Sunday, February 28, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

FINALLY! My AR 15 Rifle

It's here! It's finally here! After 8 months, the upper half I've been patiently waiting for is finally here!

Some may know, and others may not know, that back in June of 2009, I placed an order for a Rock River Arms A4 CAR length upper half to complete my AR 15 rifle. Unfortunately for me, RRA was suddenly inundated with orders from a lot of federal agencies, including the DEA, for complete weapon systems. The back order was indefinite and RRA found themselves unable to keep up with the demands.

For any civilian, this meant their orders, including mine, were on the back burner until the government contracts could be met. I didn't know this at the time I placed my order. However, since the lower receiver I already had is a Rock River Arms lower, I wanted a matching upper half in a really big way.

I was tired of mismatched assault weapons. My FN FAL was assembled form different parts kits from all over the place and nothing seemed to make any sense at all. Additionally, my last battle rifle wasn't a top shelf weapon. Reliable it was, but definitely not something get get overly excited about. I wanted something new, modern, American made, and above all high quality.

I decided on Rock River Arms because they make a fine rifle for my application. It's tough, reliable, reasonably priced, and the fit and finish can't be beat by anyone. With that in mind, I was able to wait the agonizing 8 months to finally have the upper half of MY choice - not just some gun sitting on the rack at a shop.

I'm not going to get into the boring details of specs and so forth, but I will say that it has folding sights and has that chrome-lined barrel I was losing a lot sleep over. I so desperately wanted that barrel and I got it. There were a lot of bonuses that came with this upper half and I actually made out like a thief when you consider what I paid for and what I got. Let's just say that some of the stuff isn't exactly as I ordered, but I'm not complaining because it is the stuff I would have spec'd out if money wasn't an object in the first place!

When Bulls Eye Shooter Supply made the call, I immediately dropped everything I was doing and I rushed down to get my long awaited part. I was so happy. I brought it home and went to install it on my lower half. I pulled out the hinge pin and the take down pin and the upper half dropped right onto the lower without a fuss at all. The finish between the two parts was exactly perfect and it didn't rattle one bit. Awesome! I then installed the rear sight and mechanically zeroed the weapon.

Today, I took time off from work. After doing some house hold chores and cleaning the AR, Lindsay and I dropped the kids off at their grandparent's house and we went up to the hills to break in my new acquisition.

The gun handled perfectly. I loaded the first PMAG in and charged the weapon. I gently squeezed the trigger, not knowing what would happen (I am always a bit nervous when firing a weapon that has never been fired before). After the first shot, I fought the urge to look and see if the gun jammed. Instead, I just squeezed the trigger again and BANG! Then BANG! BANG! BANG! It fired all 30 rounds without a hitch! Happy with those results, I loaded another magazine and did the same. The gun is predictable. The trigger is so light and smooth. The recoil is... non-existent. The control I had over this weapon was just amazing. I haven't fired a lot of AR 15's before, and I certainly hadn't fired one in almost 7 years before today, but this gun just felt so familiar and natural.

The only hiccup this gun experienced was with a crappy cartridge. After the round fired, the extractor on the bolt ripped the rim off the shell casing. This made the spent casing stay in battery. As the bolt carrier group moved forward, it cycled the next cartridge, but instead of going to battery, it simply hit the spent case in front of it and jammed. Ugh! It turns out I was shooting HSM ammunition. This is reloaded brass, so who knows how many times it had been fired before it graced my gun with it's presence. (I'm rolling my eyes as I type; clever, huh?) I had read somewhere before that this particular ammo does not handle the AR 15 very well, and it proved it to me today. Fortunately, Lindsay suggested taking a cleaning rod and popping the spent case out from the muzzle end. (This is why I love my wife. She has the technical prowess to address an issue, unlike some girlfriends I've had before) After popping the garbage out of my gun, I continued shooting as if nothing happened at all. If it weren't for that faulty cartridge rim, the gun would have batted a thousand for the day. However, I'll take what I can get. The gun itself shoots wonderfully and consistently. The Remington UMC and PMC I ran through it worked fine, so I'll stick with that.

Overall, I'm extremely satisfied with this project. I got my gun exactly how I wanted it, without compromise, at a cost savings, and it shoots like a dream. Can't ask for anything better than that!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Shot Placement vs. The Magic Bullet

I've recently had a few people ask me about the .380 cartridge and if it is powerful enough to do the job it is intended to do. Of course, my usual response is that the .380 will do its job. The question I have is: will you do your job?


My recent experiences with my Ruger LCP have gotten me into a few online debates around the "internetz" regarding ballistics, "knockdown power" (cringe), accuracy, and reliability. Most people agree that the LCP is a reliable gun, but the controversy lies in just how much power the "little bullet that could" has. A lot of people are opting for the slightly larger sub-compacts because they feel they will do better with the 9mm instead of the increasingly popular .380 auto. Even bigger still, some of the old timers opt for the .45 acp in their compact-sized 1911 handguns. For some reason the .45 acp is somehow a magic bullet that will drop anything it shoots at. I've seen all kinds too. Some people actually believe that you are a complete pansy if you carry any gun chambered for anything less than a .40 caliber round; I guess I'm a total pansy because my primary carry weapon is only a .357 magnum.

