Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

WOOT! Form 4’s approved.

This is a Colt 6921 M4LE that we’ve been waiting for… for a while. The ATF cashed the check in February, started counting in March, and last we talked told us to expect approval… by January. If they’d told us in March (or when we talked to them last, in September), “mid-November,” we’d have been bummed out; finding out “mid-November” is the date in mid-November, when you were expecting two more months ahead with no firearm, well,  that’s truly Wootsome.

Worked for us.

We”ve shot the gun with most of this stuff (have never seen the reflex sight, actually), but took it to war with only the KAC Rail Interface System and foregrip, the ACOG, the PEQ-2, the Surefire light, and sometimes the suppressor (also a KAC product). By 2004 or 2005, some of these items had been replaced by new gear. Note the Colt Fiberite stock. 

That’s nine months, including March and November, and indicates things may be speeding up in West-by-God-Virginia, which natives of the state (who seem drawn to infantry and SF the way Bostonians flock to signals intelligence and the judge advocate’s racket) taught us was the proper name of their mountainous home.

It’s a lot of hassle for 1.3″ of Shortness of Barrel, Rifle type, but it gives us something to put the 416 upper on occasionally while its bottom half is still… hors de combat. Maybe a Hartford vs. Oberndorf (or is it Hartford vs. Newington? We’ll have to check the paperwork) shoot-out is in the cards.

But the real purpose of this Colt is to rebuild, as nearly as transferably possible, our Afghanistan war gun from 2002-2003. There’s just one picture of it as deployed. We’re still looking for an old ACOG TA01, but we have most of the other cruft that goes on it, including (and this is just about magical) the actual stock of the actual gun, painstakingly salvaged by a friend from a pile in the trash when newer stocks arrived and instructions on the old ones were, “toss.”

It’s kind of like linking up with an old friend, again, after many years apart.

Yes, AR tech has moved on and we’ll be building a gun that will be quaint and obsolete.

M4 Carbine Improvement Timeline. Click to embiggen.

M4 Carbine Improvement Timeline. Click to embiggen.

But after over 10 years, that M4 is real-live history. (OK: recreated, Hollywood-style genuine-imitation history). Regardless, we’re excited.

Can we get a, “Woot!”?

Two views of the M4 can’t both be true

One is expressed by Tom Kratman, a science fiction author who uses an appeal to authority based on his service as some kind of support guy attached to 5th Group as an enlisted dude, and more credibly his time as an 11A (that’s an infantry officer for those of you whose brains remain undamaged by the Army encoding Tom and we have undergone). Tom retired as an infantry LTC and served as an infantry officer in combat, and you can assume he’s well experienced in the capabilities and employment of standard US weapons for the last 20+ years.

Worked for us.

Tom doesn’t like it, but it worked for us.

Tom thinks the M4 sucks like an Electrolux. That’s our paraphrase of the blog posts suspended by these click-bait headlines at some Gawker-looking lowbrow site1:

America’s Soldiers Deserve a Better Rifle

Are U.S. Soldiers Dying From Inadequate Weapons?

Go read them and see if he makes his case.

The other is expressed by firearms expert and TFB writer Nathaniel Finch, who writes in his own blog a careful and thoughtful rebuttal to Tom’s over-the-top position. In fact, he has written very nearly the article we would write, and thought about writing, when we saw Tom’s first article. Only better and more soberly. (We actually didn’t know about the second Kratman article until seeing it linked at Nate’s place).

Are U.S. Soldiers Dying From Inadequate Weapons? No.

We note that Nathaniel’s article gets a rather snippy comment from Tom, correcting him on fine points of Tom’s military service (which Nathaniel is only mistaken about because Tom has not been crystal clear to a non-Army person in his own description. In Tom’s defense it is extremely hard to encapsulate a 20- or 30-year military career in a form civilians will read and understand, let alone in the length you get in a typical online bio: one line).  And then Tom incorrectly refers to “Bennings claim that no improvement in rifles is possible,” in reference to tests that actually concluded that the particular weapons it was testing, at that time, did not offer enough improvement to justify the expense (and, don’t forget, risk) of changing weapons.

Tom knows how to a construct an argument, but he really doesn’t, he just says, I got this:

CIB Combat Infantryman Badge

Well, so do we, but that doesn’t mean we have to take long showers together.

