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A Fishy Race Gun Proposal: Beretta 96

In my review of the Beretta M9, I teased that I would be looking into a true competition gun based on the Beretta 92 platform. In this article, I’ll go into it a little deeper.

Why?

Why build a race gun at all? I like USPSA. (More on that later.) I like tinkering. I don’t want to be boring and buy the same gun everyone else is using1. There you have it. As I’ve said in the past, I like Beretta 92 platform. It points naturally for me, and my M9 is one of the softer-shooting 9mm firearms I’ve handled. (Obviously. It’s enormous and heavy.)

Given that I find myself really enjoying USPSA, I want to explore some of the other divisions. Given that I don’t have $2500 to spend on a 20112, nor much experience with the 1911 platform, nor much interest in learning how to tinker with the 1911 platform, I don’t have much reason to go in the traditional direction. Given, finally, that the thing slowing me down is not the handgun but rather my limited skill, I don’t mind slightly suboptimal equipment.

Since the kinds of race-y modifications I’m considering take me out of USPSA Production, the obvious place to aim is Limited, where scoring depends on power factor, and 9mm Major isn’t allowed. I need to do a little testing to verify, but my suspicion is that I’ll be insignificantly slower shooting .40 S&W, and the more forgiving scoring will help me out.

So, let’s look at the parts.

The Parts

Beretta 96A1
We’ll start with the gun itself. The Beretta 96 was the first 92-pattern gun chambered for .40 S&W, which is the minimum caliber required for shooting Limited Major in USPSA. The original 96, being simply a 92 with a larger-bore barrel, did not cover itself in acclaim. It was, in fact, oft-maligned for falling apart. The 96A1, a 2010 refresh of the design, solved many of the issues, adding a recoil buffer in addition to heavier construction elsewhere. As a recent design made of alloy, rather than plastic, its street price is about $675. Figure $725, shipped and transferred. Stock magazine capacity is twelve, going up to fifteen with MecGar’s extended jobbers.

The 96A1 also features a front sight dovetail, which brings me to my next item.

Sights
The traditional sighting system for Limited guns is blacked-out rear sights and a fiber-optic front sight. Wilson Combat sells just such a setup for the 96A1, coming to about $1003.

Trigger
Quite a bit going on here. The stock Beretta trigger is plastic, which doesn’t bother me overmuch, and bends a long way forward, which makes it difficult for me to get a good finger on it for the double-action pull. Wilson Combat and Beretta both make an identical steel trigger which features a less aggressive forward bend and a shorter overall reach.

While I’m working in the trigger well, I plan to remove the factory trigger return spring and replace it with a reduced-power unit, to score an easy improvement in trigger pull weight.

The trigger and reduced-power return spring come to about $50.

Action tuning
Wilson Combat sells an action tune kit for $80, which includes three options for lightened hammer springs, a trigger bar, and a chrome-silicon trigger return spring. As far as I can tell, this kit is the only way to get the Wilson trigger bar, which is an important part of tuning lightened trigger pulls.

It goes like this: you install a reduced-power hammer spring. (The kit includes a 12lb spring, down from the 20lb factory spring.) Your gun no longer reliably ignites primers. You install the trigger bar, which lengthens the hammer arc and delivers more impulse to the firing pin.

This is one of the most important mods for a competition gun, and would probably bring the double action pull weight well under ten pounds, and the single-action pull weight to the vicinity of three or four, much better than stock.

Skeleton hammer
The skeleton hammer not only looks cool, it also masses less than the factory hammer. A given spring therefore drives it more quickly, which helps to reduce lock time and increase the energy delivered to the firing pin. $30 from Beretta.

Steel guide rod
This isn’t all that necessary, but I prefer steel parts where I can get them. It also does a little to combat muzzle rise, being a heavier-than-stock part out near the muzzle. $25 from Wilson Combat.

Extended magazine release
As I mentioned in the M9 review, I can’t reach the factory magazine release from shooting position. Wilson Combat makes one which would fit right under my thumb. $50.

Magazine guide
The hammer spring block on 92-pattern pistols normally has a lanyard loop. Wilson Combat makes a magazine guide instead, a sloped piece to guide misses aft into the magazine well. $50.

Gunsmith work
Living near Pittsburgh as I do, Allegheny Arms is within driving distance. As one of the premier Beretta gunsmiths of the modern day, they offer two services of which I want to take advantage. First is a decocker conversion. For a carry gun, I like having a manual safety. For a gun whose sole purpose is competition, I want to do as little as possible coming out of the holster.

Finally, I’m not great at reloads, and any little bit helps. Allegheny Arms will do a fairly aggressive magazine well bevel. It isn’t a full-on magazine funnel, but combined with the Wilson Combat magazine guide, it would meaningfully improve my first-try reload percentage. All together, the gunsmith work comes to $285.

Magazines
The stock Beretta magazines are useless for Limited. To start off, I’d want to buy four MecGar 15-round magazines for a total stage capacity of 60 rounds. That adds $100 to the total. Eventually, I’d probably want to experiment with custom followers and longer extensions4, but given that I could spend an essentially unlimited amount of money tilting at that particular windmill, we’ll leave it off for now.

Finishing
Beretta’s stock finish is fine, but I’ve always wanted a Flat Dark Earth or Desert Sand Beretta. Leaving it at the local cerakote shop costs about $300 for barrel, slide, and frame, plus armory services.

If you’re keeping track, that puts me at right about $1500, not including the cerakote finish. (That seems fair. It’s completely unnecessary, so I could always do it later.) That cost includes some shipping, but maybe not all of the shipping, and of course fixes the value of my time at zero5. In return, I get a Beretta competition pistol, more or less the pinnacle of the platform, for about half of a reasonable 2011 build. It’s what you might call vintage—Beretta hasn’t been properly popular on the competition circuit since the 1990s. It has a tremendous amount of cool factor for me, a massive Beretta fanboy, and even parvusimperator would agree that the 92-pattern pistols are pretty.

So, why haven’t I started building it? Well, a forum post brought a new contender to my attention, and the choice turns out to be harder than I expected. Stay tuned. Next week, we’ll have a look at another Fishy race gun idea, and the week after, we’ll decide which one it’s going to be.


  1. Sometimes, people settle on a given platform because it’s the best. Competition frequently, but not always, finds that platform. For instance, the downforce revolution in Formula 1 came after a long period of mechanical-grip-only racing. We understood aerodynamics, and there were no rules preventing it. It was just that nobody thought to try it. 
  2. Probably can barely even get a used model from a reputable maker at that price. 
  3. I’ll borrow parvusimperator’s sight pusher. If he doesn’t have one, I’ll borrow his brass punches. 
  4. Woo, 3D printing! 
  5. If I consider building a gun leisure, I think that’s reasonable. 

Glock Trigger Pull Mods

I have an awesome and heavily customized Glock 19. It’s awesome. And it would get even awesomer if I had an improved trigger. One of the things I noticed at the high level pistol class I took was that I was the only one running a stock Glock trigger. There were lots of tuned Glock and tuned M&P triggers, plus a PPQ (which has a great stock trigger, something like a tuned Glock). So let’s play around a bit.

