points into their own article, so I’m not repeating myself over and over. Let’s get on with it.

When choosing parts for one’s custom carbine, one ought to first conceive of the carbine’s purpose. What are you going to do with it? And why do the characteristics you plan to add help this? Admittedly, this requires some degree of maturity. It is not possible to do everything well. Purpose drives the build. Or at least it should.

Light for light’s own sake doesn’t make sense to me. Lightness is best for a gun that is carried much and shot a little. Competitors shoot their guns a lot, and the rest of the time the gun sits in a rack, a bag, or a cart. Even militaries optimize the gun for being actually used. The US Army went to a medium-profile barrel in the M4A1 for better shooting characteristics on full auto. Ditto the Marine Corps in the M27 (which also has an op-rod). And both services will load the rifle up with bipods, day optics, thermal optics, infrared lasers and, at least for special operations, suppressors. All of that is added weight, but all of that is added capability.

What of the historical exercise? Well, CONARC doesn’t exist anymore, and designing a weapon to fit in between the M1/M2 Carbine and the M14 rifle doesn’t make a whole lot of sense: neither are common service weapons of the US Army. Now, we could think about ‘can we make the infantryman’s carbine lighter,’ but then we should probably think about durability and reliability too. And some notion of acceptable accuracy. In other words, all of the things we’re going to do from before.

Those excessively nostalgic about some imagined past, like Pierre Sprey, conveniently ignore all of the innovations universally added to improve capabilities at the cost of weight. For Mr. Sprey, modern radars and computer systems make the F-16 able to do many more missions than the LWF was originally envisioned to do. Similarly, the M16/M4 has gained capabilities at the cost of weight. Everyone who can afford the added capability has gone for it.

Cadillac Gage Commentaries: Lowers

Fishbreath hasn’t finished up the usual WWRW for today, so I’m running this instead

It occurred to Fishbreath and I that, while we have chatted at length about the What Would Stoner Do (WWSD) project of the good folks at Inrange, I haven’t written about it. And, with Inrange revisiting it, it’s a good time to shamelessly piggyback and comment on it.

The name for my series, of course, is a play on what Stoner actually did after working on the AR-15: go work for Cadillac Gage.1 As a firearms engineer, the real answer to the question “What would Stoner Do?” is that Mr. Stoner would design what you paid him to design. Were he still alive, and still designing things, I would love to see his take on an NGSW proposal.

Snark aside, let’s get to the project. I do love building AR-15s and working out parts lists. The first part they are talking about is the lower. And they chose the GWACS Mk. II polymer lower originally. They now have KE Arms making an improved Mk. III, which is good as GWACS is no longer a going concern.

As a stylistic choice, I would have preferred a sort of Battle Royale where they look at competing options, so we can better gauge why they went with what they did, and what things they didn’t consider. But that would also lead to fewer questions from yours truly so perhaps I should be grateful that they didn’t play it like I did.

In terms of weight reduction in Anno Domini 20202, we can go lower with a standard forged lower and a carbon fiber stock like the one from Smoke Composites. We can also get even more weight reduction with an aluminum-lithium alloy receiver, such as those made by V7 systems or Hodge Defense Systems Inc. Those are expensive, but the WWSD project didn’t set a budget ceiling.

Anyway, I don’t like the whole integrated grip and stock thing3. I grew up in a ban state and purchased my first AR in “Ban compliant” format with a pinned stock. So maybe I have an irrational aversion to a fixed-length assembly. But I like to be able to adjust my stock. I like to be able to choose a stock with adjustable comb height if I so choose. I even like stocks like the Odin Works Zulu or the Tacmod that let me change the angle of the stock’s recoil pad. This is America. We like choices.

And frankly, the stock should be something that works with the optic, not the other way around. Unless you have a very peculiar parts list, your optic cost more than your stock. Which means that if one of the two parts has to give, it ought to be the stock. Not that adjustable is a compromise, frankly.

We also like choices about our grips. And I realize that grip choice is at once very personal and probably doesn’t matter a whole lot on the clock. But a comfortable grip that Joe Civilian likes helps him to practice with his rifle, since he lacks a sergeant to yell at him to do so.

My choice would not be the CAV-15 polymer lower. The AR-15 is as popular as it is in large part because of its massive aftermarket, and I don’t like closing off large parts of that aftermarket. I like picking the grips that I like, and changing them as my tastes change. I like choosing a stock to suit the intended purpose of my builds and to get the balance where I want it. But my goals and priorities are not necessarily those of Ian and Karl, and they may or may not match up with yours. Purchase your lowers accordingly.

