Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Land of the Lost… Guns: Afghanistan

So, we saw this at Miguel’s, which led us to Fox News, which led us to the Washington Times, which still didn’t give up the primary source document. We wanted the primary source document because the numbers in the Times’s story didn’t add up.

The essential claims in these media versions of the story are:

  1. The Afghans have lost or sold off tens of thousands of the guns we gave them; and,
  2. The databases are poisoned with many duplicates; and,
  3. Most or many of the US-provided weapons were never entered in the database; therefore:
  4. Accountability for weapons in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANA/ANP) is nonexistent.

Here are the numbers as we pulled them from the report, and as the media spun ‘em:

The narrative is that the Afghan National Army has lost tens if not hundreds of thousands of small arms, and that as a result We Are Doomed. It took some doing (anyone who thinks Obamacare’s website was uniquely mishandled has spent no time among the web gardens of the .gov or .mil) but we did unearth the document.

Two Databases Stood Back-to-Back, Refusing to Say a Word…

The problem is at once more complex, more nuanced, and more interesting than that. And for gloom and doom fans, we’re probably still doomed. The bottom line is that the US’s incredibly complex and inefficient inventory systems, which famously do not talk to one another, also don’t mesh with the inventory system we provided to Afghanistan. Three completely different (and fundamentally incompatible) IT systems track US-provided small arms in OEF. Those systems include:

  • SCIP, the Security Cooperation Information Portal, used in the USA by logisticians supplying materiel to American allies worldwide.
  • OVERLORD, the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, developed in-country by the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), the latest of several names for the US training HQ in-country.
  • CoreIMS, the Core Inventory Management System, a US-spec COTS inventory database that has been foisted off on our valiant Afghan allies.

Here’s a graphic from that famous primary source document that the Times and Fox wouldn’t show you, preferring to predigest your informational meal. (Here’s a link to the document: SIGAR 14-84.pdf. We’ve saved a copy in case the link goes  tango uniform). This shows what the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction thinks the process is:

dod_weapons_inventory_process

 

So what we have turns out to be, not vast numbers of guns vanishing as they take each step along the pipeline, but three different and incompatible databases having data that are at odds with one another.

Which database is right? Who knows? Could be any of them. Or none of them! In fact, all three databases could have wide discrepancies, and yet none of them have totals close to what actually exists in inventory.

But it turns out, if you actually read the SIGAR report instead of act like a Media Luminary and Skim Until Shocked, the auditors did that, and as it turns out, some of the numbers are before they deep-dove the data, and some of the numbers don’t represent what they appear to represent. Yes, Afghan inventories are a mess, but they’re not the mess the news stories describe. A spot check of weapons in storage at the ANA Kandahar depot, for example, found the weapons in the crates the database said they’d be in, and traced every weapon back in inventories that matched the weapons on site. A similar exercise at the ANP 22 Bunkers Depot appeared to have similar results, but the inspectors didn’t have time to complete the inspection.  True, other depots and units had more fragmentary records, and the ANA Central Supply Depot’s records were far off from what was inventoried on site. But by Afghan standards, it wasn’t all that bad.

Remember that the idea of weapons inventories was something that Afghans have never done, except when compelled by Soviet or NATO allies. That they don’t do it as well as the US DOD, while using a stack of incompatible and user-hostile systems imposed from outside, shouldn’t shock anybody.

If you’re an old Afghan hand, one fundamental error in this whole process will have jumped out at you from the very beginning: trying to impose a sophisticated Western computer system (actually, multiple systems; a fourth incompatible database called ULTRA, Universal Listing of Transactions for Record Accounting, is under construction for the ANP) on a nation of Iron Age illiterates. Illiteracy was 94% to 97% when we first went into Afghanistan (the Taliban had closed all schools except madrassas). Illiterates make weak computer operators, something that American loggies never considered for a minute before deciding to spin up the Afghans in Microsoft World. Results predictable:

According to CSTC-A officials, efforts to develop the capabilities of ANSF personnel to manage the central depots have been hindered by the lack of basic education or skills among ANSF personnel and frequent turnover of Afghan staff.

Gee, there’s a shocker. We impose US-style personnel turbulence and military bureaucracy on an ally where most of the population is illiterate and borderline innumerate, and as Wilkins Micawber might say, “results, misery.”