First, let’s talk what the trigger pull actually has to do. When you pull the trigger, you finish cocking the striker (at rest, it’s partially cocked). This is done by pulling against the striker spring, of course. Your pull is assisted by the trigger spring, which provides some extra pulling force to help you.1 The path of the sear is controlled by a little bit of bent metal called the connector. At the appropriate time, the connector guides the sear down, the striker is released, and a bullet comes flying out of the muzzle.

Second, let’s talk safeties. Actual, mechanical safeties. The Glock has three things that perform safety functions. First, is the little lever in the trigger. You have to depress this for the trigger to move. And there’s a certain amount of minimum forward travel the trigger has to go through to let the little lever redeploy. Second is the firing pin block. It’s a plunger. When you pull the trigger, a vertical tab on the trigger bar pushes the plunger out of the way. The rest of the time, the plunger will prevent the firing pin from going forward. Finally, the cruciform tab (it’s horizontal) on the trigger bar sits in a slot in the fire control housing. It has to move backwards far enough for the slot to widen. At rest, the narrow part of the slot prevents the trigger bar from dropping away and releasing the sear if the pistol is dropped.

I am not willing to compromise any of these safeties for obvious reasons. Note also that this means there’s a certain required amount of trigger travel before the break if we do not want to disable the safeties. A Glock is not a 1911, and it’s not possible to get an actually 1911-like trigger out of a Glock. Not possible. Well, not without being dumb. We can reduce some of this travel if we’re careful.

There are other things we can do as well. We can reduce the weight of the striker spring. The risk here is that the striker spring is what’s driving the striker into the primer. Too little force means the primer will fail to fire. That’s bad.

We can reduce the weight of the spring holding the safety plunger down. This makes it easier to push out of the way. We’re no longer holding it in place as firmly though.

We can also increase the assistance provided by the trigger spring. Too much and the gun may have issues resetting.

Trivially, we can change the trigger bar from the current ‘Gen4’ design to the older ‘Gen3’ design. This removes a nub which can rub on the frame and add drag to the pull. The nub was added to deal with issues if you reverse the magazine release. Fortunately, I’m right handed.

Finally we can mess with the trigger ‘shoe’ itself, to change the feel, and maybe remove some pretravel and overtravel.

Glocks are very plug and play. No fitting should be needed with most parts out there. It’s very easy to spend a fortune on trigger kits. We’re going to try to avoid that. If you’d prefer not to mess around with parts yourself, go check out DK Custom Triggers. You won’t regret it.

Anyway, you’ll need a punch to disassemble your Glock. If you’re a little rusty on the details, plenty of youtube videos exist to help. Let’s review what I tried. A lot of the following will be a very mix and match sort of nature. That is to be expected. I am not you. I may like different things than you. I may have different preferences as to trigger pull weight than you. That’s ok. Most of these parts are pretty cheap.

To start, I bought a Glock 17 type smooth-face trigger on a Gen 3 bar. Glock makes two kinds of trigger shoes, one with ridges for more Gun Control Act of 1968 points on the import system and one without. The one with is used on smaller guns. I’m not a fan of the feel of the ridged trigger shoe. So this change felt better, and made it a little less likely to pull in a not-straight back direction, but didn’t do much for trigger pull. Well, it took out some of the grit from that nub.

Part set two is the TTI Grandmaster trigger kit. Yes, I know this will not make me a GM-class shooter (alas, I’m not one already). But it comes with a lot of neat parts at a great price. It’s got an increased power trigger spring, a reduced power striker spring, a reduced power plunger spring, and the TTI connector. Score. Price is pretty good too. It uses all stock parts. I found that the connector and plunger spring smoothed out the pull. I’ll have to experiment to see if I get any light strikes with a reduced power striker spring. It made some improvement to the weight though. Definitely noticeable.

I also found that with the 3rd gen trigger bar and the increased power trigger spring on my Glock, that if I let the slide go home gently, the trigger wouldn’t reset all the way. I probably should take a look at it and see if it’s hanging up on something there. But I decided not to bother. I was happy enough with the pull with the standard trigger spring, and I had one more part on the way.

That part was the Overwatch Precision Tac Trigger. It’s the most expensive part, being a machined aluminum trigger shoe. Now I can experiment with a flat-face trigger design. I probably wouldn’t have bought it had I not played around with a buddy’s flat face Glock trigger at a class. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to resell if you end up not liking it. I chose the Overwatch flat face trigger because they’re recommended by more of my friends who like flat face triggers than any other brand. They also have a bunch of great videos to demonstrate that even though they remove some pretravel by playing with the geometry of how the trigger shoe interfaces with the trigger bar, they don’t disable any of the safeties.

Fittingly, the Tac Trigger also made the biggest difference in pull. Way shorter, with less of a perceptible trigger wall. I immediately noticed in dryfire that I could get on the trigger hard and fast with a lot less perceptible movement of the red dot. The flat trigger and reduced overtravel really made it hard to not pull the trigger straight back to the rear. I varied finger position. I tried to pour on the speed. Didn’t matter. I like this trigger a lot.

Pulling the trigger slowly, I found the lighter feel of the wall to be nice. Again, it’s easier to keep the sights on target. But the creep in the trigger is more readily apparent. Is it creepier than a stock Glock trigger? I think so. I think some mush has been added to the ‘wall’ that also makes it lighter. That said, both Fishbreath and I agree that this is a big improvement over stock, creep or no.

Let’s make another comparison: to the Walther PPQ. Which has a phenomenal stock trigger, and some complicated internals to make that happen. Is this as good as a PPQ? No. The PPQ has a really clever internal system to get the trigger characteristics, plus a fully cocked striker at rest. The Glock has a partially cocked striker at rest. Pulled slowly, the PPQ trigger is longer, and has less creep to it. This is still a good trigger though, and I’d give it the nod if you’re looking to improve your Glock trigger.

Interestingly, I tried swapping back to the dot connector. This made the wall a lot more noticeable again, but it also got rid of a bunch of creep, and masked most of what was left with the wall. I decided I preferred the more ‘rolling’ break of the TTI minus connector, so I stuck with that. I think the minus connector always makes the break more of a roll with some creep, and the Overwatch Trigger just makes this more obvious.

So let’s review. Things that made a big change in my trigger pull, and might be worth tinkering with: connector, striker spring, and trigger shoe. I didn’t think the rest of the parts provided that big a difference. Clearly, if you swapped to a NY1/NY2 trigger return spring, that would change stuff. I do know several guys, including one of my instructors, who like the feel of an NY1 spring and a minus connector. Also, note that if you use a reduced power striker spring, test your ammo with it and consider a lightened striker, especially if you shoot Wolf ammo.

Oh, one more thing. You’ll notice that I haven’t provided any trigger pull measurements. Most of that is from not having an NRA weight set with which to measure trigger pull. But also I think too much emphasis is placed on poundage and not enough on the less tangible things like distance and creep and abruptness of wall. And also what you feel comfortable with. Everyone’s different in that regard. Also, note that Glocks aren’t the most tightly toleranced of pistols.