Nathaniel responds rationally to the comment.

And then he gets a comment by some internet commando who asserts that various friendly Armies have taken the great leap forward to 1950s vintage 7.62 rifles (he’s probably misunderstanding the same nations’ adoption of limited numbers of designated marksman rifles) and that the US needs to go to the SCAR-H. As a retired member of one of the formations that received the SCARs early and used them in intensive training and combat (after my retirement!), the word I get is that it’s pretty good and the guys like it, for specific purposes (notably CQB with the short barrel). But it’s not a great leap forward over an M4. For some purposes, it’s great, but the idea of buying a million plus of them to reequip the Joes is silly… it’s a lot of money spent on a negligible improvement in capability.

(And that’s our experience. The Ragnars hated ‘em, although, we’ve heard that some old SGMs gave them to the young bucks with the instruction, “See if you can break these things.” Boy, that’s a lucky break not every private in the Regiment gets. Of course they broke them).

Right now, the M4 can hit beyond the range its average operators can, and giving them a caliber with more range isn’t going to whack any more bad guys. Some improvements in terminal ballistics would be nice. Some improvements in reliability? Any engineer will tell you that as long as initial design was not inept, getting from 90% to 98% is a slam dunk, 98 to 99.9% is a bunch of hard work, and every 9 you add to the right of the decimal point after that is going to cost you orders of magnitude more blood, sweat, tears and toil. Diminishing returns not only pounce on you, they maul you with fang and claw and leave you drained of your precious lifeblood — that is, money.

None of the would-be M4 replacements were significantly more reliable (despite internet bloviation on the subject, caused by release of an apples-v-oranges comparison). The things people are attracted to, like 7.62 NATO or a short-stroke gas system, do not meaningfully improve the weapon (except marginally in terminal ballistics). More effect would be had by going to an improved projectile and be damned to the Staff Judge Advocate — he’s enemy-forces anyway.

Until they invent the death ray or photon torpedoes or something, we’re going to be launching metallic projectiles using energy stored in solid chemicals and released by a combustion or maybe deflagration process. Yes, they can be improved, but we’re into that flattening asymptotic line… diminishing returns.

Now, on the gripping hand, some of Tom’s military science fiction is very good. He had a moving novel (or is it a novelette?) recently about the memories of a damaged and outdated sentient tank of the future as she undergoes the process of assessment and reutilization. That had a whiff of Heinlein and more than a whiff of Philip K. Dick to it, and was well worth the pittance Kindle charged for it, and the rather more-precious time expended reading it, so we’ll keep enjoying the science fiction end of Tom Kratman’s writing career, and keep reading his military weapons opinions skeptically.

Notes:

1. Gawker-looking? Well, these are the links suggested to us at the top of Tom Kratman’s author page on that site today (in fairness, these are not Tom’s own submissions, all of which have more sober military subject matter and graphics. But they illustrate the advertising-eyeballs nature of the site):

Screenshot 2014-11-18 08.13.00‘Cause nothing says military professionalism like bimbo clickbait. Really, who’s the sideboob here?

 

How to Deal with Pool Guns — for the Border Patrol

The Border Patrol has been “effectively disarmed” of its M4 carbines by its political leaders. But there’s a solution to the M4 problem.

M4_standard_accessories_delivered

But first, the problem. According to CBP leaders via Fox, it is this:

Nearly one-third of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s 16,300 M4 carbine rifles were tested by the agency’s office of training and development, which determined that more than 2,000 had the potential for malfunction. The rate of nearly 40 percent was “more than we are comfortable with,” said CBP Deputy Chief Ron Vitiello.

Is one of the problems the sheer innumeracy of Ron Vitiello? Let’s do arithmetic! To determine what percentage X is of Y, divide X by Y. So, 2000/16400 = 0.1919512… (etc). That’s about 19.2%, not 40%. Unless you’re Ron Vitiello. To put in numbers a CBP senior manager can understand, about 1 in 5 of the rifles has “the potential” for malfunction.

Dunno how to break it to you, Border Patrol. You have to plan and train as if 100% of the M4s in your hands have the potential for malfunction… because they do. Even if the gun is perfect, the ammo was made by the lowest bidder. And it would be just your luck to draw down on Carlos Cartelito just when the round under your firing pin was made one minute before quitting time on the Friday before spring break.