The Duplicate Serials Problem: Not Such a Big Deal

Then, there’s the duplicate serial numbers problem , which comes to rise for two reasons:

  1. The procurers, developers and operators of the system did not understand that different weapon makes and models may indeed use the same serial numbers, and different manufacturers may use the same serial numbers for their versions of the same firearm, and so they erred in trying to use serial number by itself as a unique key;
  2. Lack of communication between databases

Even the authors of the report don’t seem to find that their discovery of some duplicate numbers is meaningless. Here’s their table from the report:

sigar_serial_number_dupes

¡Ay, Chihuahua! (Old Afghan phrase). Yes, it’s not just an Afghan thing to have two weapons with the same serial number. Heck, the USA did it:

M1 Rifle Serial 1,608,803: these two receivers were sold by CMP at auction recently.

M1 Rifle Serial 1,628,802: these twin receivers were sold by CMP at auction recently.

Someone who knows weapons can clear these three discrepancies in about two tenths of a second. Like this:

  • DX2383 needs to be reconciled by eyes-on physical inventory, because it’s possible that this represents two different guns, but because an AMD-65 is a variant of AK-47, it’s equally possible that this is one gun described two ways. Several manufacturers made AK variants using serial numbers of this pattern, so only physical inventory can establish whether we’re talking about one gun or two here.
  • 178203 is obviously two different weapons, and a properly constructed database would not confuse an M203 with an M249 of the same serial number.
  • A598 is the very same problem, Russian-designed-weapons style.

As anyone who’s ever accounted for any significant quantity of firearms can tell you, serial numbers are only likely to be unique on a single type (i.e. make/model/caliber) of weapon made for a single customer by a single manufacturer. Now, we’re not sure what other US arms have duped serial numbers like the M1 example above. (We know M16A1 rifles and XM177 “submachine guns” had absolutely unique numbers because manufacturers had independent sN blocks).

But this duplication is spun by SIGAR, in their ignorance of firearms, as a major problem, and it is spun in turn by the media as a Chicken Little sky-is-falling moment. It’s only a problem because the database designers and auditors are ignorant of the limits of serial numbering.

We certainly admit that the SIGAR report does identify some real challenges facing Afghan services on weapons-inventory issues, and it points up the poor visibility into those issues that US service elements, including CSTC-A, have into Afghan inventories. As far as the weaknesses of Afghan inventory controls are concerned, this is news to us in which way? We were pleasantly surprised to see that some Afghan National Police elements are tracking their assigned weapons using Microsoft Excel. This means they have some literate cops, who can even use computers — that’s miles ahead of 2002, let us tell you. But the SIGAR is shocked by this, and by the fact they’re not using some high-dollar, centralized, fiddly data management system instead of Excel.

Crawl, walk, run, people. Trying to drop Afghans into RDBMS management when they not only haven’t got the hang of Excel, but are largely utterly unlettered, is asking for trouble.

One is reminded of Lawrence’s maxim not to do things for the locals, but to let them do it themselves, however imperfectly.

What would a WWII US Weapons Collection cost?

soldier with M1One of the questions that a novice collector faces is: what to collect? While it’s good to follow your heart, the fact is that unless you”ve got the resources of an oil sheik you can’t actually buy one of everything. Even a millionaire has a finite budget, even if his is larger than, say, a grocery clerk’s.

So it helps to follow your head as well as your heart, and it helps to have a theme for your collection. Some collections can be deep and entertaining with a single subject, if it’s a big one: Lugers, for instance, or Springfield rifles. But right now, American World War II weapons are riding a wave of great popularity. With the WWII generation themselves gradually going the way of rifle clubs in middle school and the 48-star flag, you’d think interest in World War guns would wane, as did, say, collector interest in Model A Fords when the elderly car collectors who remembered them from new passed on. But WWII weapons haven’t seen such a collapse in interest. If anything, more people are interested than ever before, thanks perhaps to the availability of new books and movies on the subject.