  1. Unless you have an NY1 or NY2 trigger spring, which fight your trigger press rather than help it to meet NYPD pull weight mandates. 

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.

Barrel
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.

Handguard
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.

Magazines
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.

Sights
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.

Meet Madeline, Parvusimperator’s Sweet Sixteen (A5) Build

Let me walk you through an older build. It taught me a lot. Plus, my range notes are at hand already. You will no doubt be amused, dear reader, at this. Because it’s decidedly not a “cool kid” rifle, at least for the roughly present day definition of “cool kid”. This is about as gun hipster as I get. Fishbreath is even snickering.

Also, yes, dear reader, I know. There’s no such thing as a codified M-16A5. It’s not a thing. I am very aware. There were lots of proposals for what an M-16A5 should be, and I cribbed from a few proposals to make mine. Things I wanted were a 20″ barrel and a collapsible stock. Also, something a little more fancy than the regular plastic A1 or A2 style handguards. Let’s break it down.

Why would I want a 20″ barrel? Because I can. I have some other 16″ barrel carbines. I wanted to play around with a 20″. 20″ with a rifle gas system was how the rifle was what was originally designed by Eugene Stoner. So why not see how it does? Also, not getting in and out of a Humvee all day means I don’t really care about handiness. Or, again, I could take a different gun.

Why a collapsible stock? Because I can. Also, because I Escaped from New York, and it’s stupid, stupid bans that mandated fixed stocks. Screw that. Adjustable all the way!

Now, the Canadians have had plenty of good experiences operating an A2/A3-style1 upper with a standard M4-type collapsible stock and a heavy carbine buffer. But I wanted something else. Again, because I can. I went with the Vltor A5 Stock Kit, which was designed at the request of the USMC to replicate the feel and spring performance of the regular fixed-stock buffer system with a collapsible stock. The buffer weights 3.8 oz., and is a different length than either a standard carbine buffer or a normal rifle buffer. The spring is the same one as used with the fixed rifle stock (again, longer than the carbine spring), and the A5 system uses a longer2, seven-position buffer tube instead of the usual six-position tube. It also came with the Vltor Emod stock. This stock is a little longer than most collapsible stocks, which looks right on the longer A5 tube. Note that the A5 tube will work with any other collapsible stock that you like. The Emod comes with two longitudinal storage tubes and a storage compartment in the stock “toe”. All storage compartments have rubber gaskets to seal out water. The stock is also one of the heavier collapsible stocks on the market, weighing in at 14 oz, but that’s fine. I’m using a long barrel here, remember?

Handguard choices are dictated somewhat by our gas system. All the moreso because I bought a handguardless prebuilt upper from BCM. BCM makes good stuff. This gave me a 20″ A2-profile (aka. ‘government profile’, aka ‘M4-profile’) barrel, a standard front sight block that’s properly pinned, and a forged upper receiver, all nicely assembled. I also had a regular barrel nut, for use with standard A2-type handguards. Unless I chopped the front sight block, I was stuck with the standard gas system length. But, seeing as this is a 20″ barrel, that’s a 12″ long rifle gas system, which is plenty of handguard space. This isn’t the 7″ Carbine system, which is long enough for your hands or accessories but not both. I wanted something a little nicer than the regular A2 handguards, and I would prefer free float, because that’s better, and I would like the ability to mount accessories. Ideally, I wouldn’t have to remove the front sight block, so I’d need a two piece setup. I settled on the Centurion Arms C4 12″ Quadrail. This is a two-piece, free float quadrail that clamps around a standard barrel nut. It also has two sockets for quick detach sling swivels. Perfect! I covered those cheese-grater feeling picatinny rails with Magpul XTM rail covers. As a bonus, this system is great at dealing with heat. I may change rail covers in the future–I’d like to give the LaRue index clips a try.

Other than the A5 stock system, the lower is pretty standard. I gave the Stark pistol grip a try, and found that I was reasonably fond of it. Though, pistol grips are fun and easy to swap. Trigger is the excellent Geissele SSA. The rest of the lower parts kit is pretty boringly stock. The lower receiver is made by Mega Arms. Standard forged unit.

In terms of optics, I originally went with my Elcan SpecterDR 1.5x/6x. Which is awesome but heavy. I’ll probably go Marine-approved ACOG (specifically the TA31RCO-A4CP) on Madeline, especially since she’s already on the heavier side of AR-15 builds, and I’ve moved the Elcan to Bridget, my lighter competition rifle. Marine-approved ACOG, with the Marine-approved 20″ barrel and Marine-approved A5 recoil system. Semper Fi!

How does she shoot? Great. Subjectively, the felt recoil is softer, with the longer buffer system and gas system. The A5 does slow the bolt carrier down a little, and replicates the cyclic rate of fire and “feel” of the original rifle system. That’s awesome. I haven’t done a ton of transitions, but they haven’t been a big deal for me. The extra weight isn’t a big deal either, but I’m not a whiny REMF. I get some other cool things with a 20″ barrel and the rifle gas system. I can finally properly mount a bayonet on my rifle! Yay! Alas, I’m a civilian, so I’m not likely to need that. But it’s cool. And if I ever wanted to set up some dummies for skewering out back, now I can. I also get more velocity with a 20″ barrel. This gives me a longer point blank range, longer fragmentation range for M193/M8553, and more penetration at any given range for M855. Not that those last two matter while shooting paper targets, but they’re still cool. Interestingly, the Marines haven’t had the kind of inconsistent terminal performance complaints that the US Army has. And M855A1 has a higher chamber pressure. Maybe that longer barrel does give you something worthwhile…

I really like Madeline. Even if she’s a goofy mix of parts that the cool kids eschew. Maybe I understand a little of Fishbreath’s hipsterism. Or maybe I just enjoy soft shooting rifles. It would be lots of fun to take her to a carbine class.

1.) A3 style is just an A2 with a flattop receiver. They still use the A2 style plastic handguards, not the KAC RAS M5 like the Marines have on their M-16A4s.
2.) 3/4″ longer, to be precise.
3.) M193 and M855 are both significantly more lethal if they fragment. Fragmentation is significantly more likely to happen (read: nearly guaranteed) if the velocity of the bullet is more than 2,700 feet per second when it strikes its target. More muzzle velocity from a longer barrel

Glockblaster Range Report

So all the parts for the Glockblaster are in and it’s assembled. I even added a couple more things: the Glock factory extended slide stop and the Glock factory (slightly) extended mag release. More on those below. Anyway, got it to the range.

WOW.

No really. This thing is amazing. It’s as close as I can get to an actual phaser, blaster, or phased plasma rifle in the 40W range without actually being a fictional character. There’s a bit more flash and noise from the comp, but it’s nothing awful. Once you get used to that, you can actually track the red dot through the recoil arc. It is super cool to keep a target focus and watch the red dot bob a bit in your field of view. So between the comp an the added weight from the weaponlight, the gun doesn’t recoil overmuch. Next to no muzzle flip.

