Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Oh, no, Bubba got hold of the SKS!

In the Continuing Adventures of Bubba the Gunsmith™, we’ve seen him savage Glocks (and more Glocks), Lugers (and more Lugers, en français aussi) and mangle 1911s and more 1911s. In long guns, he’s had his way with more ARs than we could count, like this one and this one (something about the modularity of the AR system is irresistible to slow minds and fat fingers), and solved the notorious “tight chamber” er, “problem,” of a National Match M1A barrel. Most recently, we saw his Century Arms International iteration hacking AKs with a Foredom tool.

With the entertaining website BubbaGun.com apparently paws up, we stand alone between the pipe wrenches and rattle cans on one flank, and the pool of remaining decent firearms on the other. And we seem to be constantly retreating. Take this SKS, for example.

Bubbas SKS overview

And take it, the Lewiston, Idaho dealer would like you to: he has it on GunBroker for $149 (+$37 shipping to your FFL). It’s an ordinary preban-import Chinese military SKS, the sort that sells in decent condition for $250 right now. Now, SKSes are great guns; they’re a blast to shoot, reliable as a shovel and forgiving of abuse, have an interesting military history (it was the main arm of many NVA units, and a sought after Vietnam souvenir). It fires common and inexpensive ammo, is small and handy, and looks like a real military weapon, if a dated one. It’s a great gateway drug to the world of military collecting, and you could always hunt with it (although many jurisdictions frown on 10-round magazines in the woods in deer season, and Elmer Fudd is not going to like seeing a bayonet).

But this one has lost its value, and its looks; Bubba has been at it with the usual tools of his trade. First, the rattle-can refinish job:

Bubbas SKS bad rattle can job

That’s not some crummy polymer stock; that’s the original Chinese hardwood. (It might even be laminate under there, but odds are it isn’t). But Bubba didn’t stop with spraying the stock. In Bubba’s trailer, if a little Krylon is good, the whole can is better. That’s why it has all the wrinkles: right on the can, it says something like, “apply in thin coats,” but that would require you to read the can. Or at least, to read. 

And we’re talking about Bubba here. So he not only went rattle-can, he chose from Bubba The Gunsmith™’s three-tone color pallette: Flat Black? Semi-Gloss Black? Nope, he went with the ever-so-tactical Feces Brown. Because, he’ll tell you, black is a color that does not occur much in nature, unlike feces. Er, we mean, brown.

He also sprayed, as you can see, the fittings and fixtures, like the sling swivel. And the sling. And, if you look, the receiver.

Let’s have a look at that receiver. Left side? Ow:

Bubbas SKS

It looks like sometime before or maybe even after the Krylon “refinish,” he took to the receiver with a stone. No, not the sort of stone we use on triggers, gentlemen: the sort of stone he finds between the cleats of the mismatched knobbies on his F-150. This is particularly sad if you’ve ever had the chance to handle one of these in new condition; the Chinese manufacturers put a pretty decent polish and blue on their firearms before sending them out to do their International Socialist Duty in the hands of some 17-year-old PAVN draftee.

Even the PAVN draftees, hiding in stinking bomb craters on the Ho Chi Minh trail, treated their rifles better than this poor thing. Well, maybe the right side of the receiver isn’t so bad?

Bubbas SKS sanding marks

Not really. There are gouge marks here, too.

Here’s what we suspect happened: after taking it out of the stock and nailing both assemblies with 1/8″ thick Krylon, it wouldn’t go back in. (Duh). So he then sanded the receiver until it fit, or stoned it, with, as we suspect, a random stone from the gravel road.

The Krylon alligator skin continues on the trigger guard and magazine, where it appears to have been applied over dirt and mung of all kinds, and probably some rust and/or pitting:

Bubbas SKS trigger guard

And on the barrel:

Bubbas SKS barrelAnd if we look at the other side of the barrel, we’ll see the ever popular improvised wire keeper on the spray-painted sling. At least the Krylon has been partially cleaned off the bayonet. Or, maybe, didn’t stick to its satin finish in the first ever-lovin’ place.

Bubbas SKS barrel leftSomewhere in China, a gun guy is shaking his head and saying, “For this, we went through the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward?”

But wait, we didn’t tell you the best part. Here it is, verbatim from the listing, emphasis ours:

You are currently looking at a Chinese SKS Type 56 serial # 10329. 20″ barrel with a post front sight & 1000 meter adjustable rear.
Wood stock & handguard have been hot glued to the metal. Handguard can be taken off & gas pistons work freely. The follower in the magazine keeps it from opening all the way
The trigger works correctly & bore is mirror bright with deep rifling. The entire rifle has been spray painted.

Hot glued to the metal. Or in Bubba’s shop, “custom bedded.” Lord love a duck.

Will need a little TLC and cleaning before firing

Gee. Ya think?

Now, it’s not our intention to bag on the dealer selling this firearm. After all, they took it in trade from someone, quite possibly the Bubba that did this number on it, and they’ve discounted it about $100 on what they could have charged for it, pre-Bubba.

Wait, just thinking that this was a trade, we shudder to think what his next project will be.

We are selling this rifle just the way we got it. Will make a fun winter project or shoot it just the way it is.

And they do have a point. This is a potential project gun for a patient non-Bubba. Most of what he has done this time is reversible. There are a few reasons not to take on that project:

  1. Even valuing your time at $0, it will cost more to restore than the delta between this gun and a good one.
  2. It’s going to be messy. All that toxic Krylon has to go somewhere.
  3. The same amount of effort can better be spent on a firearm that’s higher-quality and in higher demand to begin with.
  4. The resulting gun will never be original again.

…But there’s also the joy to be had in taking something Bubba the Gunsmite™ (sic) has applied his trademark smiting to, and repair the damage he has done.

We’re weighing a bid. If we do it’ll be a project in these pages. But we have a lot of SKSes already (all non import marked Chinese ones, actually). And oy, the mess….