A Theme: First Step on the Way to a Plan

So let’s take up the US World War II theme, and imagine a collection. A theme is the first step on the way to a plan. A plan is the theme made concrete with priorities and a budget. The collection itself becomes, then, the plan executed. One practical way to proceed (especially for a young collector just starting out) is to get “representative” pieces at first, and then later upgrade them for higher-quality and better-condition guns. This approach will cost considerably more than just buying the very best quality example you can right from the outset, but if you are young and just starting out, you may not have the resources to do so.

Best of all: every one of these guns is available, uses readily-acquired ammunition, and is safe and fun to shoot.

M1_Carbine_Mk_I_-_USA_-_Armémuseum

In this post, we’ve defined a core collection, a complete collection, and an extended collection of World War II US Arms, and we’ll cover each set in turn. The core collection are the most important and familiar weapons used by US forces in the 1941-45 war: rifles, carbine, and pistol. The complete collection adds the remaining Title 1 standard arms that were issued by midwar, according to our reference: War Department Technical Manual, TM 9-2200: Small Arms, Light Field Mortars, and 20-mm Aircraft Guns, dated 11 October 1943. (As a bonus, we’ll provide the reference as a download. Its table of references defines the period Standard Nomenclature Lists and Technical Manuals for all standard WWII weapons to that date). The extended collection gets you the Class III individual weapons, some unusual variants and oddball weapons that were used without being standard.

Core Collection

The most important and familiar weapons used by US forces in the 1941-45 war.

Weapon

Type

Estimated Cost

Collectors’ Notes
M1 Garand

Rifle

$1,300

A lot of M1s are post war. Try to get a wartime one, but you can always start with a later gun as a “representative M1″and work your way to a wartime example. Best value is still with CMP.
M1 Carbine

Rifle

$1,200

Again, you can save with a postwar, reimport, or reproduction. But they don’t have the collector appeal, and may not hold value.
M1911A1

Pistol

$1,300

For generations these pistols were commodities, and a lot of them have been Bubba’d. Take your time to find an original one.
Totals

3

$3,800

That’s the basic weapons of the D-Day rifle squad for you, minus the BAR.

M1911A1bSo there you have it: you can have the basics of WWII collecting, average pieces, for under $4k. If you want to add something exotic, you can pluck one “halo gun” from the next installment of this story, like a semi BAR as a collection centerpiece. (We will include the BAR in the next installment of this story — the Complete Collection). You could make your collection tentpole a 1919A4 in semi for a similar amount, maybe a little less. Or you could spend a little over a thousand for a repro semi Thompson, but again, a repro is not going to keep pace with inflation the way an original gun does. The problem is, the originals are NFA weapons, meaning that some people can never own them in their home states, and that they are extremely expensive, compared to Title I firearms of the same value. Hence, the appeal of semi reproductions.

These three guns are not only of great historical significance, they are also, each one, remarkable pieces of industrial history, and there’s a great deal to be learned about their design and manufacture, with two of the greatest gun designers who ever lived being represented here, John M. Browning and John Garand. Browning was extremely prolific and Garand is remembered almost exclusively for the M1 Rifle, but that’s enough. The third gun, the M1 Carbine and its designer David Williams, is a bit of a sleeper. Williams is an interesting character, the only major gun designer to be a former convict.

Each gun made an impact historically, as well. Few guns have inspired more copies than the M1911; the M1 Rifle provided much of the design of the follow-on M14, still in limited service today; and the M1 Carbine’s gas system was also widely copied, including in that same M14.

This little collection is enough to get anyone started in a fine collection of World War II weapons.  The guns are extremely likely to hold their value, if maintained, and they can be shot for fun, making history come alive. The collection can be acquired one gun at a time, if $4k is beyond your immediate reach. We’d recommend the pistol first, carbine next — not the other way round because carbines are in a bit of a bubble right now — and then the M1, but really, you should buy them as the opportunity strikes or in the order that you like the guns. You will find that together they tell a more coherent and complete story than they do individually.

Do they seem expensive? That depends. Are you looking at 2014 prices from the viewpoint of 1984 prices, or 2044 prices?

Tune in tomorrow for the second of three installments, the Complete Collection.

Off Buying Guns

Sorry for limited gun content the last couple of days, been finalizing a deal to buy a small US WWII collection, all original stuff except, alas, for the M1 SMG, which is a recent Kahr-produced Short Barreled Rifle.