That takes some getting used to. I outran my sights a couple times, simply dealing with a weapon that got ready so quickly. It really, really makes follow up shots a breeze. And with a bit of focus, I could tear a nice ragged hole in the middle of the target faster than ever before.

Will this weapon make you a better shooter? No. Will it give you a whole bunch of advantages and make it easier to shoot fast? Yes, yes it will.

Let’s talk accessories. That covers the comp, the use of the weaponlight as a weight (it’ll probably be great as a weaponlight with the 500 lumens of retina-searing illumination it produces), and the red dot, which you already know I love.

I actually found the Glock factory extended slide stop to be a great choice. It’s just big enough to be noticeably easier to manipulate, but it still won’t get in your way. Gets a thumbs up.

The Glock factory extended magazine catch was made for the FBI. It’s a few millimeters longer than the regular one. Helps with small hands, won’t get pressed accidentally when the gun is holstered. I found it made magazine ejecting a little easier. Fishbreath, who has short thumbs, found it was a significant improvement in being able to easily reach the mag release. So, good choice there.

I haven’t done too much reload practice, but the Freya magwell doesn’t seem to help my time overmuch. I’m probably not quite quick enough yet to notice the equipment improvement being a help.1 But it does help keep my hand nice and high. It will also help prevent your hands from getting pinched by the magazines, if you have big hands.

I also haven’t touched the trigger yet. It’s a stock gen 4 trigger, with the polish of several hundred rounds. I might upgrade this in the future.

There you have it. One of my better pistol projects to date. Even Fishbreath, who doesn’t like Glocks or fancy race gadgets, thought it was great.

1.) See? It’s not just equipment. Duh.

Reports From The Range: Light Rifle Trials

When last we left Parvusimperator’s Rifle Works, we had a rifle built to a concept. Perhaps a somewhat vague and nebulous hodgepodge of a concept, but a concept nonetheless. So let’s get her to the range and talk Trials, see how she fared, and how we liked her.

But first, a name! Because the name seems to suit her, and for a bunch of personal reasons I won’t go into here, I’m going to call my light rifle Bridget. Say hello, Bridget.

Second, Bridget needs an optic. As built, she has no sights at all. So I needed an optic. I have a bunch of nice optics sitting around, but not one really suited to competition. Plus, I really like optics on my pistols. I usually carry one, and I almost always take a red dot equipped pistol with me to the range if I’m going to be shooting pistols. And a red dot puts me firmly into the Open1 division of any two- or three-gun competition. So, I shouldn’t really compromise on my optic in terms of close-in performance or performance at range. Which made my choice obvious: the SpecterDR 1.5x/6x.

Let’s look at this optic. It’s made by Elcan, a division of Raytheon. And it’s huge. It’s also unique in that it has a mechanically-operated prism system internally, giving it exactly two magnification levels. This is the bigger SpecterDR model, so those two levels are 1.5x and 6x. There is nothing in between, and switching between the magnifications is super fast. The conceit here is that for variable power optics, nearly all of the time is spent at either the lowest available or the highest available magnification. The SpecterDR gets rid of the others. It also features a massive 42mm objective lens, which is great for low light, or just getting a really clear sight picture. And if you’re a glass snob, the engineers at Elcan have you covered with some phenomenally clear European-grade glass. The reticle is a lot like a TA01 Acog: a big crosshair with bullet drop compensation markings for useful ranges. You can get a reticle calibrated for 5.56 or 7.62 as is your preference. Mine is calibrated for 5.56. The reticle also has a range estimator scale. You can illuminate either the center dot of the reticle or the entire reticle. If you’re illuminating the center dot only, you can get Aimpoint-grade brightness out of the Elcan. You won’t have an issue with that washing out. It’s rated for an average battery life of 3,000 hours, which is really good for a variable-power optic. Or, really, anything not made by Aimpoint. Plus, this thing is built like a brick shithouse. It’s not gonna break on me. It’s probably good for anything short of getting shot or having C4 strapped to it. It satisfies the MIL-STD-810F standards for durability, in case you like looking up technical descriptions.

Now for the downsides. Remember how this thing is built stupid tough? And it has a giant, Illuminati-approved, all-seeing objective lens? Well, it’s also a heavy beast of an optic, tipping the scales at 700 g (1.54 lbs.). This is a lot, but bear in mind that it includes a mount. So if you’re comparing it to a more conventional optic design, add in the weight of a mount and then get back to me. It’s a bit lighter than the super popular Vortex Razor HD Gen II 1-6x on it’s own, and rather lighter once you add a mount to the Vortex. Downside two is the price. MSRP is painful. And, downside number three is that Elcan is a division of Raytheon. They are a military contractor. This optic has an NSN. Having a super good warranty isn’t high on their features list. Nor is having a customer service department that can be there to hold your hand and reassure you that you are a special snowflake. They don’t care. If you object, feel free to take your business elsewhere. I don’t really care, so I ponied up the cash and bought one.2 Oh, the one other thing to be aware of is that the integral mount uses ARMS levers. Some people don’t like those because they’re not adjustable and don’t work if the rails on your upper aren’t in spec. There are better clamping designs now, but these work. Plus, I can’t change them out. Hardly a dealbreaker.

Enough of me babbling about the optic. Let’s mount it up! Even with the Elcan beast mounted on the rail, Bridget weights in at 7.53 lbs., which is lighter than Kat without her optic. It’s also about as much as Maryanne, my SCAR 16S, weighs without her optic.

Range trials proceeded without too much drama. That gas system runs great. No problems in rifle operation were found. Though, I didn’t run a ton of rounds through Bridget yet at this stage. In terms of handling though, I’m super impressed. Bridget isn’t front-heavy like most other ARs, and she’s not rear-heavy like a bullpup. The vast majority of the weight is concentrated right around the magwell, where your strong hand is. So she’s not tiring to hold up and maneuvers super easy. That long handguard is actually quite nice with the weight distributed this way. It makes transitions really easy.

What else did we notice? Bridget is loud. Very loud. And the blast is obnoxious. How obnoxious? Well, two lanes over, Fishbreath remarked “Holy cow that’s obnoxious!” And he’s not one given to profanity. Translating to something a bit more colloquial gives us “Fucking ow!” Fishbreath has also mentioned the sensation of getting blasted in the face with the particles that come out of the business end of a rifle is a lot like getting pepper sprayed.

That said, after understanding that Bridget is going to helpfully try to get you some extra shooting space so that you both can get comfortable, she’s a remarkably flat shooting gun. I’m no expert in recoil control, but that little M4-72 brake is amazing at keeping the muzzle where you pointed it. No jumping, no nonsense. Plus, even less recoil than you’d expect from a 5.56. Bridget feels like shooting a .22 that someone made heavy, but somehow is being magically supported. Oh, and you’re right behind a cannon that’s synchronized to you. Because roar.