 

 

Bubba the Gunsmith does an AK Trigger Job…

…or does a job on an AK trigger, actually. How do we know it’s Bubba? Well, we’re sure Winston Groom would agree that Bubba is as Bubba does. But also, we have other indicators. For one, the video is from Century Arms; if Bubbadom spreads like Christendom, Century’s Vermont warehouse is its St. Peter’s Basilica. For another, this is what Bubba is building:

70182-caicenturion39akstylerifle762x39milledreceiverdoublefingertriggerwoodstockusamfgnew-s1

 

What in the name of Niffelheim is that? An Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation for Apert Syndrome or some other syndactylic genetic aberration? It turns out to be available at J&G Sales. J&G is Century’s frequent partner in distribution of firearms with Century-Induced Firearms  Dysplasia, and has some quantity of these, as the bookmark on the page indicates. In fact, they seem pretty desperate to move them: not only does this model sell for less than the firm’s less-deformed AKs, they’ll throw in a drum mag, just so the boys in the warehouse don’t have to look at this horrible deformity any more.

Because our readers are made of sterner stuff, and can look upon this gorgonic beast without turning to stone, here is a close-up of the trigger:

70182-caicenturion39akstylerifle762x39milledreceiverdoublefingertriggerwoodstockusamfgnew-s4

And here’s another (all from the J&G website, obviously):

70182-caicenturion39akstylerifle762x39milledreceiverdoublefingertriggerwoodstockusamfgnew-s5

We suspect that Mikhail Kalashnikov would be spinning in his grave if he knew what they’d done to his rifle.

Now, these things may some day be collector items, like the hideous Fender paisley telecasters that came in as flower power was on the way out: so hideous when new they were desirable when old because of their rarity. No doubt some of them will be reconverted into AKs. It shouldn’t be too hard, with a trigger guard or a piece of sheet steel from which to bend one, and a couple of rivets. Just follow the video of Bubba below, in reverse.

True, he’s not trashing a rare or valuable gun for this, just one of Century’s canted-sightpost specials with tacticool furniture. But still, what’s with that trigger? In the name of all the saints, why? 

We first saw it on Max Popenker’s Russian-language blog, posted with a question: for weak fingers? If it stumped Max, who is from the land of Kalashnikov His Ownself, then it’s probably not anything from Soviet officialdom, or any of the usual satellite copiers. (The gun in the picture looks like a Yugoslavian parts kit with an aftermarket barrel and wood, but it turns out that this conversion was done on new Serbian AKs).

In a half hour of asking other experts in Soviet and bloc small arms, nobody had ever seen this thing. They were all willing to guess, though. A really ill-conceived cold-weather trigger (as ill-conceived as the absence of a trigger guard on the original Finnish M60, which the Finns repented rapidly), was the most common guess, but it doesn’t make sense. The Russians are scarcely ignorant of the fact that it gets cold in their country, and they have a perfectly suitable arctic-trigger system (and suitable gloves for firing in cold temperate-zone conditions) and have managed to run an army in their country without losing all their fingers yet.

Well, it turns out, this abortion has been offered on two Century AK variants at present. Anyway, you used to be able get this cool trigger on a black tacticool milled-receiver AK like the one in the video below, and can still order it in the sort-of-ordinary looking and rather inexpensive ($539 wholesale) AK that we and Max illustrated.

So Why So Serrated?

tipmann toy double grooved trigger

The Tippmann double grooved paintball trigger, from the Tippman Parts website.

Century is not forthcoming, any place we’ve seen, about why this trigger exists. But we were able to dope it out. Basic bottom line: it is for paintball choads coming over to real guns, who want to continue the paintball practice of firing high volumes of unaimed fire.  As Tippmann, a major maker of paintball toy guns, describes their double-trigger kit for their paintball launcher:

The added area allows two fingers to walk the trigger to a faster rate of fire. Double grooved for comfort.

The canonical name for this in the paintball world is somewhat unclear. Some call it the double finger grooved trigger, and others call it the double trigger. We call it Holy-Mother-Machree-that’s-Fugly.

And it seems to offer a false promise. On a semiautomatic AK clone, your maximum rate of fire is limited not by the speed of your human trigger reset, unless you have the reaction time of a three-toed sloth on barbiturates, or a former Disney Channel starlet on whatever they’re all on. It is limited by the mechanical trigger reset. Having two fingers rather than one to alternate pulling an unreset trigger seems futile. Given the physics of the trigger as a lever, the stronger finger has the shorter travel, and the relative travel of both is widely different, adding even more inconsistency. On the other hand, the safety hazard of exposure of a larger trigger inside the larger guard is real.

And in any shooting for any purpose other than noise making, maximum rate of fire is completely irrelevant. What you’re interested in is maximum rate of aimed fire, and that is limited not even by trigger reset but by time to bring the sights back on target.

Misses don’t count for anything except noise. We’d be willing to bet that we can take any of our rack grade semi AKs (including the Egyptian one, which has to make the Russians at Izmash weep; it brings the al-Bubba and is over 30 years old), and match the rate of fire of one of these paintball-poseur products, and beat the hell out of it when hits on targets at reasonable AK ranges (say 0-400m) are counted.

But for you completist collectors, here’s how they do it:

We were honestly surprised to see that Century’s smiths have some professional gunsmithing tools, like a Foredom (vs. Dremel) tool. The Lyman Revolution low-budget gun vise looks good and is adequate for this kind of work; all expensive Chinese-made gun vises are really suitable for cleaning and field-stripping, not for doing anything that will put more pressure on the action or barrel.

(PS. We were going to Max’s blog because we saw, from the new stats plug-in, that he linked to us. Spasibo bolshoi!)

