Category Archives: Weapons Education

A Tale of Two Temperatures

Consider this graphic. It is a somewhat crude reproduction of one in the Rheinmetall weapons design handbook. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who is unlucky at bicycles bur uncannily lucky with heiresses, thinks that we all should be criminals for discussing this online, so let’s all get our crime on and return to a subject we’ve discussed before, heat management  in automatic firearms.



The original of this graphic is a rather dull monochrome one in the style of the rather dull, unless you are the sort of gun geek that Secretary Kerry dreams of decanting into durance vile, Rheinmetall Handbook. Our copy is the German language version, because we read po-nyemetskiy, and wants $300-400 for an English copy, when there is one to be had, but has copies of this out of print classic for about €100. (Which is going to be lunch money if they keep letting Greece set continental fiscal policy). It took us several iterations to get the slopes about right, and we got the round-count wrong: it’s supposed to be two neat Teutonic bursts of 10, and we have a rather limited and non-Aryan 8 and 9, but with that difference noted, this graphic is  close enough to discuss the phenomena at issue. Here’s what Rheinmetall says about this graphic:

The barrel of an automatic weapon is, as a consequence of the normally high rate of fire, subject to extraordinary temperature demands.

[This illustration] shows the approximate course of temperature of the inner- and outer wall of an MG barrel in two bursts of fire of 10 shots each with a pause lying in between. Feel long, or many short, bursts of fire can drive the temperature of the inner wall so high, that it has a significant influence on the material toughness and therefore on its use and employment.

In this, the cadence of fire, the number of shots in a burst, the pauses, the lengths of the pauses, and the number of bursts of fire fired rapidly one after the other, in conjunction with the thermal resistance of the barrel material and the strength of the barrel walls all play a role.

Comparable barrel-life shot counts can therefore be reached with the same firing rhythm. Often the “French anti-aircraft rhythm” is used: this is 144 shots in 12 bursts of 12 shots each, with a 2-second pause after each burst and a 20 second pause after every four [bursts]. With MG barrels, a firing rhythm of 250 rounds in numerous bursts is often used.

For testing automatic weapons and their ammunition, Rheinmetall has developed an electronic Rate and Rhythm Control Apparatus, which is described below in section 7.7 [of this book].

Measures for increasing the life expectancy of barrels include:

  • Heat-resistant materials;
  • Chroming or Nitriding the interior wall;
  • Progressive twist and rifling profile in conjunction with barrel caliber tightening.

Less effective are cooling fins and water cooling.

Barrels for MGs and machine cannon must be rapidly interchangeable.

Now, this graphic is limited in its utility because in its original version, it comes without any numbers attached (accordingly, we have eliminated from the version we show you, the numbers we used for temperature (ºC; as you might expect the Handbook exclusively uses SI units) and seconds to approximate the original. But we can draw some conclusions based on the shape and gradient of the two lines.

Our take-away is that the key point is that the baseline is higher after each burst, and that the internal temps go higher in each successive round of each successive burst. What does not show on this line is the temperature where the barrel fails. As we have seen in the M4 experiments wherein a carbine was tested to destruction, this happens at a fairly predictable and repeatable, ergo constant from an engineering point of view, temperature. As Rheinmetall points out, several roads will get you to that temperature sooner or later.

Maybe he didn’t know this, but thus is why your sergeant whacked you upside the hemmet and told you to fire shorter bursts.

Looking at the Rheinmetall data, it seems that for their test weapon, whatever it was (MG3?), the barrel recovers its temperature rather speedily after the passage of each bullet momentarily superheats it. We would attribute this to the limited ability of a small projectile’s friction to heat the much greater mass of the barrel — this is also why the internal and external temps diverge so widely. But note that the internal temp continues to ride steadily as long as a steady sequence of pause and fire is applied, and at each pause the internal and external barrel temps have diverged more widely.

The implication is that an automatic weapons barrel is going to be heated to its limits at some point, moreover, at some predictable point, in any continuous fire regime, and while some of the magic designers have used over the last century, like chrome plating and stellite liners, can give you some more rate of fire on the margins, only changing out the barrel (not usually possible in a light automatic carbine) or otherwise giving the barrel a chance to rest and recover from high temps will prevent failure.

Thus endeth the lesson. Apart from further education which may come in the comments.


Defending Yourself in an Antigun State

Live Free or DieNot everybody gets to Live Free or Die. Some people are trapped by circumstance behind the Nanny Curtain in regulatory hellholes: Massachusetts. California. Cook County, Illinois. New York. New Jersey. You know who you are, you denizens of these bleak kakistocracies.

Cordamatic Dog TendaAnd if you’re one of those people, you’re sick to death of hearing us tell you to “vote with your feet, already.” People have families, ancestral homes, jobs that amount to a Golden Cordamatic Dog-Tenda, etc. etc. Some of you even like your hellholes, apart from the gun laws. Indeed, one-party kleptocracies like New York and Massachusetts still contain great swaths of Norman Rockwell’s America — Rockwell, in fact, lived in western Mass. They just are run by urban machines and organized crime, but we repeat ourselves.

OK, so you’re stuck inside of New York with the Cuomo blues again. Now what do you do? How do you select weapons in a state that gives you fewer options that are available out here in the United States?

Legal Awareness

Law-ScaleAndHammerMany of the jurisdictions that are hostile to gun ownership are also hostile, to some extent or another, to self-defense. It is no exaggeration to say that there are people in prison in places like MA and NJ for cases that would be clear-cut self-defense in the real world (MA has since liberalized its LOSD situation some, but many prosecutors still burn with lust for The Great White Defendant, to steal a line from Tom Wolfe).

There are also people in prison in very self-defense-positive states like Florida for what they thought was self-defense but because of how they did it was not. (Pro tip: cops can shoot fleeing felons, fleeing anybody really, with de facto, real world impunity. You can’t).

Law of Self Defense Andrew BrancaAndrew Branca’s book, the Law Of Self-Defense, describes the legal requirements for a self-defense claim. In some states meeting these requirements can forestall any prosecution; in others, they must be presented as an affirmative defense only after you’re on trial. In most states, you can defend yourself in your home or business; but in some states you cannot.

Note that all bets are off outside the United States. Almost every jurisdiction on the planet has some kind of self-defense law, but only a local criminal defense lawyer (which is the kind of lawyer you will need if the police take a dim view of your self-defense claim) can tell you how it works.

You must know your local laws. For example, in NY, retired law enforcement officers can’t be prevented from carrying their guns — a Federal law overrides, although this is little known by NY cops, so you might not be able to “beat the ride”  — but they are felons if the gun they carry violates the bizarre and extreme SAFE Act, as the majority of service pistols and a surprising number of backups do (at least the 7-round limit was overturned, but the 10-round applies to everybody). We’d bet that every day thousands of retired LEOs and Federal Agents transit NYFC with a technical violation of the SAFE Act on their hips. (It was an LEO who pointed this detail out to us).

Be Aware of Trends

You don’t just live in your jurisdiction today, you live in it next year or the year after that. Unless you want the particular part of the state you live in to have concrete walls and barred windows, you need to know where the laws are going and be ready to comply — or face the consequences of civil disobedience. (Numbers sued from out of the grips of the New York State Police last week demonstrate that most New York gun owners took the civil disobedience route, relative to the SAFE act’s long-gun registration. Even though New York has long registered pistols, with zero effect on crime. However, that’s one Catch-Me-F-Me-Rule® with a very big F attached).