Were I picking a lower for another build, I would choose a nice forged lower from a reputable company with a rollmark that I liked. If I wanted to save weight in my lower, and didn’t care about paying through the nose for the privilege, I would purchase a fancy aluminum-lithium lower.


  1. Obvious disclaimer: this post series and this blog are in no way affiliated with Textron Marine and Land Systems, the former Cadillac Gage. Duh. But I’m writing this anyway in case you had any doubt. 
  2. I don’t recall if these were available in 2017. But it doesn’t matter thanks to the revisit. 
  3. Yes I recognize that’s what makes the GWACS/CAV-15 a viable polymer lower. No, I still don’t like it. You might think that this means I don’t like the core concept, and you’d be right. 

Open Gear Retrospective: Year One

I’ve been having a blast in Open, and thought I’d take a bit to talk through some of my gear and the small changes I’ve made. My gun has been running great, and I’m super happy about that. Let’s look at some of the other stuff, and one gun part swap.

1) Holster: Double Alpha Alpha-X vs. Everglades Magnetic Race Holster
I started with a purchase of a ‘belt kit’ from Double Alpha, which included their Alpha-X race holster. This holster requires inserts to fit the trigger guard of your firearm. Since I’m using the relatively new Lone Star Innovations Outlaw grip on my race gun, which doesn’t have an insert explicitly made for it, I guessed and got the insert for the Phoenix Trinity Evo grip.

Was this module the right choice?
Yes. Or, at least, it was retained correctly and drew (mostly) fine.

Why did I switch?
Sometimes I found that I could get my gun to snag a little on the draw. I also wanted something with a bit more positioning change options, so I gave the Everglades Magnetic Race Holster (MRH) a try.

Is the MRH better?
Yes. Much smoother draw, nicer adjustment range for holster position, and the adjustments actually stay in place without a bunch of loctite. It also has a much bigger lever for the lock to keep the gun retained when moving, which is easier to sweep off on the draw. The only downside to the MRH is that its only for hi-cap 1911 platforms.

Which should you buy?
If you’re shooting a hi-cap 1911/2011 type platform, get the MRH. It’s just better.

2) Mag Pouches: Double Alpha Racemaster vs. Alpha-X
I opted to go for the Racemaster mag pouches in my belt kit.

Why did I switch?
I decided to give the Alpha-X a try since forum reviews indicated they had a superior mounting system design and I found that my mags could drag a little when drawing from the aluminum-bodied Racemasters. The Alpha-X pouches have plastic liners to try to correct this.

Which is better?
The Alpha-Xs are better. The belt attachment is a lot more secure, and only requires you to tweak/torque/loctite one screw instead of two. The plastic liner really does allow you to get a clean, slick mag draw even after you’ve messed around with tension. Plus, if you like to run your pouches bullets-out like me, the Alpha-Xs are way easier to set up that way. I’ll slowly switch out the Racemasters for Alpha-Xs, but being an open shooter, extra mag pouches are a seldom-used item anyway.

3) Magwell: Dawson ICE vs. Limcat V2
My awesome open gun came with a nice, big Dawson ICE magwell on it. This is a pretty typical choice and it’s been around for a while. It’s got an aluminum top with a replaceable plastic liner, so when you gouge it up after practicing reloads, you can just replace the liner rather than the whole magwell.

Why did I switch?
I noticed sometimes during reload practice that there was a way I could actually get my mag stuck in the grip if I didn’t rotate it correctly to align it with the grip. Some googling showed me that I wasn’t the only one with this problem, and Limcat made a magwell to try to fix it. The Limcat V2 magwell has an aluminum top and a hardened steel liner, which isn’t easily replaceable, but it should be resistant to getting all gouged up by reloads as you try to get faster.

Which is better?
The Limcat by far, even if I had to spend some time fitting it with a file. It’s got a shape that helps push your hand up higher on the grip, and the magwell’s narrower mouth and convex shape really does mean that you can’t get the mag to jam up. If you don’t miss the magwell, your reload is gonna happen. It’s a fantastic magwell design, which is probably why everyone is trying to copy it. And the hardened steel liner is, in fact, resistant to gouges.

4) Which helped more, minor kit tweaks or consistent practice?
Consistent Practice. Duh.

5) Do I want to try any other minor changes?
Of course. In no particular order, I’m considering trying the following:

  • Some kind of thumb rest, mostly because this is open and I can have one.
  • The Atlas ‘Ape Hanger’ racker, because it looks cool and it won’t smash your thumb if you flag it (old habits die hard).
  • The Limcat Heavy Brass V2 magwell, because I kinda like my current heavy gun, so why not try more weight low in it?
  • Possibly the SIG Romeo 3XL red dot, but that’s a lot more expensive than everything else on that list, so I might wait.