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit we never owned a 1903A3 before. It was actually still part of SF Light Weapons training back when your humble editor stumbled through that evolution.

As far as the Kahr is concerned, we’ll see if it’s any good when the Form 4 clears, sometime around when the Sun goes nova at the rate ATF has been doin’ ‘em. It’s a small fraction of the cost of buying one (and a small multiple of the cost of the one we’ve rented in Manchester from time to time). If we don’t like it, we’ll GunBroker it off.

We’re working on something others have worked on before us: trying to pin down what was the first submachine gun. The candidates are the Villar Perosa, which we discount on not being a shoulder-fired individual weapon; its individual-weapon offspring the OVP and Beretta M1918; and our original candidate for the honors, the German Bergmann MP.18. We only know the name of the designer of the Bergmann (Hugo Schmeisser). As is usual on any real quality post, it takes time to research these things, and not enough of the primary sources are digitized and online.

It’s time to show Jerry Miculek being cool

Now, our usual reaction to Hollywood dual-wielding gunplay is the same kind of sneering that Simon Pegg’s character gets to early in Hot Fuzz, when he’s still a responsible police officer who takes firearms seriously, not influenced by Hollywood tropes, unlike the character asking him.

But if you’re Jerry Miculek, you can pull it off. And actually hit stuff:

Frankly, we wish we shot like this guy back when we shot as much as this guy.  (Of course, we had never heard of Jerry then, and just wished we could shoot like Paul Poole. Whose reaction was: “Bwah-haw-HAW! Boy, you ain’t gonna ever shoot like me. Instead, we gonna make you a 79 gunner — you need an AREA FIRE WEAPON! Bwah-haw-HAW!” RIP, Paul; YSMFDYND, ‘cept you did).

Anyway, can you do what Jerry does here? Don’t think we can. Pretty sure we’re not gonna try.

True, he didn’t do it “whilst leaping through the air,” as Nick Frost’s character asked Pegg, but we’d hate to call Jerry on that, ’cause he might pull it off, too.

Best supporting role: the SIG arm brace (or equivalent), which turns any AR pistol into an effective cousin of the innovative but commercially unsuccessful Gwinn/Bushmaster Arm Pistol.

The Brief Moment of the Revolving Carbine

This past weekend, the 200th anniversary of Samuel Colt’s birth (19 July 1814) was celebrated by a bunch of Connecticut arts types, in nearly gun-free Connecticut fashion. If any of these professional irony enjoyers noted the irony, they didn’t say anything about it. But that’s got us looking at some of Sam’s accomplishments, and that brought us around to one of Colt’s least successful products: revolving carbines.

In the middle of the 19th Century, the best and greatest means of rapid fire was the revolving pistol. It seems like a natural idea to extend that to a revolving rifle or carbine; and this, Sam Colt did, as early as 1839. This brief (minute and a half!) video shows an extremely rare 1839 .52 caliber Colt that actually was one of a mere 360 acquired by the US Navy, and is now in the possession of the National Firearms Museum:

This Paterson Colt carbine was made from 1838 until 1841, and apart from the Naval guns, which may have been used by the Marines at the Siege of Veracruz in the Mexican War, too late to do that version of Colt’s company any good: the Paterson firm went bankrupt, and Colt had to start over. He retained his patents, so that whatever happened to his companies, the crown jewels were safe with him and his family. (This was prescient of him, for he was to die young).

The Mexican War not only gave the Marines a new direction (the landing at Veracruz was the first of what would become a standing Leatherneck specialty, amphibious landings on defended shores), but it resuscitated Colt, due to a military order for 1,000 revolvers, which were delivered before war’s end and are known as the Colt Walker revolvers.

The refreshed Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company had a new, improved carbine by 1855, incorporating all of Colt’s new patents, and was producing it, and the more popular revolving pistols, in a new Armory building that was the marvel of Hartford, in a planned industrial community on an area of reclaimed land (note the berms or dikes in the image below). The area that encompassed all of the Colt factory, its workers’ housing, and Colt’s own grande manse was officially called the “South Meadow Improvements” but came to be known as Coltsville.

colt-armory-color-retouch-H

 

The carbine had two problems, both insurmountable from the military point of view. It was very expensive (the 1855 carbines cost the military $44 each, $1,189 in 2014 dollars), and, while it was safe if loaded and fired with care, a flash-over that was not usually that big a disaster with a revolving pistol had the potential for shredding a rifleman’s support hand. If there is a right way and a wrong way to load a weapon, no organization made of humans will ever be able to train 100% of its people to do it right 100% of the time.