I, personally, have 3 caliber and weapon options for concealed carry: a .380 (Ruger LCP), a .357 magnum (Ruger SP-101), and 9mm (Beretta 92FS). You will be hard pressed to find anyone that disagrees with the life-ending capability of the .357 magnum. A lot of people won't carry it because .357 can be a handful in a combat situation, but for ultimate capability, you really can't go wrong with it. I think the spread of people who are in favor of or against 9mm is pretty even. Again, the .45 crowd likes to dog the 9mm guys because 9mm is somehow not powerful enough to kill anything. Then there is the .380 auto. This is a fantastic little cartridge. It is the same caliber of the 9mm, but the case is 2mm shorter. In fact, there are some countries that refer to it as the 9mm short. The .380 round is increasing in popularity in a big way. It doesn't kick like the bigger cartridges do, it fits into really small pistols, and it gives an edge to anyone who wants to carry concealed where larger weapons are impracticable. However, the .380 has some shortfalls. All that concealability, low recoil, and convenience come at a price. It isn't as powerful as its larger and more [technically speaking] capable brethren.

Have you ever heard of the "double tap?" It's a method of shooting where you put two rounds on the target quickly. The theory is that two rounds are better than one, and it's double the damage (double your fun). It became so wildly popular that many police agencies have adopted the combat doctrine of the double tap. I've read so many things on this magical shooting technique about how you are supposed to shoot twice, quickly, check the threat, and double tap again if the threat hasn't stopped. This is such crap.

How often have you seen police videos where the officer has shot twice, checked, and followed up? I've seen a lot of police shooting videos and I can say that if the criminal hasn't gone down after the first shot, the police just keep on shooting until he is no longer a threat. There usually isn't some methodical and magical "double tap" anywhere.

The double tap does have some valuable points to consider. When you look at the energy of pistol cartridges, you begin to see just what you are not working with. There isn't a whole lot of power there. Even in the venerable .357 magnum, you are still way shy of the kind of power a medium bore rifle, or even a 12 gauge shotgun can muster. Consider this: you are shooting a projectile the size of a gum drop out of a weapon with a 5" barrel or less. There isn't a lot of distance for that bullet to get to speed before it exits the barrel and starts losing all that energy it worked so hard to build up.

Shooting any bad guy with a handgun is kind of like shooting a deer with an arrow. A well-aimed shot to the eyeball (as a buddy of mine has done) will drop a deer instantaneously. But let's say that arrow misses its mark. Then what is that deer going to do? Chances are that deer is going to take off running until it bleeds out. If that deer was attacking you for some reason, that means you'd be in a lot of trouble before that arrow does what it is intended to do.

I've never believed in the almighty magic bullet. A lot of guys do. A lot of those same guys are the gun snobs and Internet commandos that tell you a hit with a 9mm is somehow worse than a miss with a .45 acp. Now, I don't mean to dog the .45 crowd, but normally that is the crowd more-or-less responsible.

There are many variations to the "I'd rather hit with (insert caliber here) that miss with a (insert caliber here)" saying. The argument is based around the fact that some of the guns that shoot those so-called magic bullets aren't really practical for a defensive shooting situation. They are probably right.

I carried a Beretta 92 FS for years. When my fellow gun-totin' brethren gave me crap about my "puny 9mm" and told me to grow up and get a .45, I'd use the saying, "I'd rather hit with a 9mm than miss with a .45" to make my case. I made a good case too. My Beretta 92 boasts lighter recoil than a 1911 style .45 and also has twice the ammunition capacity. Of course, the argument moves to "well, you're going to need all that extra ammo because 9mm is a wiener compared to a .45" and of course "real men carry .45's."

I'm not even going to address recoil or ammo capacity. It's moot because my best friend (who's name shall not be mentioned) carried a 1911 with enough ammunition to start a small war. Additionally, I don't feel that a 1911 really "kicks" very hard.

So what am I going to argue? Well, I'm going to take the wind out of the big bore boy's sales because self defense shooting isn't about how fat your bullet is, how powerful your cartridge may be, or how many inches of ballistics gelatin is whizzed through before stopping; it's about shot placement.

You can bring all the nuclear-charged bullets in the world to the fight, but unless you can actually hit your target, your magic bullet won't account for much. I've trained for years to make shots on a silhouette target in a very specific area: center of mass. From aimed fire to rapid fire, all shots must get onto a target area predetermined by me given the range I'm shooting at. In most cases, defensive shooting is up close and personal. Aimed fire is normally not practical under these conditions but I train to shoot tight 1-2" groups at that range. For rapid fire, I try to get my groupings in a 10" wide area, which is tight enough to damage vital organs and break a lot of bones. In all practicality, ranges of 25 yards will be aimed fire, but difficult. I would imagine that 25 yard shots, in a defensive situation, are not going to happen in most cases. Unless the attacker is wielding a rifle or shotgun, they will be pretty close to you.

The key is to place all your rounds on target from your initial draw in less than 3 seconds. Most attackers can cover 7 yards (21 feet) in that time and be on you. You must draw, aim, and fire under stress and less than ideal conditions. The use of cover, alternative firing positions, and other situational awareness plays into this situation. Shot placement is difficult under stress. When your adrenaline is pumping, your body is getting ready for fight or flight. Your large muscles are gearing up, while your fine motor control is tapering off. Your body was designed to fight saber toothed cats, lions, and other large predators - not operate fine machinery; a handgun is fine machinery. Training will prepare you for the real deal, but unless you can hit your target your gun of choice, and your caliber, are useless.

So what do you do? I can't tell you what to do. You need to find what is most comfortable for you. I certainly wouldn't opt for any particular cartridge or weapon system based on ballistics information or from what someone else wrote. You are better served defending your life with something you can handle well and shoot accurately than an unruly weapon that has the knockdown power of an Abrams tank.

Defensive use of firearms doesn't mean you have the upper hand. What got you into a situation that requires you to draw a gun in the first place? It is likely that you are in a situation where you are either being attacked or compromised in some other way. You don't have time to plan for your defense. The best thing you can do is find a weapon that suites you - not matter which caliber you choose - and train as best as you can. Hopefully, you and your weapon will function as intended if you are placed in the unfortunate situation where defensive firearm use is necessary.