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Precision Rifle Blog

precision_rifle_blogWe don’t know how we missed this guy, PrecisionRifleBlog.com, until now. As long time readers know, we have always admired the empirical, side-by-side A-B testing, like the tests that Andrew Tuohy carried out on his own website, Vuurwapen blog, and later at the sadly moribund Lucky Gunner Labs and The Firearm Blog (just search for his name on those sites — if he did it, it’s good. He’s a young man, but he has his stuff in one bag). It reminds us of a scientific experiment. In the same vein, we have enjoyed some of the experiments that Phil Dater PhD did with barrel length, muzzle velocity, and sound pressure levels. Science FTW!

Now, wouldn’t it be neat if somebody did something like that with rifle scopes, among other precision rifle data sets? Turns out, somebody has; his name is Cal Zant and his website, Precision Rifle Blog, promises “a data-driven approach” to long-range, precision shooting. Cal delivers that, in spades. That’s why he’s the Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week.

Let’s show you one example of his coolest recent research, an incredible comparison test of high-end rifle scopes. These are the sort of scopes you’d apply to a precision rifle for target, hunting, or war.  He has conducted a well-planned and thorough battery of tests of 18 high-end scopes, side-by-side, using a pretty solid array of methodologies. Then, he ranked the scopes according to a weighting scheme that he worked out based on what respondents to a survey said was important.

best-tactical-rifle-scopes

Every step of his way, he shows his work. Disagree with his weighting scheme? All the data are there; you can draft your own and see how that changes the ranks. Some features are not important to you? Delete them from the weighting scheme and recalculate. The data are all there, and will cost you only the considerable time needed to read and consider them.

The two essential links are to the Field Test Results Summary and the Buyers Guide and Features to Look For.

But those alone don’t tell the whole story, because he’s also included in-depth links and all his methodologies. Not surprising in the STEM world, especially in engineering, the end of STEM furthest from all the theory. And even if you read all the links, you may have further questions, especially if you’re not well-versed in optics terminology. (We thought we were; the site disabused us of that notion right smartly). So he provides an extremely useful online glossary. Confused by the difference between miliradian-based (Mil) and minute-of-angle (MOA) reticles? He’s not, and you won’t be either, if you read his page on the subject. (Short version: if you’re a yards-and-inches guy, you might be happier with MOA, if you’re metricated, you’ll want a mil reticle and turrets).

You can quibble with the weighting scheme, or bellyache that your favorite scope was not included, but we’re still just struggling with the disbelief of the whole thing: that someone would do all this work for nothing but the pleasure of doing it, and then bestow it on the rest of us.

best-long-range-cartridgesAt this point, you might think that Precision Rifle is all about scopes, and it’s not. That’s just an example of what he’s got for you over there. Here’s another example — a chart from a long article on the calibers most used by National Championships’ top 50 competitive shooters. It’s interesting that the question of caliber is now down to 6 or 6½ millimeters, at least among top 50 competitors. We didn’t know that before reading it on Precision Rifle.

Go, and return smarter, grasshoppers.

What TrackingPoint Must Do to Sell to SOF

Tracking Point ProductsWe think the guys running TrackingPoint know what they have to do. In fact, we think they’re already doing these things. But here’s what, from our point of view, is missing from the current iteration of TrackingPoint hardware and software for real penetration into the upper tier SOF market.

So, Who Do You Hit First?

SF Recruiting Poster pick it upIf we were their marketing consultants (we use our MBA, but not like that), we’d also press them to focus on sell-in to certain SOF elements that are image leaders in the international SOF community. Sell, for example, to SAS, and you will have Peru, the UAE, the Netherlands, and many other nations very interested in your product line (Indeed, sell to SAS or to their US counterparts, and you’ll get sale after sale, worldwide). It’s important, also, not to over-discount the stuff to your lead customers: confidentiality agreements are fine and good, but they probably can’t keep, say, American shooters from telling the foreign shooters they’re training with or competing against, what a good deal you gave ‘em.

Another possible launch customer is FBI HRT. As their history of reckless shots and whacked non-targets shows, they could use the marksmanship boost. Meanwhile, despite their record, they’re very influential on local police procurement. Tag/track/release technology is just the ticket for police marksmen who never get enough time for training, and yet have to make more consequential and more constrained shots than a lot of military snipers. (A military sniper, outside of some rarefied CT or HR gigs, almost always has the option to no-shoot. FBI or police sniper, scope-on a crim threatening a hostage, might lack that luxury).

Who Don’t You Hit?

While the Marine Scout Snipers could use the hell out of this thing, it’s too foreign to Marine marksmanship culture, which is a master-and-apprentice culture that demands effort, even hardship, and eschews automation or corner-cutting of any kind. So we’d put these excellent Marine precision marksmen way down the list, right now. We’ve worked with enough 8541s to know that they like to do things the hard way, and they take particular joy in doing it the hard way faster than an Army guy can do it the easy way, and take a positively indecent glee in breaking the dogface’s easy-way technology. Bringing this to the Marines first means that they will use their considerable intellect and energy to break your machine and send you away with a duffel bag of expensive pieces (so they’re great for finding unimagined points of failure — there is that). Bringing it to them after selling it to the Army is not a panacea. It might be even harder, because they will be energized to demonstrate that the Army did Something Stupid, because if Marines believe three things about the Army it’s that: we have too much money, too little guts, and way too little brains.

You’ll probably need a Marine sniper on board to sell to Marine snipers. Once you do, you won’t get quite the global reach that you do by selling to SAS or its American counterparts. But you get in with the world’s greatest military image machine, and there is that. 

You have to be very careful about selling in to Hollywood. (One TrackingPoint precision guided rifle is already in the hands of the most successful firm that supplies movie and TV weapons and armorers). The reason is that an inept display of your product can hurt sales. (It would be very Hollywood to put the TrackingPoint system in the hands of a villain, to be overcome by someone like a Marine sniper or James Bond willing to use superior skill and old school firearms).