When the Armory burned down in 1864, a $2 million plus ($54M plus 2014) loss of inventory, machinery and jigs to Colt, of which about $1.4 million ($38M) was excess to insurance carried, the remaining plant was used to manufacture pistols exclusively; the demand for Colt revolvers was inelastic, and repeating cartridge firearms on the horizon rendered the revolving rifle or carbine obsolete. The total production of the Colt carbines was very low; the 1855 was scarcely more produced than the 1839 version.

After the Civil War, Remington produced a version of its revolver as a carbine, also finding it disappointing in sales, although not as much so as the Colt version had been.

Since the 1960s, several versions of replica Colt and Remington carbines have been made. These are more frequently collected, from what we’ve seen, than fired; used ones usually have far more handling marks than they do indicia of firing.

The great Cap and Ball Channel from Hungary has posted three great videos on two carbines, an original Colt and an Uberti copy of a Remington.

Part 1, about the Colt (~6 minutes). The music is pretty awful, especially when it isn’t ducked under the voice, but the analysis of the unique mechanics of the gun makes it well worthwhile:

Some of the unique features of this .44 caliber Colt 1855 include progressive depth rifling, and a cylinder that is rotated by a ratchet on the rear end of the cylinder pin. This gun may be a bit off the military norm, as it appears to have been a sporting gun originally sold in Europe (it bears English proofs).

Part 2, about the Uberti clone of the Remington (~3 minutes):

Part 3, both are taken to the range (yes, even the very valuable original Colt) and shot for accuracy. If you’re only going to watch one video, this is the one. It also shows loading with loose powder and conical bullets, but also with period-style paper cartridges, which is how the real Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs would have done it. (Not to mention everyone else who went to war with percussion, like the British, French and Russians in the Crimean War, all manner of 19th Century naval riflemen, and the British in the Afghan Wars). This one’s about six and a half minutes.

The Capandball.eu site and associated YouTube channel is a real find, but we didn’t want to wait for a TW3 to show it to you.  If we have any beef with the chance to watch the two percussion revolver carbines on the range, it’s that he didn’t quantify their accuracy. But they look like fun, and one’s a sample of a moment in time that will never be repeated — the other shows us that the artifacts can be repeated, even if the times can’t be.

These firearms were an interesting evolutionary dead end (sure, there are cartridge versions, even a Taurus Judge carbine, but these are dead ends, too — curiosities). They came about because they were the logical progression combining proven examples of a known technology (the percussion rifle and the percussion revolver) into a hybrid that seemed like it had a bright future. (After all, if you were a cavalryman, or a Pony Express rider, another customer for the Colt ’55, wouldn’t you rather have six shots before facing the difficulty of reloading on horseback than one?). But unbeknownst to Sam Colt, and to his designer and right-hand-man Root, a technological disruption was on its way: new cartridge repeaters were coming that would eliminate all the disadvantages of the revolver carbine.

Root kept Colt relevant with cartridge revolvers, and even before the Colt family sold the company in 1901 new managers were embracing the novelty of the automatic pistol. Like Apple 100 years later, the company had a knack for grabbing hold of a technology that was about to take off in time, before its customers even knew that that was what they would want. But you don’t get to that kind of position without tripping down a few blind alleys. And thus, we have the Colt Revolver Carbine and its clones and imitators, a novelty for collectors and curiosity seekers.

Rimfire Challenge Ammo Guaranteed by ATK

ATK, a major defense and ammunition firm, likes to support the NSSF and the shooting sports. When they heard that the ongoing tightness of rimfire ammo supply was threatening Rimfire Challenge matches, they acted in the way you might expect, knowing the above, and that they’re the largest rimfire ammo manufacturer, under their CCI brand:

Adding to its Platinum-level support for the NSSF Rimfire Challenge program, ATK Sporting also will participate in the Rimfire Challenge Ammo Roundup, which will help ensure the program’s target shooters have a reliable source of ammunition.