Mindset Development

We are always armed. Because we’re armed in the Brain Housing Group, not just on the hip or in the hands. Look around you right now: what can you apply deadly force with, that’s right within reach? Within one step or motion? Within five seconds? If there isn’t anything, go get something. But there probably is: couldn’t you kill an intruder with the chair you’re sitting in? If so, how would you do it? Could you kill someone with your laptop? A table lamp? It’s not for sheer amusement that we post the when guns are outlawed series here. It’s instructional, friends.

That’s part of mindset, the yin of mindset: being willing, ready, and conscious of your ability to deploy deadly force defensively at all times. You can kill with a pen, even a cheesy Lighthouse for the Blind GI Issue pen, and a sharp #2 pencil is even better. But your mind has to get through the assailant’s orbit into his frontal lobe before the pencil can.

However, the other part of mindset, the yang of mindset, is even more important. While it’s fine and good to expect a fight, the key path to long life and prosperity is to avoid a fight. Taking the fight to the enemy, as we’d do in actual war, is a terrible strategy for personal, home and family defense. For one thing, it makes you the aggressor, creating legal problems down the road for you (just ask Michael Dunn, who is spending the rest of his life in prison because he went to the gun in a situation that started 1. with some yout’s who wouldn’t turn their vile music down, but 2. and more importantly, because he failed to plan and had to make a gas stop in a bad part of town. He escalated that situation, certainly (imagine where he’d be if he just walked away, grumbling about “kids today” or even muttering racial epithets to himself. Answer, not in the state pen). But he was in the situation because his failure to plan exposed himself and family to unnecessary risk. Just as investigators almost always find that an aircraft mishap was the final culmination of a long string of errors or failures, the removal of any one of which breaks the “accident chain,” if you investigate uses of force with care you will often find that they, too, are the culmination of a chain not only of chance and circumstance, but also, of imperfect judgment on the part of the defender.

The yang of mindset teaches you not to seek confrontation, not to go places you don’t belong (especially places well-known for violent crime. For instance, in Massachusetts, there are about 200 murders a year, and there are about 250 towns and cities. Over 200 of those towns and cities haven’t had a murder in a decade; forty-plus will have one this year, three or four of them will hit double digits, and a couple neighborhoods of Boston will account for scores of them). Violent crime is closely correlated, these days, with gang activity and gang activity is largely funded and sustained with welfare money, between criminal scores. The yang tells you not to go voluntarily into the welfare/gang/crime environment. The yang tells you not to get intoxicated in strange bars, alone, for instance. There’s enough risk that the criminal will come to you. Be ready in case that happens, but meanwhile take measures to decrease that eventuality’s probability.

Yes, we do recognize that most people can’t afford to move to a gated community where crime is reduced to opportunistic jewelry theft by maids and cable-installers (and if that’s your problem, preventing it is, again, a mindset issue). Not everybody can afford to move to a waterfront mansion in our town, or even to one of the inland $1200-month apartments. Maybe Brentwood is not for you, but do you have to live in South Central? And if you really do, how do you harden yourself and your home as a target; how do you become the Gray Man, off the criminal’s targeting screen; how do you work that mindset in the interests of your defense and survival?

Mindset interrelates closely with law. Massad Ayoob has written a lot about decisionmaking in this juncture, and his self-defense book is a good mate to Branca’s, because it deals a little more with what a shooter can expect, apart from and alongside the legal imbroglio.

Long Guns

OK, you’ve got a handle on your local and state laws, and you’re staggered by how restrictive they are. You can’t even defend yourself!

Yes, you can. Most jurisdictions allow most people to get a long gun, no matter how deep they’ve gone up Bloomberg’s colon. Even a semi-auto ban leaves you with several rapid-firing possibilities, including slide-action rifles and shotguns and lever-action rifles.

Some of these weapons are converted versions of ban-bait modern weapons, like the Troy slide-action AR.troy_slider_stock_folded

Others are good old standbys of decades or even a century’s standing.

Winchester '73 (this is the current version, made by Miroku in Japan for Winchester).

Winchester ’73 (this is the current version, made by Miroku in Japan for Winchester).

If you’re facing a burglar equipped with a (probably stolen) Glock and you have a Winchester 94, who’s better armed? You are. Almost any long gun capable of fairly rapid fire can be used with more accuracy, and  almost any centerfire long gun will hit harder, than any pistol, even at indoor combat ranges. Even rounds like the .357 Magnum and .45 Long Colt do better out of a 16″ barrel than a 4″ one, and you have advantages of a multipoint hold and a long sight radius. (Although a red-dot is ideal for home defense. We like Aimpoints).

We’re hoping to explore some basic-to-exotic lever options in a future post. One secondary advantage of a lever is this: if you do wind up in the dock, your defense attorney is asleep at the switch if he can’t get some mileage out of your eighteen-ninety-four Winchester (or seventy-three, or ninety-five Marlin) and the fact that it came on the market when Grover Freaking Cleveland was president (Ulysses S. Grant, in the case of the ’73).

Hand Guns

Handguns are more restricted than rifles, just about everywhere. And some of your cutting-edge anti-gun states have tried to ban particular gun features. (Some of this is based on the ATF’s history of using a Sporting Purpose test, imported by corrupt and censured Senator Thomas Dodd from Nazi Germany). The idea that a pistol is more deadly because of the position of the magazine, or the size of it, or the presence of a threaded muzzle is rather bemusing for anyone steeped in the technicalities, but it is the law of the land in a number of (usually crime-soaked) conurbations. As a malum prohibitum law it’s child’s play to enforce: they just charge any violator they stumble across, whereas the perpetrators of malum in se violent crimes actually have to be hunted down and cases built against them, which is often more work than big-city cops or prosecutors feel like doing.

There are still jurisdictions where handguns are difficult for non-connected law abiders (New York City, for one). There are others, like Massachusetts and California, that have instituted broad bans on new handgun designs under a pretext of “consumer safety.”

For you, there’s the handgun equivalent of that old lever-action, the “obsolete” double action revolver. Yes, you only have five or six shots before a difficult and time-consuming reload process, but in the typical home or self defense situation, this is enough given accurate shooting. One’s accuracy may rise to the level required, as historically there are very few cases where shots are fired in armed self-defense that the aggressing felon “won” the gunfight.

There seems to be a general consensus among instructors and trainers that police and military pistol marksmanship, never very impressive at the median level to begin with (and always pretty terrifying at the left tail of the distribution), has deteriorated signally since the advent of double-stack wondernines in the 1980s. Groups of officers routinely contagious-fire hundreds of rounds at very close ranges with very few hits — on the suspects, at least (all those rounds hit something. Just not their targets). Fewer rounds are OK if you make them count. Modern defensive ammo (if your state allows it; some, like NJ, don’t) can help but you have to give the bullet the hit it needs to do its work.

Remember, unlike the police, who have de facto impunity for reckless firing, you own every round you fire, every bit of damage it does, and every injury it causes.

No pressure, eh?

But the traditional DA cop revolver is widely available on the quality used-gun market, is (assuming it passes a smith’s inspection for timing, etc.) as reliable as machinery gets, and is simplicity itself to operate: the original point-and-click interface.