What’s Missing From 1st-Gen Tracking Point

While the extant system has undeniable SOF applications, it also has limits, and some technical improvements — none of which are impossible or require TrackingPoint engineers to schedule an invention — would increase its marketability in military precision riflery circles.

Emission Control / Encryption / ECCM

It’s great that you have a computer in a scope, and it’s the wave of the future. But the computer can be located by enemy SIGINT. The video and wifi links need strong encryption, and in addition they need to be controllable so that emissions can be closed down. Even third world enemies often use electronic support measures these days, and so you need some RF low-observability measures, and you also need to have electronic counter countermeasures to ensure usability of the system in an electronic environment.

Two-way communications

This one engenders some risk, but there should be a capability for the opetator to hand off control of the PGM’s optoelectronic systems to someone’s telepresence from a support station. Or even from another field station.

Intelligence gathering MASINT capability

There is everything in this weapons system that’s needed, for instance, to remotely measure a prison camp or a suspected SS-20 missile TEL. This capability would also tie in beautifully with the improved communications and encryption capabilities mentioned above.

A Ballistic Development Interface, SDK or App

Now that we have that in-scope computer, fully integrated with the hardware of the firearm, we need to have a way to make it more adaptable to different ammunition loadings, including one-time, single-mission loads. And that has to be done at the unit level; otherwise you’ve got a potential breach of compartmentation.

tracking_point_trad_mode

This is a sales stopper with top tier units. They develop their own long range capabilities, including, at times, loads, and they do it because they think they, like benchrest shooters, can handload a more consistent, higher-precision round than even premium ammo suppliers can do.

Demonstrated, Documented Durability

The running joke is that a soldier or marine can break a ball from a ball-bearing — just leave him alone in a room with it, and you’re a half hour from looking at a broken ball, and hearing, “Uh, I dunno, sarge. It just broke!” (Bearing-ball, hell, these guys could do that with a wrecking ball). You want your machine to be wrecking-ball strong.

Demonstrated “Fail Safe” mode.

The capability of the system has to degrade gracefully. If you’re sneakin and peekin’ on Day 38 of a “14-day mission,” dead batteries can’t leave you in shoot-randomly mode (let alone, can’t-shoot mode). Even an ACOG, which is probably harder to break than the gun it’s atop, has cast-in backup sights. But with a TrackingPoint gun’s scope being dependent on a CCD display at the shooter end, you can’t afford to have dead batteries.

Full Auto Stabilization Mode

We can’t be the only ones who looked at this and thought, “tag, track & x-act really could up the game of a door gunner and/or Boat Guy.” Hell, those Chenoweth sandrails might come back from the dead, if the gunners in them could actually hit things instead of just contribute morale-raising decibels to a fight. Imagine this Hollywood concoction, except real, and with the boost in hit probability than TrackingPoint promises.

You know you want one (more on the movie gun soon).

Note that these are just for the military employment of tracking point, as combat weapons technology. We haven’t even addressed the utility of tracking point for big game hunting, which is what the thing was developed for in the first place. Its applications for everything from African plains game to heliborne predator control seem self-evident. We haven’t even hinted at the potential for a rimfire TrackingPoint squirrel slaughter system, something that would sell itself once the price comes down.

As we all know, the guys running TrackingPoint are not stupid. They are probably thinking of most if not all of these things already. If not, hey, our rates are reasonable; drop us a line.

New from TrackingPoint

TrackingPoint has refreshed its AR lineup in three calibers (5.56, 7.62, and .300 Win Mag) and also offers three things calculated to increase the appeal of their precision-guided firearms: lower prices, financing, and a virtual reality glass device, the Shotglass.

If you ever wanted to break the last taboo and enjoy a shotglass while shooting, now’s your chance. This one doesn’t hold a precise measure of amber nectar brewed by Scotsmen, though:

shotglass

The Shotglass can be used to aim and fire the weapon from complete concealment cover. It can record video. It’s most likely use in the real world, though, is as a way for the spotter to direct the sniper on target. We expect we will see more of these used with TrackingPoint’s long-range bolt action rifles than with its ARs, but time will tell. If you buy a TrackingPoint PGF by 30 November 2014, the Shotglass is free; after that, it’s an additional $1k. We’ll probably discuss it in greater depth when TP puts up their Shotglass video; for now, we can’t imagine anyone who wants or has the gun turning the Shotglass down.

The lower prices are relative — they’re still nosebleed-high, just not arterial-nosebleed-high any more. For example, the 5.56 AR is $7,495.

tp_ar-newest-use-me_1

For that, Tracking Point offers:

  • Perfect impact on targets out to 0.3 miles, moving as fast as 10 miles per hour.
  • The same Tag-and-Shoot™ technology found in fighter jets
  • Advanced target tracking technology
  • Comprehensive, purpose-built shooting system.

We’ve discussed the TrackingPoint technology before, but the implementation in the ARs differs from that in the bolt guns. First place, you don’t need the guided-firearm voodoo to just shoot. The optic comes up with a crosshair reticle with mil-dots and a red dot at center. Different TP releases have called this “Standard” or “Traditional” mode. Note that the interface does give you range in this mode, but not wind speed or direction.

tracking_point_trad_mode

Next up is “Freefire” mode, which is present, so far as we know, only in the gas guns, not the bolt guns. In this mode, you range something near a group of targets, and the scope adapts to that range and to the atmospherics (note that the wind speed is displayed in this mode). The reticle cues you that the Freefire Mode has been selected, and it eliminates the mildots. Those are not necessary in this mode, because your point of aim is computer adjusted to equal your point of impact. In “Freefire” mode, the Guided Trigger is not activated: the trigger works like any AR trigger.

tracking_point_freefire_mode

In Advanced mode, the reticle changes yet again. In this case, it takes several shapes depending on whether and where the Tag has been applied. In advanced mode, the tag is applied with the red button, and then the reticle changes color and shape. The illustration below shows a tag applied to the running coyote. The blue reticle indicates that the shooter is not ready to take the shot: he is not holding the trigger back. When he holds the trigger to the rear, the color changes to red, and the weapon will fire when it is in proper alignment. At any point, the shooter can safe the gun by releasing the trigger.

tracking_point_advanced_mode

Advanced mode does something that was considered impossible for centuries: it removes most sources of human error from marksmanship. This is the sort of thing that becomes possible, when you embed a complete Linux computer in a rifle optic, and tie it in to the physical rifle several different ways.