The Rimfire Challenge Ammo Roundup will serve as a fulfillment center for match directors to purchase ammunition for events.

The company will provide 600,000 rounds of CCI rimfire ammunition to the Ammo Roundup program.

“Action rimfire sports like the NSSF Rimfire Challenge are paving the way for a whole new generation of shooters,” said Ryan Bronson, Senior Manager of Conservation and Public Policy at ATK Sporting Group. “We are happy to provide CCI ammunition to help support a program that is promoting exciting and safe trigger time for both the new shooters and folks that have been shooting for years.”

The Rimfire Challenge was the Ruger Rimfire Challenge until Ruger bowed out, claiming it had gotten to big to handle, and risking the future of the matches — sponsorless, they couldn’t survive. NSSF stepped in and the Challenge continued seamlessly.

The Rimfire Challenge combines .22 rifles and pistols, new shooters, and steel-plate targets to make appealing and fun matches. Here’s an FAQ in .pdf form. Here’s a schematic of a typical stage:

rimfire_challenge_stage_-_sample

The shooter and’s with a firearm loaded, aimed at the start steak. On audible signal here she begins to engage the plates, usually in any order, except for the stoplight. The stop plate is engaged last. (If you shoot it first, “stage over” and you’re going to do lousy on points). The scoring is based on the time to hit all the targets plus any penalties (penalties are assessed for each miss, encouraging accuracy).

The stages are relatively easy and that, and the audible clang of slug on steel, makes them rewarding for a new shooter. It would have been a shame if they ran out of ammo. Well done, ATK!

Stephen Hunter: Sniper’s Honor

snipers honorThe latest Bob Lee Swagger novel by Stephen Hunter is out, and Sniper’s Honor is his best in years — maybe the best ever. It introduces new and fascinating characters, new places and times, and, for the fans of firearms out there, new weapons (new to the series, at least; some of them are historic, even legendary) and tough situations for them to be employed in.

Yeah. We liked it.

In fact, we bought it at about 1500 Monday and finished it Tuesday. So we read it like it was a competition, and first-drafted this review while basking in the satisfaction of an enjoyable story, enjoyably ended.

The story skips around from Ukraine in 1944, where two brutal armies clashed, to today, where disparate people in disparate places — Idaho, London, Lviv, Moscow, Israel – struggle to resolve the fate of characters who went, seemingly overnight, from celebrities to nonentities. Certainly the Nazis made people disappear. So did the Soviets. But what ever could make the Nazis and Soviets both broom significant personalities out of their intelligence archives? To reveal that question to you is to reveal a little bit of a spoiler, because Hunter takes his time getting his characters to the point where they’re even starting to ask the right questions — but the answers they get never fail to shock and surprise. The plot’s twists and turns are, at once, easy to follow but confounding to one’s sense of resolution, until things are finally tied up at the end.

Some of the characters include: a pair of Washington Post reporters; a Ukrainian partisan general (loosely modeled on the real, and controversial, Stepan Bandera); a Nazi economist who we would swear is modeled on Robert S. Macnamara with an anti-Semitic twist; an officer serving a dishonorable state as honorably as possible; an imaginative Israeli intelligence analyst; an American hired gun; an Arab serving with the little-known Moslem legion of the SS; a playboy turned paratroop officer; a school teacher who is more that what he seems.  Now, some of these characters are central to the plot, and some are tangential, but all are interesting.

The primary characters, of course, are the snipers: Bob Lee Swagger, Vietnam legend now settling into retirement, or trying to, and Ludmilla Petrova, a fatalistic Russian sniper who knew it was not her fate to survive the war, but whose actual disposition came to be erased inexplicably from history.

One failing that has vexed us in previous Hunter books stems, we think, from his weapons experience, which is as a competitive shooter, not in the military. He usually concentrates mightily upon the sniper as single combatant, the knight of the one-on-one trial of arms. There is much less of that in this book, which seems to recognize for the first time that snipers, too, are part of military units and ply their trade with others. Even though the title, “Sniper’s Honor,” refers to just such a sense of chivalry, this book makes great strides describing military units’ operations. There is much less Lone Hero-ism in Sniper’s Honor than in any previous Hunter book.