Non-Firearms Arms

There are many options in non-firearms weapons, including weapons you can assemble from innocuous items (which is how we stay armed with deadly contact-range weapons whilst flying commercial). But this post is long enough already. Let the When Guns are Outlawed posts help you with some ideas.

Thinking About Safety

Larry Vickers is thinking about safety:



Hat tip Miguel at Gun Free Zone, who wonders if one of the mishaps Larry’s writing about is this one. You can click the link if you like (and it’s a good tale of real-world first aid), but for most of you, the illustration will remind you what can go wrong with appendix carry.


That cat was danger close to living to collect the usually posthumous Darwin Award, but apparently the projectile did not connect with anything vital in his junk. Good luck, though, explaining that scar to dates. (“Go ahead and kiss it. It’s just a chancre!” probably won’t fly).

Instructor (and aidman) Stan Lee’s conclusions:

Briefing of the four firearms safety rules is of course a given, after that the first aid/gun shot wound treatment and medical evacuation plan should be thoroughly briefed as if an emergency incident had already happened to you.

He then runs through an emergency kit and emergency plan. It’s a good idea, for reasons we’ll cover in half a moment.

Someone should be able to brief all of the above in detail. That someone should be with the party from the beginning to the end. I think it’s acceptable to have the GSW kit centralized but extra credit points for wearing it.

Stan learned his first aid in the Navy. All the services teach much better and more effective first aid than they did when old dinosaurs like Tom Kratman and I went in, and even better than my old unit had on our first Afghan tour. Didn’t happen to our battalion, but in and around our time, other SF units lost guys because they exsanguinated, or developed tension pneumothorax, and the non-medics on site weren’t skilled enough to treat them. (Well, that, and medevac was weak until 2004 or so — too few frames and crews, and it’s a big country). That would never happen now; even support units get pretty decent combat life saver training.

Still, it’s a lot better to use your superior weapons handling skills so as not to have to demonstrate your superior first aid skills.

Stan makes another point (and another reason to Read The Whole Thing™ on Miguel’s site) in that simply briefing safety rules and plans at the start of a class is a Real Good Thing. In aviation, we found that when aircrews began briefing an instrument approach procedure-by-procedure, the number of errors (and mishaps) declined. In airborne operations, we found that when airborne units started doing a formal, stylized prejump briefing that everybody (especially devil-may-care skydivers) laughs at, the number of errors (and jump injuries) declined. It’s great that an American paratroop officer can command his battalion, regiment or division from a wheelbarrow pushed by one of his privates, but he’d probably rather not go down in history for that. 

IWB and particularly Appendix Carry holsters introduce risk factors that are not present in an old-fashioned outside-the-waistband holster. (We also think that schools’ focus on quick-draw engagements is usually misplaced). You can have an accident with any holster, but unless you’ve got a lot of experience, choose one that adds minimal risks.


As Larry notes, if you use a safetyless (“trigger safety”, “safe action”, anything that would have scared the horse out from under a 1909 cavalryman who had the grip safety added to the 1911) firearm you need to be extra careful about holstering and reholstering. Or, well, look at the picture.

Now, you can choose any firearm, and every one has its own risk factors. You can operate any handgun safely (we do not believe Larry has ever had an ND in God-knows how many Glock rounds), but you have to know it and its properties and operate it either with your mind on it 100%, or with skills drilled and drilled until you’re always, instinctively safe with it.

ND-shot-in-footAs the graphic we usually use with safety posts says, if you shoot yourself in a training class,  “Your [sic] Doing It Wrong.” Like this fellow in the ‘burbs of Orlando, Florida:

23-year-old man accidentally shot himself during a gun safety class at a pawn shop, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

It happened at Instant Replay Pawn Shop and Shooting Range on Colonial Drive between Dean and Rouse roads, said Lt. Paul Hopkins.

The gun went off accidentally and the bullet grazed his leg, Hopkins said.

Amazing how this guns just “went off.” No wonder newspaper guys all want to ban guns, they think of them as malevolent presences, stalking training classes and firing ranges, bent on bringing their primordial evil to bear on their hapless bearers.

Of course, that’s all bosh and nonsense. They’re simply machines, slavishly obeying the laws of physics and the input human operators apply to their user interfaces. In all history, the gun that “went off accidentally” is rarer that a comet sighting. He should admit he “set it off accidentally.”  He, too, is going to live.

He’ll probably never make that mistake again. But you know, we’re supposed to be able to learn from his mistake, rather than only learn from our own.

Mind Over Matter

Tumba_de_Napoleon_Bonaparte“In war, the moral is to the physical as ten is to one.”  – Napoleon Bonaparte.

True, Napoleon got his ass kicked by the rest of Europe’s powers in the Sixth Coalition. And then by the same cast of characters in the Seventh Coalition again. So, however great he may have been, as a general he had his limitations. You could say, in fact, that he instantiated the Peter Principle: rising to his ultimate level of incompetence as Emperor and grand strategist. (He won a lot of battles, but lost the only one that counts: the last one). But he sure could coin an aphorism!

Many shooting beginners don’t take counsel from old Boney. Instead, they let the gun magazines and the YouTube guys be their guide. Now those sources of information have their place, but they’re not best for beginners, because they focus almost exclusively on equipment. (We’re assuming you want to start with a handgun for self-defense, because that’s the most common desire of beginners these days. If you have some other interest, then you’re welcome to take what you can from this post, and ask what you need to know in your situation).

When you start off shooting, you do not need to be in the Gun of the Month Club, however happy that may make you. (Scientists have shown that the act of acquisition releases the same sort of pleasure hormones and that you get from many other, er, pleasurable activities).

You do not need the very best this or the custom awesome that. Every year, lots of people get whacked with handguns,and it’s almost always with a bone-stock firearm. That’s what most cops, most soldiers, and practically all criminals carry. That’s what you need to start with, and what you need to do with it is practice.

So What do you Need?

We’re going to talk a bit about the hardware for beginners. But remember what Napoleon said; and if you need the most important message in this post, the tl;dr version, scroll down to the subheading The Most Important Thing.

And if you’re still with us, hardware-wise, here’s what you need.

You need a gun. A decent gun, in a decent defensive caliber, that fits your hand reasonably well, and that you can conceal in the sort of clothes you like to wear. You need at least two spare magazines, in standard capacity unless the laws of your jurisdiction restrict you to dwarf mags. 

A decent gun is going to be made by a manufacturer you have heard of before. Like Glock, Smith & Wesson, SIG, Colt, FN, HK. A popular gun is easier to maintain, and much easier to resell. Beware of salesman who seem to promote a specific gun — he may be getting what the industry calls a “spiff,” a specific incentive to move some particular product (or he may just be a fanboy. Some gun-store clerks are deeply knowledgeable about their products, but a much greater percentage think they are deeply knowledgeable about them). Now, he may have a spiff to promote the gun that is just right for you, so don’t assume it’s Opposite Day when he starts talking. Just remember that his pitch may be completely orthogonal to what you need.

If you need more specific advice, your first handgun should be inexpensive, standard-capacity, 9mm. Why?