You’ve probably noticed that TrackingPoint expresses distances in decimal tenths of a mile, rather than the yards or meters common in the shooting world, which suggests that they may see their customer base as coming from outside the present limits of the shooting world. (To which we say: welcome! While it’s cool to have a gun that can calculate all this, it’s incredibly empowering to have a head that can calculate all this, and yet, it is possible and available to you. So may your new TrackingPoint firearm be a gateway drug to a new plane of existence for you).

In any event, 0.3 mile is about 480 meters (which the US Army considers the effective range of the individual rifle platform) and 530 yards.

The guns each have a limited effective range which seems like it was programmed into the weapon as a maximum “lock range” (the system has an integrated rangefinder and environmental sensors). This may be intended to ensure that shooters have a positive experience with the precision-guided firearm, but it may also serve to ensure that the ARs don’t cannibalize the higher-end sniper and hunting rifles.

precision-guided-300-wm-semi-auto_0

The top of the AR line, the .300 Win Mag monster, offers the same claimed benefits as the 5.56 version, except that it offers “perfect impact on targets out to 0.5 miles, moving as fast as 20 miles per hour,” for a more-than-your-pickup-truck $18,995. (Our pickup, anyway: 4-banger, 2 wheel drive). (Half a mile is 800 meters or 880 yards). Unfortunately, now that somebody’s actually built an AR that’s perfectly sized as a bayonet handle, there’s no bayonet lug.

The 7.62 AR offers slightly less performance (0.5 mi, moving targets to 15 mph) for slightly less money: $14,995. If these prices seem high for ARs, well, they are, but no other ARs do these things, this well.

precision-guided-semi-auto-7.62-new

 

 

When TrackingPoint first announced the AR line this spring, there was a .300 Blackout version available. A prototype, using a Daniel Defense upper, was clearly visible in their first AR video, but the gun is not on their price list today. The TrackingPoint technology offers the potential to have a firearm that automatically corrects its zero for the Point of Impact shift common with suppressors; it can also, potentially, store several load profiles. (The ballistics-adapting capability of the weapon depends on it being fired consistently with a load whose performance parameters are known to the software).

The bolt-action rifles, which have not been updated, offer similar performance, actually, in similar calibers. Only the mighty .338 LM extends range to 0.75 miles (1200m — 1320 yards). The bolts are priced differently than their semi-auto kin, a little lower in 7.62 but the highest-price version of the .338 is near-as-dammit $28,000. With great power comes great liabilities, Spider-man. In addition to that, you might want to think hard about budgeting for the extended warranty and the software maintenance contract — software maintenance alone is a stiff $2k/year.

The electricity to drive all this juju comes from batteries in compartments in the stock or the AR and in integral battery compartments in the optics of the bolt guns.

TrackingPoint’s managers are keenly aware that the prices of these guns are an obstacle to sales, and so they have a financing program with decent terms: 10% down, 36 months, 10% interest. (They don’t say how it’s compounded or what the APR is). There’s also a 30-day, no questions asked, money back guarantee, “You can feel completely confident that TrackingPoint stands behind its products.”

We’re not sure it’s really, in their words, “the most incredible shooting system known to mankind.” But we are sure want one of these pretty badly. Just not $18-30k badly. Yet.

For $2k you can spend the day at TrackingPoint in Pflugerville, Texas, meet the staff, see the plant and fire the gun. If nothing else, you’d learn how to pronounce, “Pflugerville,” and maybe even who Pfluger was.

The Afterlife of the USMC M40

The United States Marine Corps has made… we don’t want to say a “fetish,” because that word is freighted with negative connotations, but perhaps a “trademark,” of marksmanship, and Marines are resolutely old-fashioned about it. When the Army had to dig back in the doctrinal cavern for the lost beacon of sniper employment and training, in the Vietnam War and later in the 1980s, they found Marines still keeping the pilot light lit.

In the 1960s, the Marines’ sniper stick of choice was the M40, originally a bone-stock Remington 40X. The 40X was the varmint edition of the Remington 700: a little heavier, lacking the cheesy stamped “checkering” of the hunting guns, with a heavy barrel and no iron sights.  700 of these guns were bought, fitted with Redfield 3-9x variable scopes, and sent out to the sniper schools enroute to the fleet.

The M40 lasted about six years in Marine service before the Corps type-classified an upgrade M40A1. These were built by Marine armorers who had been upgrading the M40s for some time: they feature a McMillan synthetic stock and a Unertl 10X scope. The original M40s were generally rebuilt to M40A1 standards, and a later upgrade is designated M40A3. The very latest is the M40A5 and is suppressor-ready. (And more recently, Unertl scopes have started to be replaced by Schmidt and Benders). The original actions soldier on but have sometimes been rebarreled many times; several premium barrel makers have supplied Quantico here.

One historic M40 action (used in Vietnam by 103-kill sniper Chuck Mawhinney) has been restored to M40 condition and is on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, not far from the epicenter of Marine sniping at the Scout Sniper School. (Apologies to the Marines for getting any of the Marine lingo not-quite-right).

The Army’s M24 was developed in the 1980s with the proven M40 as a point of departure. The Army wanted some different things, but were very cognizant of the Marines’ experience here, and it enabled a very rapid development of a world-class sniper rifle, and the fielding of thousands of them, something that could never have been done with the AMU hand-built M21 systems.