In case it’s not obvious from the above, I like Bridget very much. She’s lots of fun to shoot. Having a light, well-balanced rifle is pretty awesome, and it’s a solid validation of my part selection. I’m quite happy with her as is. I was a little concerned that the heavy Elcan would ruin everything, but because of the balance, I don’t have any complaints. I might swap to something else in the future, but I’m happy with the Elcan for the time being. I’m also quite happy with my choice of stock and handguard. Thanks, BCM! I do need to remember a glove for sustained shooting, since the handguard heats up quick. The Geissele SSA-E is a good trigger, but I might like to try something different given my expected uses. We’ll see–I’ve got a match coming up on the 10th, and I’ll take note if any conclusions shake out of that match, other than I need more practice.

1.) Or “Un-Limit-ed” now, I guess. Name changes, ugh. Maybe I’ll call it Ultd. Anyway, same great nearly-no limits as Open, brand new name.
2.) I got mine from CS Tactical. They do have great customer service.

Parvusimperator’s Light Rifle

As per usual, I wanted to do another AR-15 build, which of course, needed a concept. I decided to try for a Light-ish rifle. I’m gonna pick some parts on the lighter side of things and see how I like the result. There are some exceptions, which I’ll get into below. Also, if possible, I wanted to give one of those long handguard things a try, see why everybody likes them. And I’m going to make this a nice, generally high-end race-ish build. So let’s cue the music.

Receivers: Mega Arms NiB-coated billet set
Well, that ended quick. Just kidding. Really though, I bought these because they look freaking cool. NiB (Nickel Boron) finish is pretty, and Mega Arms makes nice receivers. Billet receivers are heavier than forged, in general. Oh darn. Let’s look at the receivers themselves in detail:

Upper Receiver:
Well, it’s NiB coated, which looks cool. Internally, this should be pretty slick. Otherwise, it’s mostly adding a bit of bling that we can pretend is something vaguely resembling practical. This is a pretty typical billet upper, with some details particular to the manufacturer to make it look cool, and provision for a forward assist and dust cover.

Lower Receiver:
It’s also NiB coated. Plus, matched billet set, so the design is supposed to flow nicely. Blending and all that. Woo. There are a couple other things of note here that are nonstandard. First, there’s a small setscrew at the back to control fit of the upper and the lower and remove any wobble. Not that the wobble matters, but it’s nice to be able to take it out, get that custom gun feel. We also have an extra bit on the right side–a southpaw bolt release! There’s a button on the right and a longer guide rod so that a southpaw shooter can release the bolt easily with his support hand when he reloads. Cool. Note that there’s no way for him to lock the bolt back with this particular gubbin, but that’s okay. Bolt lockback is nearly always an administrative thing; it doesn’t matter if it’s awkward. Also, the bolt catch is to be held in place with an included setscrew, not a roll pin. Great! Roll pins are of the devil anyway, especially that one, which is about the most awkward thing to install.

Barrel: Daniel Defense 16″ Lightweight Profile CL
That’s more like it. It even says lightweight in the name. Anyway, I went with Daniel Defense because they have a good history of making quality AR barrels, 16″ because I don’t want to bother with pinning the muzzle device or NFA paperwork, and chrome lining (“CL”) because duh, chrome line that barrel for best barrel life results. The lightweight profile is what was originally called for by Stoner in the basic AR-15/M-16A1 design, so we’re in good stead here. Plus, I’m not a benchrest shooter, so I don’t want a barrel that weighs as much as a Camaro. Light rifle, lightweight barrel profile. Perfect for the Run ‘n’ gun.

Handguard: BCM KMR 13″
Oughta make up for all those places I opted not to cut weight. Note that this is not the KMR-Alpha. This is Original KMR, made with BCM’s fancy, proprietary, and apparently hard-to-find aluminum-magnesium alloy. Just like a fancy racing engine block. And it’s laughably light. Holding the handguard in your hand is like holding nothing at all. It’s stupid light. There’s basically nothing to it given that it’s over a foot long. Why 13″? Because I wanted to have a long handguard to see what all the fuss was about. But I still wanted a bit of barrel at the end for the narrow firing port drills you sometimes see at matches. This fits the bill for both. Plus, it’s got the modular keymod interface. Is keymod better than Mlok? I have no idea. I just like this handguard design. I figure both will be around for a long time, because people hang on to guns for a while.

Muzzle Device: Precision Armaments M4-72
I could probably have gotten a lighter muzzle device. I don’t care.1 The M4-72 is universally acclaimed as a super effective muzzle device, coming in at or near the top in several effectiveness tests. It is also apparently horrifically loud. I do not care about this either. Ridiculous race gun comps are always something I’ve been interested in trying. So here it is. One of the baddest of the bad, if you can take the abuse. Or, I guess if people around you can take the abuse.

Gas Block: BCM low profile .625″
Not much to say here. It’s a gas block. It attaches via setscrew, mostly because I lack a drill press to pin it properly. Oh well. .625″ because that’s the diameter of my barrel at the gas port. It is not adjustable, because I don’t really want to fiddle with gas systems too much. I don’t tweak rifles to shoot as light as possible for some custom load. I like my rifle to run with any reasonable factory load.

Gas tube: BCM midlength
Yes, I bought a gas tube. No, there’s nothing special about it. Makes rifle do that autoloader thing.

Bolt Carrier Group: WMD Guns NiB-X coated M16 BCG
Here’s another place where I could have saved some weight, but didn’t. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of low-mass components in the operating system, because I like unfussy, reliable rifles. This is one of the few places where there is mass in an AR-15, so of course someone is gonna try to cut weight here. If you go with a reduced-mass BCG, you nearly always need to tune your gas system for correct functioning. Since I’m not the biggest fan of fiddle-farting around with the gas system, and I have no capacity to do so on this rifle as designed, I kept the stock-dimensioned BCG for reliability. I don’t like fussy, high maintenance guns. NiB coated because my upper is NiB coated, and NiB on NiB is going to give me maximum lubricity. Plus, it looks really cool.

Buffer system: BCM milspec buffer tube, castle nut, receiver end plate, carbine buffer, carbine buffer spring
Not much interesting here. I need a buffer system to make the rifle one correctly. So I got one. It’s all pretty standard stuff. Milspec buffer tube, though it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s consistent with your stock. Castle nut and receiver end plate are also needed, and stock parts, and boring. Nothing fancy here. The buffer is carbine weight, mostly because that’s what came in the kit. I may tinker with that a bit, but Obsessive Buffer Tweaking Syndrome has screwed up many perfectly good guns. So…maybe not.

Stock BCM Gunfighter FDE
This stock is a good balance between weight, comfort, and durability. It’s one of the lighter stocks on the market, among the strongest in abuse/drop tests, and is pretty comfortable as far as cheek weld goes. There’s a rubber pad on it too, not that a 5.56 AR is abusive at all. There are lighter stocks, but most of them are less comfortable. Or I could have just gotten a backplate for the buffer, but that wouldn’t be adjustable. And I refuse to be that silly. Plus I like having features that were on the ban list for the ’94 “assault weapons” ban. Makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Oh, and I picked Flat Dark Earth (FDE to the cool kids, tan to everyone else) because it looks cool, and I’ve got a sort of two-tone look going on.