  • Inexpensive — because most guns are going to shoot better than you do. This is not a lick on you: most handguns shoot better than most shooters. You don’t need to optimize your gun buying. You should be satisficing — picking the first reasonable choice that comes up. Don’t go all the way to cheap, however. You can get a $100 9mm, from Hi-Point for example. Unless it’s all you can afford, don’t. 
  • Standard-capacity — as a beginner, you want a middle-of-the-road firearm. You do not want a gigantic horse pistol, but you do want a decent quantity of rounds (unless, of course, you live in some hellhole like North Korea or New York, then the choice has been made for you).
  • 9mm — the ammo is reasonably priced, usually widely available in many different loadings, and 9mm defensive ammo performs as well as larger calibers, both in the lab and on the street.

Why not .40? The FBI carries .40. The cops carry .40. There are a bunch of internet memes about “cartridges beginning with .4.” We heard Eeee—leet Jungle Jim Killer Force carries .40s or .45s when they kick hostages and rescue doors.  Why not a .40 or a .45?

Because right now, in 2015, 9mm is your best balance of defensive effect — with proper ammo —  and manageable recoil, which leads to better shooting. Gunfights are not won with sheer weight of shot; they are won, or lost, with bullet placement, period. And bullet placement means gun control (the good kind). Every agency that went from 9 to 40 saw qualification scores go down, and every agency that went the other way saw them go up. The .40 in particular has a nasty, sharp recoil to it. It’s not unmanageable, but 9 is easier.

This is going to be hard enough without you adding unforced difficulties to the hardship stack. Get the 9. (You will also find that, while the cost of warshots is fairly close, the cost of inexpensive FMJ for practice is a lot better on the 9mm end of the beach).

You need a holster. One that fits the gun specifically. Unless you are very lucky, and very easily pleased, your first holster will not be your last holster. Therefore you want an inexpensive, sturdy holster. Use it until you are sure that you need something else. But the same as with the gun, the best holster next week gets beat by a decent holster today. Your first holster should be an outside the waistband, Kydex holster. It should fit the belt you already own and wear. Learn what you like and don’t like about this. Do not buy an el cheapo Cordura holster — it will not fit, hold, retain or position your gun like Kydex will. Don’t buy leather, yetYou have a lot to learn about holsters before you buy an expensive one. 

A couple of vendors, like S&W, sell a beginner kit which includes spare mags, a holster, and a cleaning kit.

You need ammo. Buy inexpensive, brass case, factory-loaded, FMJ ammo. Why?

  • Inexpensive — because like the guns, most ammo is going to shoot better than you do. There will be a time, perhaps, when you worry about brands and features. This is not that time.
  • Brass case — it’s more expensive, but it’s easier on the gun.
  • Factory-loaded — the biggest single cause of kB!s, meaning, guns that return to kit form on a kinetic basis, is badly-loaded ammunition. Screwed-up ammo happens, but it happens with extreme rarity in factory loads. Uncle Bubba’s Handloads are Uncle Bubba quality.
  • FMJ — this is practice, blasting ammo. So you don’t want to spend the extra ost of expanding tip ammo when you’re going to be shooting it into paper targets. In the meantime, you can use it as carry ammo. It’s not optimum, but it penetrates well and will disable a threat, given correct shot placement.

You need spare mags. Get two. (On top of the one in the gun). Factory are ideal, aftermarket are OK if you check them and they’re OK. How do you check them? Load ’em up and cycle them through the firearm a few times dry, and a time or two, at least, at the range, firing. (The feed loads are a little different in a firearm being operated by hand and one being operated by recoil).

You need a cleaning kit. Note that the solvents and oils used with firearms smell nasty and they’re probably toxic, too. Cleaning is an outdoor activity when and where weather permits. The reason you need to think about it, even with modern guns that have demonstrated very long firing strings without failure, is that disassembling, cleaning and reassembling your firearm will help you yo understand it.

The Most Important Thing

OK, so now you have all this good stuff. What else do you need?

You need training. You need training in the laws of self-defense of your jurisdiction (and in general, as license reciprocity is increasing), and you also need training to use your firearm effectively. Indeed, what is in your hand is immeasurably less important than what is in your head and what is in your heart.

You need training more than you need your own firearm; lots of instructors and ranges have rental and loaner firearms for beginners attending courses. Using a rental or loaner is actually a good way to get a first impression of a model of firearm you’re curious about, without actually buying the thing to experiment with. (What if you hate it with a purple passion? A lot easier to fix that when it’s a range rental than if you already brought it home from the pound because you liked its looks).

What training? Where to get it? That’s food for more posts in this series, which will be in the new Training category. Also, we’ll tell you how to get a good deal on a good used gun, and save yourself some money for ammo.

Design: Feed Systems, or, From the Mag to the Chamber

One of the key components in the proper functioning of any repeating weapon — not just automatic and semi-automatic ones — is the feed system. The feed system comprises ammunition storage and all mechanisms that control the feed of a cartridge from that storage (named a magazine after the centuries-old military name for a storage place for powder and shot) to the firing chamber. Many, probably most, unreliable weapons are unreliable because of faults in the design or maintenance of their feed systems, and weapons that are known for high reliability, like AK rifles or Glock pistols, have had a great deal of attention to the feed system.

The first successful feed systems were very different from what is commonplace today: you had the cylinder of revolvers, gravity-feed systems on early manual machine guns, the Accles feed of the later models of Gatling gun, all of which except the revolver were evolutionary dead ends and exist only in museums and collections.

Conventional Wisdom

Rejecting unreliable and complex feed systems in favor of more reliable and simpler ones was to be expected. By now, after monkeying with feed systems for over 150 years, designers have certain conceptual designs and design language they like to return to. For individual weapons, a box magazine is now standard. Except for some bolt-action sporting and sniper rifles, it’s a detachable box. For rifles, a double-row, 2-position-feed is common. (This was pioneered by the Thompson submachine gun), and the globally customary round count in a standard magazine is 30. For small pistols, a single-column magazine is still used, but service pistols generally have a double-row, single-position-feed magazine. (These pistols are, of course, apart from the holdout revolvers, which survive because it is a good, practical design for a defensive or hunting handgun, and out of nostalgia). The rough standard capacity of single and double-feed pistol magazines is 8 to 10 and 15 to 17 respectively, although there are outliers.

General purpose machine guns are generally fed from a link belt, usually a disintegrating link belt. Aerial and AA machine guns may use more specialized feed systems to deal with their higher rates of fire. Some of these systems use belts and some are beltless.

Military weapons may include provisions for loading magazines from stripper clips. For much of the 20th Century, stripper clips were used to load bolt action weapons, but semi-auto and auto-weapons that let you load the mag with strippers in situ were a transitional thing (like the FN 49 and the FAL). One US initiative borrowed from the German FG42 the concept of a stripper-clip guide to allow stripper clips to feed a magazine. We’ve now seen this in Russian service for 5.45mm ammunition — they probably think they copied the idea from us, and don’t know we copied it from the Germans.

By about 1920, some pretty standard ideas had developed. For instance, it’s generally a good idea to place the magazine as close to the mouth of the chamber as is practically possible, make the feed ramp as smooth, shallow and obstruction-free as possible, make the cartridge path as straight as possible, and make the feed lips (normally part of the magazine) as strong as possible. (Some of these objectives are obviously in tension with one another; you can only have a shallow feed ramp by having space between chamber and mag, for instance).