While it’s possible, barely, to acquire an ex-Army M24, the Marines have never released even a single M40 to civilian sales. However, that has not stopped a variety of firms and individual armorers from making M40 clones to the same standard and quality of the original. The M40’s lasting appeal is that it was America’s last blued, wood-stocked, bolt-action rifle, and of course, it was made legendary in Vietnam in the hands of 8541s like Mawhinney and Carlos Hathcock.

You Know You Want One

Since you can’t get an original M40, the question becomes, which of the original-ish clones suits you?

  • Probably the class of the field is Chuck Mawhinney’s own signature model, made in a limited edition of 103 guns with a Leupold Redfield clone (Leupold acquired Redfield) for $5k. (Yes, this is an expensive area of collecting to play in, friends; quite a few versions of 1/2 minute, field-durable rifle and scope are going to cost that much).

Chuck Mawhinney Signature M40

It was introduced at the SHOT Show in 2011. According to Chuck’s website, 29 are still available. Here’s an American Rifleman article on him and his rifle. The article goes into some detail about the extent to which Remington, Riflecraft, Ltd., Leupold, Badger Ordnance, and Mawhinney cooperated to make the reproduced M40:

The rifles are more faithful to the original M40 than the first Remington reproduction, right down to the clip-loading slots in the top of the action. “The clips were useless, of course, because of the scope and mount,” Mawhinney explained, “but the slots were there on the original rifle.”

  • That earlier Remington reproduction was made for the Scout-Sniper Association in 2004, and is long gone from the new market, but occasionally turns up on the auction sites. About 1,500 were made, according to that American Rifleman article. It came in a colorful box, with a certificate of authenticity and a scout-sniper coin. It did not come with a scope or rings.

Remington Repro M40 accessories

  • The SC Rifleworks M40 was another attempted clone. It had some low-visibility improvements, like an aluminum bedding block. It is no longer in production, according to Sniper Central.

SC Rifleworks M40

  • A new entrant is the M40-66, which sells for $3,395 without scope and rings. While it is supposed to be an accurate replica of the 1966 vintage M40 (hence the name), it contains a number of departures from the original. For example, there’s a Pachmayr Decelerator buttplate instead of the original’s aluminum (not steel, as the website says) one, and a different trigger guard in blackened stainless-steel. The firm, whose principals are not identified anywhere on their website, offers a 1/2 MOA accuracy guarantee, which they say is much better than the 2 MOA of the original.

M40-66

 

  • You can always search GunBroker for M40. Be forewarned that a lot of sellers put that (and M24) on auctions for any tactical’d-out Remington 700. But that’s where we found the images of the scout-sniper association replica.

Remington Repro M402

M1 Thumb, Illustrated

“It takes all kinds to make a world,” is an aphorism left behind for the benefit of mankind by our sainted grandmother. The wisdom of this saying seems more profound with each passing year. Like — the guy who demonstrated M1 thumb for the benefit of all of us, whose complete (high-speed and regular-speed) videos are available at this interesting post on The Firearm Blog, along with pictures of the gruesome aftermath.

Ow. That’ll leave a mark (and it did).

In a world dealing with Ebolavirus and Enterovirus-68, the painful but non-life-threatening malady, M1 Thumb, might seem trivial. But a lot of people nowadays, 40 years after the rifle disappeared from its last vestiges of National Guard service, are now getting an M1 without the benefit of the boot camp training on the system that their grandfathers had.

Many people think that M1 Thumb is caused by being too slow on the, well, thumb when depressing the follower of the Garand’s integral magazine to close the bolt, but that’s not really it. The M1 has a bolt hold-open, on the left side of the receiver; what will make the bolt bite is if the bolt is held back not by the proper hold-open catch, but by the follower itself. With only the follower holding the stout operating parts and their stiff spring back, depressing the follower can lead to an instant thumb that gives you all the purple of an Iraqi voter, without any of the satisfaction of having voted for someone of your own sectarian bent.

Back in the antediluvian epoch, Granddad learned this so he could do Inspection Arms with the firearm, and he usually had one slow kid in the platoon to be an excellent Bad Example Training Aid™. Go to the TFB post to see how to do it right and how to do it wrong, with helpful icons of healthy thumbs-up, and bruised thumbs-down.

Maybe some time we should run a post about Degytaryev Eye, an occupational hazard of those that would dismantle an RPD without prior instruction.

Holy Fallschirm! Original FG42 falls short… of $300k. Barely.

The standount seller at the Rock Island Auction last week was the German FG42 Type II, lot number 1465. It blew through the estimate of $160-240k and was finally knocked down at $299,000. Here’s a picture (and it does embiggen).

FG42-Right

That’s plus a buyer’s premium of 15 to 17.5% (low end is cash or wire transfer; high end, credit card). Here’s the other side for you to look at, assuming you were not the guy who took it home (or will take it home sometime in 2015 when ATF completes the Form 4) for a price higher than the average house in this country.

FG42-Left

Here’s Ian from Forgotten Weapons running it down (video courtesy RIA).

The German words Ian is groping for at about 9 minutes are Einzelfeuer (single-fire; semi-auto) and Dauerfeuer (continuous fire; full-auto). The same words that lead to the S-E-D markings on a G3.

FG42 in combat 4We would just add to Ian’s history (which is spot on) that German — and Allied — airborne forces in World War II were not just parachute forces. They also were power users of a weapon whose entire history was contained in the war and a couple of postwar years: the combat glider. This German para is in front of a DFS 230 glider (we think the picture is from the rescue of Mussolini at Gran Sasso, but it could be from the Balkans).