Various Upper and Lower Parts:
I’m going to list these out, grouped by function, because a bunch are decidedly not standard parts. I rolled my own lower parts kit for this one.

Forward assist: BCM forward assist and spring
Well, the upper receiver has a slot for one, so I got one. It’s a stock part. Moving on.

Dust Cover: Strike Industries Enhanced Ultimate Dust Cover
I got this because installing a dust cover is really annoying. This one is much less so.

Charging handle: Mega Arms Grip Charging Handle
This one came with my upper. It’s got some more grippiness, and it’s a billet part, but otherwise it’s a stock design. I’m fine with that for now. I haven’t had one of my guns jam up real bad, so I haven’t had to really abuse a charging handle. Maybe in the future I’ll get a fancy one.

Mag Release: Colt mag release spring, colt mag button, Norgon ambi mag catch
I got the Norgon ambi mag catch because I figured it’d be pretty silly to have an ambi bolt release but no ambi mag release. I got the Norgon one because it’s well made, puts the mag release in the same place for southpaws and even has an NSN. Other small parts are Colt because I like Colt stuff. They make good small parts.

Bolt release: Colt spring, Seekins Bolt Release Catch
These are added to the already-supplied extended guide rod to enable the southpaw-friendly release functionality. Colt spring because I still like Colt. Seekins catch because it’s a little bigger, and I like the look. Plus bigger is easier to smack when you’re in a hurry.

Safety: Battle Arms Development Ambi Safety
Again, ambi makes more sense as an all-or-nothing thing. Plus, I like ambi safeties in general, and I’m not sacrificing anything. Battle arms makes a really nice one that lets you choose from several different shapes of lever that they make. They come with a safety detent and safety detent spring.

Grip: TangoDown BG-17 FDE
FDE because two-tone. TangoDown BG-17 because it’s a really comfortable grip. It’s my favorite from testing several. And no, I don’t like the ‘more verticaler’ grips they have now. TangoDown’s grip is also shaped to keep your hand high, and a high grip is a better grip. Also, TangoDown actually makes grips in sizes for people who have big, manly hands. The BG-17 is the larger size, the BG-16 is the smaller size. Same great comfortable shape. Since I have relatively large hands, I went BG-17. Interestingly, all the goofy vertical grips seem to be made tiny. No idea why, but it’s another reason for me to not like them

Buffer retainer: Colt buffer retainer detent, Colt buffer retainer spring
Really, there’s nothing to see here. These parts are required so your gun works right. There’s nothing special about them. I like Colt, so I got ones made by Colt.

Receiver Pins: Battle Arms Development Enhanced Pin Set
These hold your receivers together. You need some pins, and the corresponding pin retaining detents and pin retaining springs. I like the Battle Arms set because they shape the pins a bit more to make them easier to push and pull with your fingers. It’s the little things. They also include a little magnet to hold the detents while you install the pins. It’s the little things.

Trigger: Geissele SSA-E
If you thought I was going to put a stock trigger in this gun, you should go play in traffic. I like Bill Geissele’s triggers, and his SSA is pretty much my go-to trigger. I went with the SSA-E for a little bit of match-ness. I might go with a more competition trigger once I get a feel for this one and run it. That trigger might be the Geissele SD-E trigger, or maybe the Hiperfire 24C that I’ve heard so much about. I’ll keep you posted.

There she is, though she still needs a name and an optic. And then it’s off to the range! Watch this space for more details.

Oh, and in case your curious, she weighs 5.975 lbs unloaded, with no optic. A hair under six pounds is pretty good, I thought. Especially because I didn’t get too obsessive.

1.) Technically, I could also have gone with no muzzle device. But that’s just silly. If you seriously considered this, then you’re dumb. Or too weight obsessed. Possibly both.

Meet Maryanne, a Product Improved SCAR 16S

So I’ve spent some quality time shooting my SCAR 16S, which has been named Maryanne.1 And the more I shoot it, the more I like it. There are a lot of good things here, and some that I’ve changed, because I can’t not tinker with something. So let’s go through what I’ve found, what I’ve changed, what I’ve kept, and what might change in the future.

The more I shoot Maryanne, the more I like that charging handle. No, it hasn’t hit my thumb yet. Still not sure how that keeps happening to other people.2 Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, locking the bolt back for a right handed shooter is super easy. Grabbing the charging handle, palm-down, and pulling the charging handle back puts your support hand thumb in perfect position to hit the bolt catch. Easy. This makes administrative handling and malfunction clearing3 a breeze. There are a bunch of aftermarket charging handles out there, but I don’t see myself buying one. I haven’t scraped my knuckles on anything yet.

Also, the reciprocating charging handle makes it easy to tell if the gun has stopped firing because of a malfunction or because the mag is empty, without having to rotate it for a chamber check. And, if you like a forward assist, it’ll do that job too. Reciprocating charging handle can stay.

I also like the safety, which is a 45-degree jobber, as opposed to the 90 degree design of a regular AR. I like it better because it’s a bit faster, and indulges some laziness. There are aftermarket safety levers available, but I haven’t bothered with any of those yet, because I can’t tell how they improve upon the factory part. What am I getting with my money besides a tiny bit that says “MAGPUL” on it?

I haven’t touched the factory stock either. Again, I don’t see the point, the factory unit works great as it is. It even has an adjustable riser. And it sits against my shoulder, and it’s adjustable for length of pull, and it folds. Great! 5.56 doesn’t need much of a recoil pad. Also, alternatives tend to be even uglier, so why bother? Maybe if someone made a shoulder thing that goes up for it, I’d get one so I can have another feature to make the antigunners pee their panties, but no one has made one yet. I’ll have to settle for collapsible and folding, as opposed to collapsible, folding and “goes up”. Oh darn.

You’re probably wondering what the devil I have changed. Well, the pistol grip for starters. I hate the A2-style pistol grip. It’s too small and has a nub in a stupid place. Stupid cheap thing. I’ve replaced it with a TangoDown BG-17 grip. This grip is curved and large, for those of us with big hands. It fits my hand great and is comfortable. Plus it puts the distance to trigger in a great spot. It’s a more traditional grip angle though. I don’t understand the ‘vertical style’ that a lot of newer ARs have, but maybe that’s because I’m not kicking doors with an SBR. Shrug. The important thing is that I have a grip I like.

I also replaced the stock gritty trigger with Geissele’s fancy Super SCAR trigger. Trigger replacement on the SCAR is a bit of a pain, but I got there eventually. The end result is a lighter, crisper pull. It’s not too light, and it makes shooting the gun more fun. I’m a civilian. I get to enjoy luxury triggers. This thing is now totally awesome. It feels a lot like my other Geissele triggers, which is fine by me. Mr. Geissele does good work.