Unsupported ChamberYou also can overdo giving primacy to the feed system. This is likely a contributing reason that large-caliber Glocks are more prone to kB! than the original 9mm versions; the round path is so straight and the feed ramp so deeply cut that case support is borderline. You can see bulged cases from G22s and G23s (inter alia). Glock has changed the shape of their feed ramp to increase support in this area sometime since the early 2000s, and new Glocks no longer bulge cases. If you have an older Glock in .40 or .45, an aftermarket barrel like the Lone Wolf one shown in the picture (cribbed from Glock Pro) can prevent this bulge. For the record, Glock insists that the kB!s are due to overpressure rounds.

Some Unconventional Wisdom

Some weapons deviate from this conventional wisdom in interesting ways. For example, in the Tokarev TT-30 and TT-33 semiauto pistols and their derivatives, the magazine lacks feed ramps, which are machined into the solid steel of the removable trigger module. (Tokarev is one of the designers who really creatively improved on Browning, even if his trigger module was a dead end). And the Thompson Submachine Gun feed design is quite unlike any other magazine-fed weapon, and deserves extensive analysis. To begin with, the magazine is quite distant from the chamber; the magazine cut is 1.865″ from the front of the receiver, and the barrel only threads .500 into the receiver, meaning there’s a 1.365″ (plus the width of the mag itself, the mag’s setback in the magazine cut, and the round’s setback in the mag) distance from the mag cut to the back of the chamber.  This was a deliberate design decision.

David Findlay explains in his book Firearm Anatomy: Book 1: The Thompson M1A1 Submachine Gun some of the details of the Thompson design.

The Thompson compensates for its magazine position by having a long funnel feature that guides the round up from the magazine to the chamber of the barrel. This feed-ramp feature requires some unique machining and subsequent finishing.

tsmg sketches 101

To generate the feed ramp, a cutting tool must enter the front of the receiver at a compound angle and must rotate and sweep the feed-ramp cut at the same compound angle to generate the ramp in the picture below, the bolt is already stripped the cartridge on the magazine in the round still has not entered the chamber.

tsmg sketches 2

For most other weapon designs, the round from the magazine in the round position or move close to the chamber to aid feeding.

The Thompson’s design of the feed ramp, while very good from a feeding standpoint, is much more difficult to machine and, as a consequence, is more costly. In addition, having the chamber so far forward in the receiver makes clearing a “fail to extract” malfunctioning round difficult and makes the gun harder to clean. Feet-system design, though, is one of the most important aspects of any weapons performance. A great deal of testing must be done to ensure a good performance. Small variations and subtleties in magazine dimensions can have a enormous impact on gun reliability and function. The Thompson design teams approach compensated for different magazine configurations, and this type of design has stood the test of time.

Improving Feed Systems

Of course, the feed system a designer sketched in during the conceptual design of the firearm need not stay that way forever. Almost any firearm’s feed system can be improved. It’s one of the first places to look for problems if you’re experiencing jams, but it’s not just for malfunctioning pistols. Consider the millions that have been made by tens of thousands of gunsmiths, reshaping and polishing pistol feed ramps. A pro polish job can improve even a fundamentally reliable pistol like an issue 1911 or M35 Browning High Power.

In the 1990s we saw striking improvements in M16/M4 reliability because of three small improvements:

  1. The “M4 cuts” making a deeper feed-ramp and eliminating one cause of stovepipes and jams;
  2. Becoming ruthless about unreliable magazines, and discarding them as they’re supposed to be discarded when they begin to malfunction (there are things you can do to repair an M16 mag, but the juice is usually not worth the squeeze). This became a battle royal with the quartermasters, which was resolved in favor of the firearms operators when we began shooting up the bad mags so that they couldn’t be reissued.
  3. Better magazines, the first of which were the steel HK magazines that spread like a welcome virus (in units that did not have the discretionary funds to buy them, guys bought their own) and then in the Oughties the polymers led by Magpul.

Those things that you can really boil down to two changes, improved feed ramp and better magazines, took what had been a pretty reliable system and moved it up into AK “runs like tractor” territory, while retaining all the AR advantages in accuracy and ergonomics.


Those Who Forget the Past, AR-15 Edition

A couple of days ago we followed a link from The Gun Feed to the Michigan-based gun blog 248 (We’re guessing 248 is an MI area code? The way the Workshop Eating Plane® will have “603” in its N Number?). Anyway, the article was a short and to the point gear review of an extended or enhanced mag release that is made by a company called ArmaSpec.

ArmaSpec mag release

Armaspec calls it the “Tactical Combat Button,” and says (right there on the package!) that it gives you “faster magazine changes.” It’s reminiscent of popular extended or enhanced mag catches that have become common on sidearms, like the Vickers Tactical catch we have in our Glock 17. (We’ve got the slide release, too. Larry is a hero to those of us with small hands).

Apart from the name, which gnaws at us in its jejune buzzwordiness (not “tactical” again! And “combat?” Whose?), it illustrates the problem of living in Baby Duck World, where All Things Are Ever New™. This button may be useful for someone running very stylized match stages, but it probably isn’t.

Here are our problems with the TCB, conceptually:

  1. First, there’s nothing wrong with the standard mag catch;
  2. Unlike the standard mag catch, this is very prone to unintended mag release;
  3. Unlike the standard mag catch, this cannot be installed, removed or adjusted without tools;
  4. In fact, it needs a peculiar tool which the rubber-meets-the-road system operator may not have on his person;
  5. It gives up most if not all the adjustability of the standard catch;
  6. It introduces additional points of failure into a proven subsystem;
  7. It is vulnerable to the screws backing out and requires Loctite to work at all.

Note that we haven’t tried this part ourselves, we’re just cueing off 248Shooters’ review.

The History of the AR-15 / M16 Mag Catch

The M16 magazine catch started as the AR-15 one, which, of course, began as the AR-10 magazine catch, as shown here. (The first shot is Serial #38, auctioned by James D. Julia some time past; the others are from an Portuguese AR-10 on an H&H Semi receiver). We have not tested the interchangeability of these catches, but we suspect that the AR-10 and -15 catches are the same length on the X Axis (front to rear) but the AR-10 catch is longer on the Y Axis (left to right).

Julia AR-10 #38 serial ar-10_porto_right_side_receiver_rotated H&H AR-10 02

The AR-10 magazine catch was not created in a vacuum. It itself was an improvement of the catch used in the seminal German MP44 assault rifle (We use “MP44″ somewhat expansively here; the magazine catch appears to us to be the same in all related versions of the German assault rifle, back to the MKb 42 (H)). The direction of the release changed, and it was moved closer to the pistol grip, so that it could be released with the index finger of the right hand, instead of using the left hand as was done with the MP44. The next photos are of a Japanese non-firing replica of the MP44 (they were the clearest photos handy on the net). The mag release is the conical, ribbed button at the rear of the mgazine well.


This next picture shows a weakness of the MP44 system, which the AR system improved materially. As you can see, the catch, button and shaft are joined semipermanently by staking or riveting. That means it’s not field-repairable, let alone, -adjustable, at the -10 or -20 (operator or organizational repair, i.e. unit armorer) echelons. Again, this is a replica, but a very nice one.