It’s available from the usual suspects like Amazon, although the paperback isn’t coming until after Christmas. The currently available editions are the hardcover and a very overpriced Kindle version. We beat the Amazon price by about $4 by buying the book at a BJ’s Wholesale Club outlet.

The book is guaranteed to be entertaining, but if you’re a gun geek, there are a few odds and ends that aren’t quite right. At one point, Swagger carefully loads 30 rounds in a series of magazines that are famous for holding 32 rounds, for example. But that’s the kind of nitnoy complaint you will find with this book, if you must have something to complain about.

We did have one larger objection, and that was to the weapon used for the critical 1,000-yard shot. While the weapon has a degree of legend built up around it, we doubt anybody ever got 1,000 yard cold bore hits with issue ammunition and that weapon. Some folks may have done it recently with handloads, but it didn’t happen with WWII GI ammo. Did. Not. Happen. But it’s a critical plot point in the book.  Conversely, the accuracy potential of the M1891/30 with PU scope is higher than Hunter gives it credit for.

Ugly fact: even though they’ve become a staple of Hollywood,  1,000-yard shots were not the currency of a World War II sniper of any nation.

But that we’re even thinking those things after reading a 400+-page bestselling novel tells us this: that Stephen Hunter has sent this book right down our alley.

Three Contenders for the Belt (belt of 5.56 in M27 links, that is)

Here’s Jeff “Bigshooterist” Zimba on belt-fed ARs. You know you’re in for detailed, accurate information and a lot of enthusiasm when Jeff steps up to the camera. You also will get better than the usual YouTube signal-to-noise and filler-to-fact ratios with Jeff on the job:

Jeff’s just slightly mistaken about the original belt-fed, backpack AR-10: it was a pre-Colt Armalite project, and wasn’t picked up by Colt. The video he refers to was a Fairchild promotional video, and here is a version of it. We apologize for the poor quality. The belt-fed version shows up (initially, in Gene Stoner’s hands!) at about 12:30. The weapon’s belt feed does resemble the later Ciener AR-15 conversion, but uses a nondisintegrating belt feed.

Returning to Jeff Zimba’s presentation, his technical points on the Ciener conversion, which is mechanically similar to at least one of the Armalite prototypes, are accurate and informative. It had a number of features that made it rather fiddly, dependent on some design oddities, and generally flawed. Nonetheless, it worked; it could just do with some improvements. Jonathan A. Ciener has been many things in the firearms community, including an innovator; but nobody ever accused him of being keenly attuned to customer sentiment, and the modifications and improvements were left as inspirations to others.

The Valkyrie BSR Mod 1 (BSR = “Belt-fed Semi-automatic Rifle”) is fundamentally an improved Ciener mechanism. The improvements are significant in convenience and function, and Jeff explains them in great detail.

The ARES Shrike is a completely different mechanism that uses a MG-42-like feed mechanism. This gives it some significant advantages over the others. It uses standard links, feeds like every standard belt-fed out there for the last 60-plus years, and can be moved to any standard lower with only one reversible modification (unlike the surgery the Ciener and Valkyrie belts require). Unlike the Ciener and Valkyrie, it alters the AR system to be gas-tappet operated. The operator interfaces with the ARES by a folding, nonreciprocating charging handle on the left side, and an extended bolt release that is the only part that must be changed on a standard AR lower.  The ARES also has quick-change barrels, a necessity for high sustained rates of fire.

All of the weapons Jeff demonstrates also can fire from magazines. Ares Defense does make a version of their belt-fed for military and LE customers that lacks magazine feed, the AMG-1 (the version with both belt and mag feed is the AMG-2. There’s also an AMG version with the quick change barrel and tappet gas system, but mag-fed only).

Jeff doesn’t say, but the Valkyrie and ARES belt-feds are still available. Valkyrie Armament also has the modified M27 links, and belt start and stop tabs that are required by its rifle (they should work with a Ciener conversion, but we’d call Valkyrie to check, before ordering).

Hat tip, the Gun Wire.

Jerry Miculek meets the Original AR-10

The ace competitive shooter briefly got hold of an original AR-10, thanks to Reed Knight of Knight’s Armament Company.