But really, the big thing is just get more practice.

DISCLAIMER: I paid my own money for all of the above parts and received $0.00 in compensation from any of the manufacturers listed here.

RIA VR80: Open Shotgun for a Reasonable Price?

Previously when I’ve talked about Open Shotguns, I’ve mentioned the gold standard that is a Vepr 12 worked over by Dissident Arms. They’re feature packed and work great, but come at a hefty price of $2,200 for the base competition model and $3,400 for the KL-12, one with all the bells and whistles. Alternative designs haven’t really caught on, often because they’re unreliable. An unreliable, cheap gun isn’t all that useful. The RIA VR80, a rebranded Derya Mk12, is a new option. Let’s see how it shakes out.

VR80: $699 (MSRP)
The VR80 comes out of the box with a couple of small magazines (thanks ATF), a charging handle that can be swapped to the left or right side, and threads for chokes. It also, of course, comes with a few chokes to get you started. A stock Vepr 12 comes with neither of these features out of the box, and both are only available on the fully tricked out KL-12 from Dissident. Early reports say that the VR80 is a pretty reliable weapon after a break-in with higher velocity shells. We’ll see what shakes out.

Long compensator: $99.99
Open shotgun demands a comp. So far, we just have one from Advanced Tactical, RIA’s importer. Done.

Taccom Buffer: $49.95
Taccom has a buffer which is supposed to improve the recoil feel. It’s not that expensive, and probably worth a try. Taccom makes good stuff.

Magwell: $39.99
I’m not sure how necessary this part is, but open guns should have magwells. Also, both Dissident guns feature a magwell. It’s a cheap enough addition.

Magpul ACS stock: $85.45
I picked this stock because I like it, the price is reasonable, and it comes with compartments in case I want to add weight to get the balance where I want it. The VR80 comes with a lame thumbhole-type stock, probably for import reasons.

New pistol grip: ~$25.00
Pick one you like.

Fix that trigger: ?? (budget $200 based on fancy AR triggers)
There are apparently a few differences that make this not a standard AR-10 style lower, so we’re waiting on a nice trigger to be made. I’m using AR trigger prices as a ballpark here.

There are other parts forthcoming. Hayes Custom Guns is working on a mid-barrel comp and alternative handguards are also in progress. The big question is how well will it work? Dissident’s guns come already tuned and ready to rock out of the box, and that’s not nothing. I’m quite happy with that aspect of my open pistol.

A more accurate concealed carry map, 2019 update

In 2017, we ran the first version of this map, which purports to show the carry situation in the US a little more accurately than the standard permitless/shall-issue/may-issue trichotomy1. That fails to capture some of the nuance—a may-issue state may nevertheless issue permits to just about anyone, and some shall-issue states may be worse than others2.

Here’s the map. You’ll find notes below, along with exact definitions of the colors.

Notes

  • Onerous shall-issue means states with a waiting period in excess of two weeks, a training requirement which requires leaving your house, or an application fee of greater than $100.
  • Permissive shall-issue states impose lesser requirements.
  • De facto shall-issue states are statutorily may-issue, but shall-issue in practice.
  • Onerous may-issue states deny carry permits as a matter of course.

  • MA and NY: rural sheriffs likely to issue permits, but urban-dwellers basically out of luck.

  • PA: processing time of up to 45 days allowed, but most counties, including Allegheny (i.e. Pittsburgh), issue permits immediately.
  • WI: average processing time of about one week.
  • WA: average processing time appears to be under one week, except in the Seattle area.
  • SD: temporary permit issued within five days.

2019 update notes

  • KY: Constitutional carry legislation passed, effective June 26, 2019.
  • OK: Constitutional carry legislation passed, effective November 1, 2019.
  • SD: Constitutional carry legislation passed, effective July 1, 2019.

  • OR: Cost and wait time are the disqualifiers; training requirement can be done online.

  • VA: Wait time is the disqualifier; training can be done online.
  • RI: Local authorities must either issue or deny an application on a shall-issue basis as of 2015, but I can’t verify how open the process actually is.
  • WA: Downgraded to onerous shall-issue on the basis of wait time, which is ‘up to 30 days’, and in practice appears to be ‘around 30 days’ even outside of Seattle.
  • WI: Downgraded to onerous shall-issue on the basis of training requirements, which do not appear to be online-friendly.

If you see an inaccuracy or a point in need of clarification, leave us a comment!


  1. I stand by my word choice. 
  2. Looking at the final product, however, I’m pretty sure I need a third shall-issue category, given that only PA remains in the permissive shall-issue group.