By making the AR-10 design a one-piece shaft and catch, where the shaft threaded into a tapped blind hole in the mag-release button, Stoner made it possible for the magazine catch to be disassembled for repair, replacement or adjustment without tools. All you need is a cartridge to overextend the mag release so that the catch clears the magwell, and then it can be screwed in or out. On any AR, a mag catch that’s too “grippy” can be fixed by backing off a couple half turns, and one that’s kind of loose can be tightened up the same way. This adjustment can clear up a lot of “mystery” failures to feed in AR systems.

The magazine catch can’t unscrew itself without being overextended until it’s clear of the magwell, because the magwell holds the catch in place and prevents it from rotating. But as ingenious as the AR-10 magazine catch was, there were still two improvements to come.

The first was to exchange the blind hole of the AR-10 magazine release for a through hole. This made the magazine catch button much easier to manufacture and increased the usable range of adjustment for the magazine catch, with no downsides at all. From this alteration somewhere around 1960, the parts of the standard AR magazine catch are fundamentally unaltered until today. (One change is that the ribbing on the catch is circular, whilst in the early sixties it was straight and horizontal, but this is a cosmetic change driven by production convenience and not material to the function of the catch.

The 17 prototypes made all had a magazine catch that worked much like it has on all the milios of aRs since then. Here is Prototype 004, from the Reed Knight collection:

AR-15 Proto000004

The initial catch was not guarded at all.

Here it is on the Colt Model 601, the first production AR-15 model, of which approximately 14,500 were manufactured, mostly for military testing (project AGILE, SF/SEAL evaluation in Vietnam, etc.). This catch is identical to those seen on surviving prototypes.


One of the complaints from these early tests was that the exposed magazine release would occasionally lead to an uncommanded ejection of the mag while moving in thick brush.

The Model 602 (which is labeled “Model 02″ on the left magwell) was purchased in about 19,000 units, primarily for Air Force base defense and plane/weapons guard purposes. It has the same arrangement of slabside receiver and mag release button. It was with full rate production of the M16 (USAF rifle,  Colt model 604) and XM16E1 (US Army rifle, Colt model 603) that another change to the receiver made it possible to guard or “fence” the magazine release.

The change was the substitution of a captive pivot pin, retained in the lower receiver by a spring-loaded detent running in a groove, much like the rear pin, called the “takedown pin,” had always been. A boss needed to be added to the lower receiver, to provide a race for this pin’s detent and spring to run in. Since the forging dies needed to be modified anyway, it was relatively trivial to extend the boss and make it a “fence” riding above the magazine release.  (This is the center receiver in the three-image picture below). Now, bumping into a stand of bamboo didn’t mean a lost mag any more.

Except, reports from the field indicated that it still did. As a result, the users — mostly the Army, based on Vietnam experience — asked that the rifle be modified, again. The request was brought to the Rifle Technical Committee on 13 Jan 66. It was feasible to change Drawing No. 62300 for the M16 and XM16E1 common lower receiver forging, as the running change log of Product Improvement Modifications records, “To respond to Army request to provide protective boss around the area of the magazine.” The Army contracting office approved the change on 16 May 66, and sometime relatively soon after that date the forging dies were modified to incorporate the “protective boss” which has since come to be known in the collector community as the “full fence.” A comparison of the three different receivers, showing the different forged outer right magwell side, is below, based on thumbnails at the Retro Black Rifle site (which also provided some of the other photos, although the AR-10 photos are from Julia Auctions and from the collection).

Left: prototype through Model 602. Center: Pre-March-66 603/604 (XM16E1/M16). Right: post-3/66 603/604 (XM16E1, from 68 M16A1/M16)

Left: prototype through Model 602. Center: Pre-March-66 603/604 (XM16E1/M16). Right: post-3/66 603/604 (XM16E1, from 68 M16A1/M16)

All the earlier forgings were used by Colt; those that were machined already seem to have been used until they ran out on military 603/604s, some were retained for toolroom prototypes and other factory uses, and slabsided, early model forgings with different machining (for a pivot screw instead of a pin) continued to be used on civilian-market semi-auto SP1 rifles for over 20 years.

The fenced mag release solved the problem. It is very rare (a freak occurrence, in fact) to have some stick or branch (or interaction with other gear or aircraft structure, etc.), drop your mag. And yet, there’s no difficulty reaching the mag release with your right index finger and dropping the mag free for a rapid reload. (At least, if you’re right-handed. Yeah, the ergonomics are significantly worse for a southpaw).

Why All this Ancient History Matters w/r/t this Rifle Accessory

The saga of the growing “fence” or boss on the receiver’s magazine well is the story of successive responses to a real problem, inadvertent and uncommanded actuation of the magazine release. You might say the military found that a protected switch was a “tactical” and “combat” necessary, and their users were actually, not Walter Mitty, tactical, and really, not in a practical-shooting-competition stage sense, in actual combat. And they decided a protruding magazine release was a A Bad Thing®. Enough, indeed, of A Bad Thing® that they spent the money not once, but twice, to redo the lower receiving forging to insulate the user against the consequences of a protruding button.

And here’s what the Tactical Combat (gag me!) Button looks like, installed, close-up (this nicely-done image is from 248Shooters’ review, we don’t know if they took it or it’s a factory shot):

ArmaSpec MR close-up

As they do note, it’s a well-made small unit, but by installing it, we not only have resurrected the inadvertent mag-drop failure mode, the one that was supposed to be laid to rest in March of ’66, but we’ve also introduced a new failure mode, in that foreign matter can potentially get stuck between the large pad of the TCB and the side of the receiver. In fact, the receiver boss/fence could actually help entrap a vine, stick or other junk right where it keeps you from pressing the mag release down.

This is apart from two of the cons noted by the 248Shooters reviewer, that the screws need to be Loctited, and that, “Like most extended mag releases it does fall pray [sic] to having a bit of wobble.” Against that, we dragged M16 series rifles through Arctic and Alpine conditions in places like Canada, Norway, all over northern New England, and some of the 20k peaks of the Andes, and the factory release is readily manipulated with gloves and even with mittens.

One reason we harp on this design history is that you have to know why the designers designed features into the platform before you go redesigning them, lest you bring back failure modes that engineers thought they banished fifty years ago.

Just like when you hot-rod a car, you may change characteristics that were designed into it for a reason, you need to think before you hot-rod a rifle. If you’ve ever had to drive an undercooled, over-cammed, 12:1 compression race car in traffic, with a did-you-do-your-squats-today clutch and square-cut gears, you know what we’re talking about.


This sort of post is the kind of technical information we most like providing. But the US Department of State has moved to require prior restraint — Censorship, with extremely expensive licensing subject to arbitrary terms — on firearms technical information, in a wild grab to stretch the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations far enough to snuff out freedom of speech. (We’ll have more to say about that soon, including suggestions for how you can help, but from now on until this monstrous and deviant interpretation of the law is put down like a rabid coyote, every technical post will incorporate a note on this subject).

Darwin Award: Brandished Knife, told cop, “You drop yours.”

The news has been full of the glowering face of ex-Bostonian Usaama Rahim, who the Imam of one of the local Suicide Terrorist Recruiting Centers has described as “shot in the back by a white cop.” Of course, that’s all false, but the apostles of jihad don’t feel like they owe truthful speaking to you, kafr. 