The glider had the signal advantage that it landed all the troops together, safely, with all their stuff. German paras particularly tended to put their stuff in bundles. The bundles hung under their Ju52 jump planes and dropped with color-coded chutes: your squad’s gear had a red chute, the other platoon had a green one, that sort of thing. The parachutes were not steerable and a German para could do little to prepare to land, as his chute made a single connection between his shoulder blades. His Parachute Landing Fall was, typically, knees->elbows->face. That’ll leave a mark, and it increased the appeal of gliders.

Apart from springing  Il Duce, the most important glider ops were a strike on the Belgian fortress Eben Emael in May 1940, and an attack on the mountain hideout of Josip Broz “Tito” in 1944. The first used the same small DFS 230 gliders and was a great success. The Yugoslavian raid used larger gliders, but their quarry slipped away.

The FG42 did not have a very large effect on these combat operations, but it was just one advantage the German para tried to have on hand (in the later ops, obviously. In Belgium and Holland they had K98k rifles, and MP38s). But it remains an important part of the German paratroop legacy.

Here’s RIA’s write up:

This is just an exceptional example of a super rare late WWII Fallschirmajagergewehr FG 42 Paratrooper Rifle, with the original issue Luftwaffe marked ZF4 sniper scope and original mount. These rifles were exceptionally unique weapons that were developed by the German engineers that was way ahead of anything that the Allies had.

This rifle design married the concept of both the basic German infantry rifle with the fully automatic “light rifle” weapon, somewhat akin to our Browning BAR and later developed further by various countries in the post-War years. Some of the more notable weapon designs that used this concept were the FN/FAL and M14 rifles, which used a full sized rifle round in both the semi-automatic and fully automatic mode.FG42-8

 

 

One of the most unique aspects of this weapon was that it fired from a “closed bolt” when shooting in the semi-automatic mode and an “open bolt” in the fully automatic mode, which aided in reducing cook-offs. Some of the other easily identified characteristics of this rifle are a horizontal 20 round box magazine, a “brass deflector” on the right rear side of the receiver, a permanently attached folding bipod, and folding front and rear sights.

These rifles were developed fairly late in WWII at the direction of Herman Goring and were specifically issued to only German Paratroopers. It is estimated that only appropriately 5000 were ever manufactured with most being destroyed after the war with very few surviving intact examples know today. This example is a mid-production Second Model that has the more horizontal grip with the bakelite grip panels and laminated buttstock and two piece wooden forend.

There is a typo in that last paragraph. This rifle, which is indeed a 2nd Model, has a more vertical grip than the 1st Model, which had metal grip surfaces.

This rifle is complete with an original WWII German “Luftwaffe” issued and marked ZF4 sniper scope, with the original scope mount/ring set. The scope is a standard ZF4 scope that has been marked with a large “L” on the left side signifying it for Luftwaffe issue. The top of the receiver of these rifles were specifically machined with a long dovetail type base designed to accept the two scope rings. The rings each have a single locking lever that allowed easy installation and removal of the scope depending on the specific combat scenario; general combat or in a limited sniping role.

The top of the receiver is marked: “fzs(the wartime code for the Krieghoff Company)/FG42/02314″. The left side of the scope is marked “Gw ZF4/57309/ddx (Voigtlander & Sohns)” with the large “L” signifying Luftwaffe issue following the standard markings. This wonderful light combat rifle has the late war green/gray phosphate finish on the receiver and barrel assembly with a blue/black painted finish on the lower trigger group/housing assembly. This exceptionally scarce rifle is complete with the original ribbed compensator on the end of the barrel which installs on the same muzzle threading as the included cup-style grenade launcher, the original folding bipod, spike bayonet and one original magazine.

Condition: Excellent with 97% plus of the original WWII combination phosphate/blue type finish with minor handling/firing wear. The scope and rings are also in excellent condition with 95% of their original finish. The wooden forend and buttstock are also in excellent condition with their nice original finish with minor handling marks from light use. A few English selector markings have been hand-added to the trigger group. Truly a super rare and very unique WWII FG 42 Paratrooper Rifle with all of the extremely rare accessories!

We’re guessing that the new owner will not be taking it to the range to blow off some Yugo 7.92 x 57 corrosive any time soon. We congratulate him on his purchase (and congratulate RIA on the ~$45k buyer’s premium, plus any sales commission, they’re getting for facilitating this sale).

FG42-2

This is an incredibly historic firearm, you see. While the FG42 didn’t change the course of a single battle in a long war, it did change the course of firearms history. The US Army Ordnance Branch became infatuated with it and copied it several ways, trying to simplify it and adapt the MG42 belt feed to the FG42 operating system and design. The result was the M60.

And the designers of the M60, if they ever knew, didn’t seem to take note of the strong resemblance the FG42 receiver, bolt, and operating rod have to those of an earlier weapon: the Lewis Gun. Our assumption is that Louis Stange, looking to make a light automatic weapon, chose the most successful light automatic weapon of World War I as his point of departure. (The FG has some Lewis DNA, but it’s a far cry from a monkey-see-monkey-do copy of its WWI ancestor. Stange added numerous features, including the innovative closed-bolt-semi, open-bolt-auto operating system).

NOTE: The preceding line originally described the operating system of the FG42 backwards. It has been corrected. Thanks to Chris W. in the comments for catching the error.

Other auction results are available in RIA’s writeup. This was a quite successful auction for them, with $11.9 million in sales.

 

Tracking Tease

Got a phone call yesterday from a friend at a range in West Virginia. Three guys including a former SF man, a former SEAL (range officer), and a dealer/gunsmith/armorer without military service cracked the box on a new TrackingPoint .300 WM rifle on a long range.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don't know yet what exact model our guys had.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don’t know yet what exact model our guys had.