And he shoots it, a little, in this video. He records 633 RPM in a burst, which is about right. The AR-10 is much more controllable in auto fire than other 7.62 NATO firearms, but that’s only relative to such horrid muzzle-climbers as the M14, the FAL, and the G3. (What’s the worst of the bunch? The para G3A3, by miles).

The gun is a “transitional” model with mostly Portuguese features, but the charging handle resembles that used in the Sudanese gun (and is a lot like the ones on Nodak Spud’s AR-15 “prototype” upper receivers) rather than the more complicated Porto one, and the upper lacks a serial number, which all Portuguese guns had.

We’ve known about the original AR-10 for a long time, and like Jerry and Reed, we really like it for its light weight and high quality. We have a semiauto gun built with a billet alloy receiver and an original parts kit, and enjoy it a lot.

Those guns are robust military rifles, and the surviors, mostly Portuguese guns, were subjected to all kinds of abuse in the field. The sophistication of the design is indicated by the fact that the only parts that didn’t hold up were the fiberglass furniture and the barrels — a lot of ex-Porto barrels are pitted, or shot out, but others are in fine condition. The difference was probably the maintenance they got — by and large, Portugal gave these rifles to elite paratroops, which is usually a maintenance plus, but they were used far from home in African guerrilla wars, usually a maintenance minus. It’s a risky gun to buy sight unseen.

Knight is quite correct about the limited production. Artillerie Inrichtingen never earned out the money it invested in AR production, with the only two sales being the small ones to Portugal and Sudan. Its sales arm seemed to be snakebit by bad luck — for example, they negotiated a deal with the armed forces of Cuba, just before Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by Communists. The Cubans not only never paid for the few ARs delivered, they distributed them widely to guerrillas and terrorists. (Indeed, a number were recovered by Cuban-sponsored rebels in the Dominican Republic in 1965. Apart from one or two retained for Army museums, they were destroyed).

By the best estimate, a couple of thousand of original AR-10s survive in whole or in part, mostly in nations that allow or did allow conversion of full- to semi-auto weapons. A number were destroyed in Australia when that country passed several gun bans about 10 years ago. The numbers of AR-10s in the USA may be as low as a hundred registered automatic weapons, and a few hundred semis like ours. So Jerry’s right to be excited about the privilege of firing an original. It’s not like today’s nine and ten pound .308s.

Once, there were millions of original AR-10 magazines available (AI overproduced them), but Knight used them in his initial SR-25s, causing the supply to evaporate. An original magazine now is probably worth more than some guns.

The airplane that Reed Knight talks about after the range session was the Swiss-made Pilatus Porter, which Fairchild manufactured as the Fairchild Porter and, in prototype and short-run mode, as the AU-23 STOL gunship. Oddly enough, the AU-23 production tooling and rights are for sale right now. Drop us a line in comments if you’re interested and we’ll put you in touch with the sellers.

A BAR for the 21st Century

OOWLogoTheir ranks are thinning, but never was a man more loyal to his gun than the men who carried the Browning Automatic Rifle in combat, many of whom we were privileged to know and serve with.

Ohio Ordnance Works has been making new BARs for many years. The guns resemble a WWII M1918A2, and are available as either post-86 Dealer Samples or Title I semi-auto rifles for a retail price in the $4,000 to $5,000 neighborhood.

OOW hcar_2

But they’ve also been working on what they call the Heavy Counter Assault Rifle — a BAR lightened, modernized and improved almost beyond recognition. Almost 7 1/2 pounds of the original 19.4 or so have been taken off, rails and a sliding stock added, the ergonomics improved to satisfy a generation raised on highly-ergonomic ARs. Ohio Ordnance Workd has added its own custom 30-round magazines and an improved trigger.


Weight loss comes from relief machining in the receiver, a shortened barrel with lightening/cooling dimples, a polymer lower, and a hugely-simplified, hydraulic buffer (say good-bye to “cups and cones,” children). It’s suppressor-ready.

Like any OOW BAR it does not come cheap, but they’re offering a pre-production sales deal: the HCAR with many accessories for $4,700.

For more information:

(You get the impression SSD likes this thing).