I’ve played around with rail covers and the like on Maryanne. I’m currently running Magpul XTMs on the side rails and a Magpul AFG2 on the bottom rail. I’m not sure about this setup. I haven’t shot the rifle to get a feel for how much I like the AFG2 on the handguard, and the XTMs are a pain to work with. I might replace them with the Tango Down rail covers or something. I don’t know yet. It’s easy enough to mess with.

I have not gotten an extended rail yet, because I don’t see the point. Maybe it’s because I don’t have ape-arms, but I haven’t figured out why people like to grip the gun super far out on the handguard yet. Plus, there’s plenty of room for a light if I need to mount one. No extension means I don’t spend money on that and the weight doesn’t go up, woohoo.

The iron sights on Maryanne are really well done. I’m not a big iron sight guy, but these are as good as the high-end KAC sights you might put on your AR if you’re into fancy builds. Range adjustable and everything. Of course, I went optic, because duh. Right now, I have an Aimpoint Comp M4S on there in a Larue QD mount. The Comp M4S is Aimpoint’s flagship red dot. It’s got a 30mm tube, is basically unkillable, takes AA batteries, and has a battery life of about a hojillion hours on a medium setting. I don’t turn it off, and change the battery every few years, if I have to, I guess. It’s easy to adjust brightness, super quick like all red dots, and works great for the generally short ranges I find myself shooting at. Especially in wintertime, I’m stuck on short indoor ranges. Plus, I really don’t like sitting on a bench like a loser and trying to get my groups to be the size of a dime at 50 yards. I have better things to do than carbine masturbation, thanks.

Red dots are simple and cool. We’ll see how it shakes out at some multigun or carbine classes in the near future. I might also get fancy and get an Elcan SpecterDR 1x/4x for it, get some magnification for target identification and those longer shots. I love the 1.5x/6x that I got for another gun project, and the 1x/4x is a little lighter and a little cheaper. Also faster on the low end, because actual 1x. The SpecterDRs some prisms to switch magnification from low to high super fast, because intermediate magnification levels are barely used on most low power variable optics. So, we’ll see. The SpecterDR is a bit heavy, but the mount is built in, so it’s weight is pretty competitive with equally-tough conventional low-power variable optics. I will keep you posted on how the red dot does and if I do go Elcan.4

1.) Yes, I know Fabrique Nationale de Herstal is a Belgian company. And yes, final assembly was completed in Fredricksburg, VA because US firearms import laws are stupid. I do not care. Her name is Maryanne. Feel free to argue with the business end.
2.) If you know how this is happening, please mail a picture of your support hand grip technique to:
c/o I’m a dumb idiot who can’t be arsed to run my gun properly
Ste. 213
82 Stupid Moron Drive
Sewickey, PA 15143

3.) Maryanne hasn’t malfed on me yet, but I’ve done some drills to learn the full manual of arms.
4.) Quick, possibly helpful note on Elcan. Elcan is short for Ernst Leitz Canada. You might Ernst Leitz GmbH as Leica, super awesome camera company. So Elcan makes some phenomenal glass, even though they’re not actually in Europe. They also make the SpecterOS, which is like an ACOG with way better glass. They’re what happened when the Leica guys didn’t want to work for the Soviets after the Second World War. Unlike most optics companies that you’ve heard, they’re a military contractor first and foremost, and are a subsidiary of Raytheon. They’re not known for super crazy long warranties or fabulous customer service. Sorry. Not that you’ll be able to kill a Specter without explosives or shooting it.

A Practical Racegun?

I’ve mentioned before that I really love Glocks. They shoot well, they’re reasonably priced, and they’re unbelievably reliable. They also have a wonderful aftermarket, which I haven’t really made much use of. Time to change that, and make a practicalish open-class gun. The end result is going to check the box for just about every feature that would get you kicked into the Open division sandbox at a match, but it will still be a concealable handgun.

Side note, credit where it’s due: This build was inspired by a similar one by a man that I know as ‘Roland,’ who is a special forces type and has a professional stake in such a weapon. So it’s been vetted as a concept by someone far more experienced than I. Roland, if I ever find you in a bar, first round is on me.

Anyway, let’s look at our base gun. The Glock 19. Why the Glock 19? Well, partially because I have one sitting around that I don’t carry much since I had a red dot put on my Glock 17. Micro red dots on pistols are super awesome. You should get one.1 Anyway, the Glock 19 has a lot of wonderful characteristics that made it my first handgun purchase. It’s small enough to conceal easily, but big enough to be easy to shoot and manipulate. As we’ll soon see, it happens to have some other characteristics that will make it good for this build, but chief among them is that I happen to have one handy. And its small size will mean that once we’re done with it we’ll still have something concealable.

I could have used a Glock 34 for this build, but that’s not a very good choice for what we’re going for with this build. The Glock 34 is about the size of a government-model 1911, so it’s already a big handgun. Not too big to conceal, but making it bigger still will make finding holsters difficult. Since holsters are important, we’ll be using a slide-mounted red dot sight, like I have on my Glock 17. Red dots mean the sight radius advantage of the Glock 34 is lost, and the Glock 19 actually shoots better than the Glock 17 and 34 since the smaller, lighter slide returns to battery faster. We’ll keep irons on the Glock 34 for matches we might want to shoot with iron sights, and get modding on my old Glock 19.

Okay, so first mod is slide milling for a Trijicon RMR. And suppresor-height iron sights, because I do like backups. The choice of sight and mount is going to continue to influence our modding decisions. 9mm is not a superhot cartridge, but it will still recoil, and that muzzle flip plus the slide mount location will cause us to briefly lose view of the red dot, simply because of angles and the reciprocation. Now, we could simply wait for it to come back down with a proper grip, which works great on my other red dot pistols. But this is an Open-Class practical gun. Unlimited modding! Surely we can do better.

Next step is to work on muzzle rise, since that’s going to cause that loss of dot picture. We’ll do this by adding a compensator on a threaded barrel. KKM has a nice unit that fits on a threaded barrel. And it’s not really wider than the sides of the slide, so it’ll still fit in holsters. And hey, it brings the frame length of the Glock 19 about up to that of a Glock 34. Bam. Checks all our boxes, keeps the muzzle level given reasonable 9mm rounds.2 We can even order it with a drop-in threaded barrel, because screw the whole fitting process.

Are we done? Certainly not! We haven’t touched the frame and it’s guts yet. Frame mods will be rather less aggressive, since I’m perfectly happy with the existing grip shape and the Gen4 grip texturing. We will do something about that trigger though. But we must be careful. The pretravel on a Glock trigger is very important. The Glock striker is only partially cocked, and the pretravel is used to finish the job and disengage the internal safety plunger.3 We also don’t want to harm that awesome reset, since that’s something the existing Glock trigger does really well. So we’re going to install the SSVI Tyr trigger. This trigger uses mostly factory internals with a new trigger ‘shoe’, which is the bit your finger goes on. The shoe is designed to give you more leverage by altering the position of your finger in relation to the pivot point, namely the trigger pin. Altering this relationship lightens the apparent pull and helps smooth the pull without compromising the drop safety like an idiot.