Quick take-aways:

  • Best packaged gun any of them had ever seen. In the gunsmith’s experience, that’s out of thousands of new guns.
  • Favorably impressed with the quality of the gun and the optic. It “feels” robust.
  • It’s premium priced, but with premium quality. Rifle resembles a Surgeon rifle. “The whole thing is top quality all the way, no corners cut, no expense spared.” They throw in an iPad. The scope itself serves its images up as wifi.
  • First shot, cold bore, no attempt to zero, 350 meters, IPSC sized metal silhouette: “ding!” They all laughed like maniacs. It does what the ads say.
  • Here’s how the zero-zero capability works:  they zero at the factory, no $#!+, and use a laser barrel reference system to make automatic, no-man-in-the-loop, corrections. Slick.
  • The gun did a much better job of absorbing .300WM recoil than any 300WM any of them have shot. With painful memories of developmental .300WM M24 variants, that was interesting. “Seriously, it’s like shooting my .308.”
  • By the day’s end, the least experienced long-range shooter, who’d never fired a round at over 200 meters, was hitting moving silhouettes at 850 yards. In the world of fiction where all snipers take head shots at 2000m with a .308, that’s nothing, but in the world of real lead on target, it’s huge. 
  • It requires you to unlearn some processes and learn some new ones, particularly with respect to trigger control. But that’s not impossible, or even very hard.
  • They didn’t put wind speed into the system, and used Kentucky windage while placing the “tag.” This worked perfectly well.
  • An experienced sniper or long range match shooter, once he gets over the muscle memory differences, will get even more out of the TrackingPoint system than a novice, but
  • A novice can be made very effective, very fast, at ranges outside of the engagement norm, with this system.

As Porky Pig says, for now, “Ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-That’s all, folks!” But we’re promised more, soon.

Everybody is really impressed with the Tracking Point system. No TP representative was there and as far as we know this is the first report on a customer gun in the field, not some massaged handpicked gunwriter version. And as far as we know this is the first report on a customer’s experience with both experienced school-trained snipers and an inexperienced long-range shooter. The key take-away is the novice’s ringing of the 850m bell on moving targets. That’s Hollywood results without the special effects budget, and with real lead on real target. No marketing, no bullshit, just hits.

We asked about robustness. This isn’t like the ACOG you can use as a toboggan on an Afghan stairway and hold zero (don’t ask us how we know that one). But it seemed robust to the pretty critical gang shooting it Friday.

We wish Chris Kyle were here to see this. Maybe he already has!

Stand by for more on TrackingPoint, and on more on this range complex when the principals are willing to have some publicity.

Printed AR Lowers Continue to Evolve

The mainstream media have left this behind for now, although another round of ZOMG Invisible Ghost Guns!!1!!!1!! is never too far in the future, and indeed in Calfruitopia a “Ghost gun ban” bill which criminalizes build-your-own firearms is on the desk of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh er, Governor Brown. (We regret the error. They’re easily confused). But printed AR lower designs continue to evolve.

The process is largely an iterative one, driven by trial and error, with the errors exposed by testing. This photo shows you a handful of the iterations that have been tried, rejected, and improved, and tried again.

Printed Lowers

This is hardly the first time iterative engineering has been applied to this 60-year-old design. Armalite modified the prototype AR forging for greater strength where prototypes were weak, and Colt modified production receivers for greater strength where service found them vulnerable to failure (i.e. from Model 601 to Model 602 to 603, and from 603 to 703; for the last, compare the profiles of the buffer tower and front pin areas of an M16A1 and A2 lower receiver).  In just the same way that Colt reinforced the lower receiver of the M16 for greater service durability, the experimenters working with FDM plastic lowers have reinforced those same vulnerable areas (and others) to adjust for the different  properties of their material, relative to the forged 7075 aluminum alloy of the original.

Note the reinforced buffer tower and greater material thickness near the top of the control cavity.

Note the reinforced buffer tower and greater material thickness near the top of the control cavity.

Right now, they’re getting the strength back by simply beefing these areas up and changing shapes and angles to eliminate designed-in stress risers. It time, it’s possible that an arrangement of ribs or stiffeners may provide the required strength while allowing material usage and print time to be reduced again, but for right now, it looks like a lower with massive lugs in the front, a cut-off mag well, and reinforced areas along the top of the control cavity will get the job done.

mpOYpPt

We don’t have info, yet, on the performance of the FOSSCAD Vanguard in the field, but it does build in to a firearm:

jt printed lower Assembled into AR best jt printed lower Assembled into AR

JT printed lower

Another goal of the tinkerers has been to improve the buildability of the lower on ordinary, consumer-grade 3D Printers. The first working LR was printed by Have Blue on a commercial Stratasys machine that cost a king’s ransom when new. This example was printed on a DaVinci 1.0 printer, a unit  that uses 0.6 kg filament cartridges and prints only in polylactic acid (PLA) plastic. It’s made by XYZPrinting in Taiwan and is available for $500 from Amazon and other resellers. As the Amazon reviews should show you, this is a low-end printer indeed. Yet, it produces a functional Lower Receiver.

The JT Vanguard on the DaVinci print bed, with support material that is readily removed.

The JT Vanguard on the DaVinci print bed, with support material that is readily removed.

This is one genie that cannot be rebottled. The technology is marching inexorably toward greater capability: more speed, better resolution, better materials, lower cost. Luddites like California’s Governor Brown and State Senator Kevin de Leon who would ban this technology are the equivalent of the Stasi, trying to keep East Germans in line by registering typewriters lest someone express an unauthorized idea.

Even the mighty shoguns of Japan, who had power that todays power-lusting politicians can only fantasize about, could not arrest the march of technology — they could only delay it, locally, and at the cost of national weakness.

Meanwhile, while California politicians are winding up to throw their wooden shoes into the machinery, technology stays ahead of them on fleet feet — probably shot in Made-in-USA New Balances. Manufacturing’s not dead, but some states can kill it locally if they like.

All images from FOSSCAD.

UPDATE

Here’s another FOSSCAD Vanguard being printed, this time on a Printrbot (another entry level printer). And here’s the Imura Revolver, named after open-source gunsmithing’s first martyr.