There’s been a lot written about Rahim and his mosque full of fans and enablers, but the Boston Herald is home to one of the two best columnists in America (the other being the Chicago Sun-Times’s John Kass), and Howie Carr has covered this adequately:

Never bring a knife to 
a gunfight.

That wasn’t dead thug Usaamah Rahim’s first big mistake, but it was certainly the final one of his shiftless, leeching 26 years on earth.

But at least the Islamist savage shared with us his final words.

“You drop yours!”

OK, so it’s not quite up there with, say, “Top o’ the world, Ma! Top o’ the world!” or “Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?” But Cagney and Robinson had Hollywood scriptwriters. The terrorist du jour was ad-libbing.

Besides, “Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Usaamah?” just doesn’t have quite the same ring.

Let’s go straight to the affidavit of FBI special agent J. Joseph Galietta, “being duly sworn,” on page 7, 
paragraph 19:

“… (The adherent of the Religion of Peace) was approached by Boston Police Officers and FBI special agents. RAHIM took out one of the knives he had purchased from when he saw the officers and agents. One of the officers told RAHIM to drop his weapon and 
RAHIM responded, ‘You drop yours.’ ”

Perhaps, as he relaxes this morning in Paradise with his 72 virgins, Rahim considers whether he should have gone with his ilk’s traditional farewell: “Allahu akbar.” After all, just as you only get one chance to make a first impression, you only have that single opportunity to utter your final words. But back to paragraph 19:

“RAHIM then moved towards the officers while brandishing his weapon, and he was shot by law enforcement.”

Sayonara, baby! Auf wiedersehen. Arriverderci. Adios. So long, suckers. Over my dead body. You and how many Marines? Like 
many a Massachusetts House speaker, Usaamah Rahim fought the law and the law won.

Do go and Read The Whole Thing™. Howie notes that the 26-year-old Rahim apparently lived on public assistance, a cuckoo’s egg in the bosom of our misguided charity. And his nephew remains in the jug.


Between our drafting this and it going live, the imam in question has apologized for his statement, after viewing video that showed Rahim threatening the cops. Will wonders never cease?

Quick Kill — Useful Skill

The Quick Kill instinctive shooting method that was once taught in the US Army remains a  useful combat skill. It has been supplanted in the training world by improved sights and a focus on extremely rapid use of sights, but we believe it still has a place in the training and combat world.

It’s faster to show than to explain this skill. Unfortunately, there are few quick kill videos digitized at this point, and none fell readily to hand.

Quick Kill traces its roots to the “trick shooters” of the 20th Century, men like Ed McGivern who had so mastered firearms that they could pretty much hit anything with anything — fast. In the 1930s through the 1950s there were many articles on what was then called “point shooting” or “hip shooting,” driven in part by the stylized cowboy acts of the era. A technical/training book called Instinct Shooting by Mike Jennings appeared in 1959 and sold mostly out of ads in the back of gun culture magazines. Frank Connor, an author of many shooting and hunting articles, espoused similar techniques, as did “Lucky” McDaniel who brought the skill to the Army.

The Army initially called this Quick Fire, but in the second generation of the unofficial training document had progressed to calling it Quick Kill. This was not something that was just taught to Special Forces: it was part of infantry training for several years, as the peacetime training base of a large and slow-moving army reluctantly assumed a war footing during Vietnam.

There were three phases to Quick Kill, which was, during its brief life, normally the second phase of Basic Rifle Marksmanship training, after the trainees were taught to clear, disassemble, maintain, reassemble, and function-check the service rifle, but before they were taught such marksmanship fundamentals as sight picture, trigger control, and steady-hold factors. Those three phases were:

  1. Firing with an air rifle with no sights. This was a block of three hours of instruction. Initially these were just Daisy BB guns stripped of sights. Later, the Army’s own Training and Audiovisual Support Centers (one on every post, they made and supplied training aids) made one by glass-bedding a Daisy in an M14 stock.
    Quick Kill TASC

    US Army photo from the David Albert collection.

    Later still, a special Daisy that was mocked up to resemble an M16, but with the sights blanked off, was made. Any of these modified Daisys are extremely rare today. This one was sold by Rock Island Auctions in 2011:Rock Island Daisy Quick Kill rifleThere are at least a couple of variations of this air gun, which is not surprising, as they were locally made in individual TASCs. There were probably rudimentary plans, possibly just a single undimensioned sketch. One thing they have in common is lack of any actual sights.

    Quick Kill M16BB

    Photo from the David Albert collection.

  2. Firing with a service rifle with blanked-out sights. For the M14, a “training rib” was created that did this and provided a shotgun-like “sight picture” (although the rifle was held well below the sight line in this training).
  3. Firing with the service rifle, but not using the sights. Three distances were used: 15, 30 and 50 meters.

Yes, in the late 60s and early 70s, your basic grunt learned to hit stuff with his rifle, then he learned to use the sights. Heresy, today. But a look at old AARs shows that our guys generally won the meeting engagements with their conventionally-trained PAVN opponents, so it might just be heresy that works.

The whole program consumed one or two training days for a basic training company. After that, the troops would move on to aimed fire. Initial controlled studies showed that trainees who experienced Quick Kill performed better at marksmanship, even at longer ranges, than those who had not. Instinctively, that seems a paradoxical result. The scientists speculated that increased self-confidence may have been at work.

A later survey showed that, yes, Quick Kill-trained soldiers had greater confidence in themselves and their weapons than soldiers who had not had that training. In the absence of any other logical theory as to why Quick Kill training improves hit probability at 300 meters, the confidence factor has to be the tentative conclusion.

In 1969, the Army and George Washington University researchers conducted another study on Quick Kill training (one of many sponsored by the Army’s Human Resources Research Organization, HumRRO), to see if money and time could be saved. Some groups continued to have three hours of air rifle training before moving on to a real rifle; some had only an hour and a half (this was not deliberately part of the experimental design, but the schedule happened to short some trainees; the social scientists welcomed this “found data” and incorporated it in the study). For the study’s sake, some training companies had the phase in which an attached rib is used to encourage instinctive firing deleted, and others retained it. The test showed conclusively that the Army was getting training value out of the air rifle and rib training: the groups that had the full training shot better than the ones that got the bowdlerized version. On the other hand, the test showed that they could make some changes to target ranges and reduce the number of rounds fired in the live-fire block of instruction, without compromising marksmanship quality. The key was reducing them together: if you reduced the round count while taking out one of three target distances (they went with 20 and 50m), there was no effect on training quality; if you reduced the round count, but stayed with 15, 30 and 50m, performance declined.

Remarkably, all trainees in this experiment at Benning were still being trained, even at this late date, with the obsolete M14 rifle. (Of course, National Guard units were still armed with WWII era weapons like the M1 rifle and M1919A6 light machine gun).

Quick Kill suffered the fate of many other Army innovations of the 1950s and 1960s — it became tainted by association with the lost war in Vietnam, and the Army banished it from its collective memory.

From time to time, someone tries to “rehabilitate” Quick Kill, as we suppose we’re doing with this post. The thing is, it works. You can train to hit targets at combat ranges without sights, and we firmly believe you should. (Think you’re hot stuff? Put some tape over your sights and run a Dot Torture or three. Spend a whole training session on it — and tell us if you don’t get better at it). Of course, the Army’s safe, simple, cheap starting mode — an airgun — is a great way to begin practicing Quick Kill.