That’ll do for trigger mods to start. There are other things we can do by messing with the connector, but I tend to see trigger mods as an iterative approach. I’ll have to trial the Tyr with the rest of the trigger parts stock before I start messing with more things. I might like to try some Ghost parts though. Stay tuned for more on Tweaking Your Glock Trigger.

We’re still not done. No sir. We need a magwell. But we’d also like to pretend that this pistol is sort of concealable, so we don’t want a giant funnel. But we still need a magwell, because magwells are cool. And there are a whole bunch of small magwells to get some of the benefits of a giant funnel without all the bulk. And, given that I have He-Man hands, a little extra grip length on the Glock 19 is always good. We should also note that the fact that our base gun is a Glock 19 narrows the field quite a bit. Most magwells are made for the Glock 17/34/35 frame size, since that’s what’s popular in competition circles. Our choice for not a ton of bulk but enough funneling to assist with a somewhat fumbled reload is the Freya, from Raven Concealment. It works fine with stock basepads, and adds some material at the back to help you index that magazine. It’s got a small funnel shape, and should also help push the hands higher. Perfect.

That’s it right? What could be left, since I’m not going to be doing some sort of grip mod? Well, in a nod to practical use cases, plus the originator of the concept, we’ll be adding a weapon mounted light.4 Our light of choice is the Surefire X300 Ultra, because I have one right here for night stand use. Why this light? Well, it’s Surefire, so it’s made in America, and it’s as tough as lights come. Surefire has excellent switchology on their lights, and there are no stupid fancy strobe modes, SOS modes, semaphore modes, or any of that useless crap we don’t need. It’s got a momentary on and a constant on and that’s all. Plus, it’s 500 lumens of power. 500 lumens is enough to cook things. It will set vampires on fire. More lumens is better lumens. In all seriousness, it will properly illuminate dark areas. Do not look into the beam. We’ll also add a DG-11 switch, which gives us an on/off button on an extension that puts it at the front of a grip. Instinctive activation, like a Crimson Trace grip. We can also configure the X300 Ultra to lock out the extra switch, in case we’re at the range and don’t feel like burning batteries.

There we go. Project Roland. I’m going to shamelessly steal the name Freya for this cool new gun. Freya is a blaster worthy of Han Solo, because this is a very uncivilized age.

1.) Even Fishbreath wants one. Alas, his pistol of choice, the PX4 Compact, isn’t readily amenable to milling because the frame mounted safety/decocker components are in the way. Poor Fishbreath.
2.) Reasonable, as in ‘reasonably manly’. No bunny-fart loads for this gun. Also, it’s an excuse to shoot more +P.
3.) This is the bit that makes it drop safe.
4.) It also adds weight under the barrel, which is awesome for stability and keeping that muzzle down.

Kat’s new furniture: when a stock is not stock

Last time, I said I would open this post with my precise optics choice. Here’s why I tried to put it off: my optic is an Aim Sports 4×32 ACOGalike. (ACOGalike is not the brand name; that’s just my description.) A quick note on Chinese-built optics: if it doesn’t have Primary Arms on it, you can’t trust it. If you roll a 12 or greater on a d20, it’s probably worth using; if you roll a 20 and 12 or greater on a second roll, then you might have a hidden gem. I hit about an 18 on mine: it doesn’t show the same issues as some other Chinese optics in my possession, but it’s inferior to parvusimperator’s proper ACOG in terms of optical clarity and low-light performance. So it goes. I can buy ten cheapo Chinese optics for the price of his one ACOG; at least one of mine is going to be usable.

Anyway, same optical characteristics as a Real ACOG, which means limited eye relief. Originally, Kat had a polymer stock in the same vein as the stock AK stock, except lengthened a bit for parvusimperator’s monkey arms1. You can see the issue if you look at a picture of an AK stock: it slopes somewhat downward, and my cheek weld, for a relatively high-mounted scope with short eye, ends up being a beard weld, since you find yourself in front of the actual comb. This is not ideal.

The solution? A stock with a higher comb. There are varied and sundry options here. After looking at several options, I chose the Magpul Zhukov-S. “A Magpul?” you ask. “Fishbreath, aren’t you a massive cheapskate?” Yes, yes I am, but at the same time, I recognize quality when I see it. Let’s count the ways the Zhukov-S is a good choice.

Number one: the comb is straight back from the receiver. This fixes my chin weld issue: the comb is high enough that I can properly place my cheek against it, while being low enough that it doesn’t interfere with over-the-ear hearing protection.

Number two: it’s a side-folder. This is not of critical importance, but there’s something about folding stocks on AKs that just feels right.

Number three: the build quality is superb. The folding mechanism feels durable and has positive locking in the folded position; in the extended position, there is zero rattle. It may as well be a fixed stock.

Number four: the attachment mechanism. Magpul has solved probably the largest open problem in AK customization. This one requires some further explanation.

An AK stock is secured to the receiver by two screws: one through the tang poking out the back of the receiver, and one through an internal tang in the receiver a little bit further forward. These are not for precision alignment: they’re there for retention only. The stocks are precision-fit2 to wedge into the receiver, which prevents them from wiggling. This requires a good bit of force, and a good bit of fitting on initial installation.

Magpul decided this was a terrible idea. They came up with two innovations to make the whole process almost painless. The first is their so-called ‘wedge block’. Looking at the stock from the side, the forward bit which slides into the receiver is cut diagonally, longer at the top and shorter at the bottom. The wedge block is cut the opposite way; putting the wedge block against the forward bit of the stock makes a square. A bolt holds them together, and when you tighten the bolt, the wedge block slides downward. This pushes the stock upward, and eventually, the wedge block and the stock have wedged themselves against the receiver, securing themselves against it without having to be made the same size as the receiver.

The second innovation is a keyed nut: oval-shaped instead of circular, it fits into a cut beneath the tang screw hole in the stock. Magpul provides a machine screw to fit the nut, so when you tighten the machine screw, it ends up centered over the nut, which is positioned at a defined point in the stock, yielding correct side-to-side orientation. So, unlike most AK stocks, the Zhukov-S goes on painlessly. All you have to do is tighten a few screws to hold things in place; no mallet required, and the end result is just as solid.

Is it perfect? No, not quite. I’d love some storage, especially since my optic’s illumination is powered by watch batteries, not radioactivity or natural light, and as far as I can tell, my options are limited to duct taping things to the outside of the stock. Nor does it have the classic looks I usually go for: it’s a tacticool accessory through and through. Although it has sling swivel points, it doesn’t come with any of the push-button sling swivels they accept, and for the money, I feel like a swivel would have been a nice extra. Finally, it is a little bit on the expensive side; at about $100, it’s the most I’ve ever spent on a firearms accessory which is not an optic.

Don’t let those critiques take away from the product, though: it’s certainly worth the money.

1. This isn’t entirely fair. The stock is NATO length. I just don’t like ’em that long.
2. In AK Land, this means they’re cut a little large, and you bang ’em into place.