Some more formal ranges, especially indoor ranges, won’t let you try this. They have their reasons. Your first few rounds will go unexpectedly high or low, but you will be surprised how quickly you can get on “minute of man” from a low position (pistol held centered at about chin height, long gun tucked below the armpit) or even from the hip. As with any practical shooting practice, start low and close in (if backstop permits; don’t do this if you’re shooting up on an indoor range or with an unknown range fan). When you’re hitting at smell-his-halitosis distances, then move the target back.

This skill does not replace aimed fire, but it supplements it in a potentially lifesaving way.

The facts are: you can learn to shoot accurately at short to medium distances without sights, with a lot of ammo, and a lot of practice. (But less than you might think it would take). Those mid-20th-Century guys, whether they were actual warriors or matinee idols, who blazed away with Colt .45s or Thompsons from the hip, are not as entirely incompetent as today’s training wallahs seem to think they are. In fact, today’s trainers are as stylized in their own way as the Western movie gunfighters of the 1950s were in theirs.

Here are some sources of more information.

Jim Keating describes some of the history on a nearly unreadable (gray text on black background, circa 1990) website, and will sell you manuals or training. He learned QK as a ROTC cadet in the 1960s.

Here is the 1971 version of the instruction “Training Text” (a document with less weight than a fully-doctrinal field manual). We apologize for the poor scan, it’s what DTIC had. The document describes a systematic and deliberate system of drilling rapid-fire point shooting just like the service drills any other soldier skill.

TT 23-71-1-Principles-of-Quick-Kill.pdf

Here’s one of the 1969 studies. There are more to be found on NTIS and DTIC.

Olmstead-Jacobs HumRRO 14-69 Quick Kill.pdf

This website has more detail, developed by David Lambert. Some of the photographs used above appear to be from Mr Lambert’s collection and we have revised this post to give him credit:



Repairing a Broken Firing Pin

Ever broken a firing pin? If you’re like us, you have, and then you either ordered a firing pin replacement, or had a gunsmith make one, if there was no factory or used firing pin to be had. Or maybe you just hung the weapon back in its place, your equivalent of the “too hard” file on our desk. This excellent video from the American Gunsmithing Institute (yeah, those guys that want to sell you approximately a million videos for approximately a million dollars) has gunsmith Ken Brooks in show-and-tell mode as he restores a firing pin — in this case, for a Winchester Model 1894 .30-30, but the principles apply whether your broken firing pin is in a Luger or a Lewis gun1.

It was rather eye-opening to us that he applies no heat-treating to the finished part. The spring-steel stock he uses is already heat-treated, of course.

The most valuable information in his entire presentation (which we watched raptly from end to end) was his description of the specs for firing pin fit and protrusion, and his reduction of these to simple rules which work not only for low-pressure blackpowder-era cartridges like the .30-30, but also for high-pressure modern rounds.

Next was probably his warning of the necessity of washing off soldering flux. Fine and good to solder the new pin in place, but his description of what happens if you let your customer go tripping out the door of your shop

You can extrapolate from here to some common firing-pin related problems you may have encountered. Light strikes or no strikes? check protrusion. You could have a short tip, or a firing pin held back by corrosion.

On some frequently-broken firing pins, Ken’s techniques won’t apply, for example on the simple turned firing pins in Tokarev rifle and pistol designs.  (Both firing pins have a design weakness, in that they have a large cutout for a retaining pin. Coupled with wartime manufacture that short-cut deburring and polishing, they are very prone to breakage at the corners of that recess. A little bit of bench work is in order if your firing pin has sharp edges or other stress risers in this area). But those pins are relatively easy to make, if you have a lathe.

Yet it turns out that this kind of pin is, if not easy, quite straightforward to repair. Repairing an original part detracts less from a gun’s originality than replacing a part, which may be a factor

Hat tip, the NRA.


  1. Hmmm, we might have overstated that. We’re not sure there’s enough material in a Luger firing pin (which is mostly hollow) to replace the nose and meet Ken’s at-least-half-inside requirement. And a Lewis gun’s firing pin is part of the operating rod, and if it does break, may break where a soldered-spring-stock repair is not practical. Fortunately, it’s overengineered and seldom breaks.

Update, surprisingly related:

The NRA reports that the State Department is trying to ban the internet publication of technical information like this and other material hosted at this blog. This is not surprising from those Game of Thrones wannabees. We intend to carefully read the proposal (.pdf; the State Department wall of verbiage begins in the lower right corner), run it by our ITAR consultant in the day job, and react accordingly.

We guess: the gun-banners in striped pants at Foggy Bottom are not going to like our response.

Did The US Adopt the FG42 After All.. as the M4?

“Hognose,” you are thinking, “has lost his ever-lovin’ mind.” Unless you were long in the service, in which case you will substitute a stronger term for “ever-lovin’.” Because, after all, the low-production FG42, which had a great influence on US postwar weapons development, is miles from today’s modular M4, which developed from a completely different concept, the SCHV (Small Caliber High Velocity round) and the selective-fire assault rifle.



Let’s go back to one of the earliest versions of the US reaction to captured FG42s, written by T/5 (a wartime grade for technical specialists, called “technical corporal” and paid a hair better than a “mere” corporal) John E. Holmes of the Foreign Material Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground on 8 June 44. According to Dugelby & Stevens, this was “the first American appreciation of the FG42 to appear in print… therefore a most noteworthy document.” After describing the general arrangement, production characteristics, handling and originality vs. derivation of various FG42 features (the example(s) Holmes had was/were the “E” type or first model FG with the stamped metal butt and pistol grip), he suggests that its advantages might be well considered in future US martial-arms design:

Advantages of Design

The combination of advantageous features included in the design of this weapon has made it a very interesting piece which should be studied with future weapons in view.

The following features are suggested:

a. The method of reducing required by using buffer spring sliding shoulder stock system.

b. Reduction of muzzle climb due to the action and stock design.

c. The method of loading empty or partially empty magazines with standard rifle clips, cutting down the number of necessary magazines which must be carried.

d. High line of sight prevents distortion of target due to heat waves.

e. Folding sights prevent damage as the weapon is carried by paratroopers, or when not in use.

f. Reversible bayonet.

g. Telescopic bayonet.1

Do you see what we mean? The only ones of these that are not present in the modern infantryman’s M4 are the spring-loaded shoulder stock (not necessary on the light-recoiling 5.56mm cartridge, perhaps), and the “reversible” spike bayonet. In point of fact, the US already tried that with rod bayonets on the Springfield rifles of 1880-1888 and 1903, which were extremely unpopular with troops (and ultimately, overthrown by President Theodore Roosevelt as “as poor an invention as I ever saw,” leading to the familiar M1905 knife bayonet of the World Wars).

So no, we never adopted the FG42. But over the years, we did adopt most of its impressive features. So did almost every major military in the world. And that is why the FG42,  despite having been produced in a quantity of only 8,494, maximum2, is, legitimately, considered one of the most influential weapons in history.


  1. Dugelby, Thomas B, and Stevens, R. Blake. Death From Above: The German FG42 Paratroop Rifle. New Expanded Edition. Coburg, Ontario: Collector Grade Publications, 2007. pp. 119-120.
  2. Ibid., p. 121.