If there’s some proof you have a bunch of guns with a problem — CBP has never said what the problem is — it might make sense to pull some of the guns. To pull them all because one in five may have a problem is just stupid.

“Our top priority is to make sure our agents are safe,” said Vitiello, adding that the agency intends to eventually cycle through all of the rifles to ensure that those in need of repair are fixed. “They will be like new when they are refurbished.”

Again, without knowing what the problem is… out of spec parts? Unstaked carrier key? Skipped mag-release tests? Lack of metallurgical documentation on some parts batch? Without knowing that, it’s screwy and wasteful to reflexively overhaul guns when it’s likely 4 out of 5 do not need it. An M4 can last for many decades on the light duty cycle of a CBP service carbine. Ask the guys who run shooting schools and provide loaner guns how much maintenance a quality M4 really needs.

But in the meantime, Border Patrol agents are dubious about the department’s claims, given that the guns’ manufacturer, Colt, has not issued a recall. And they are vehemently opposed to “pool guns” — weapons shared by two or more agents.

“We’d like to know why the rifles were recalled and when they will be returned,” Shawn Moran, spokesman for National Border Patrol Council, the union which represents agents, told FoxNews.com. “Our agency is trying to figure out why they were pulled.”

Note that Vitielly has not answered that question, not to the media nor to the NBPC, and he may not know himself.

Moran said there is potential danger for agents relying on rifles shared with others, noting the importance of personalizing settings and having a general familiarity with a personal weapon.

“You don’t want a weapon that is zeroed in to someone else,” he said. “You don’t share guns and you don’t share needles because both could end with people dying.

It appears that they are pulling about half the carbines at a time from each Border Patrol sector, sending them to a central armorer shop that then takes its own sweet time inspecting and reissuing the guns. They don’t necessarily go back to the same sectors (let alone the same agents) that they were with before, and no information is provided to end users about what repairs or mods, if any, are made to any specific firearm.

Now, the NBPC can squawk about this if they like. But it’s not like the management is going to suddenly start giving a stool about the desires of the rank-and-file agents. So here’s a little checklist from a guy who’s built a gun or two, and inspected a vast quantity (the civilized way of saying a Whole $#!+load) of them.

How To Deal with Pool Guns (When You Must)

  1. First, stop bitching. You’re not going to change DC’s policy; no matter how retarded Nebraska Avenue gets, they’re still in charge. So work to minimize their damage to your operations and reduce the risk bad leadership at higher level has imposed on your agents.
  2. Don’t have armorers do these things. You, as leader, do these things.  In a few minutes you’ll be putting toe tags on your guns. These tags should have your name clearly legible, and the date of inspection or test: that tells your guys and gals you are standing behind their firearms. This builds confidence in the rifle — and in you.
  3. Function check the weapons you have. Dummy rounds should cycle. Mags should drop free (empty or loaded!) and it should be impossible to shake them free (empty or loaded!) no matter how vigorously you try. Triggers should reset and fire on Fire. Nothing should happen on Safe. You can find a function check in the GI M4 manual, or on YouTube if you’re dyslexic. Toe tag the weapon: Function Test. 15 Nov 2014. PASS. John Doe, SSA (or whatever).
  4. Range test the weapons you have. A mag each is fine. As we understand it, CBP’s carbines are not select fire, but if they are, test safe, semi, and burst or auto settings. Add the following to the toe-tag on the weapon: Live-FIre Test. 15 Nov 2014. PASS. John Doe, SSA (or whatever). If a gun fails, downcheck it and turn it in. It’s better to know you’re a gun short than to be a gun short and not know it.
  5. Install an Aimpoint Red Dot optic on each firearm. Why?
    1. A red-dot zero is far more transferable from one agent to another than an iron-sight or cross-hair scope video;
    2. A red-dot sight is simple and instinctive, reducing training time;
    3. A red-dot sight is perfect for 99th-percentile Law Enforcement engagement distances;
    4. A red-dot sight’s battery will last a full year between inspections easily; and
    5. Aimpoint brand holds up on quality and durability scores, and it’s already approved and in the system. (Get an NVG compatible version if you have or are likely to get NODs. If no NODs are in your future, don’t waste Uncle’s money).
  6. Have your best marksmen zero the M4s with the Aimpoints. An individual zero is not a big factor here, contrary to range-god shibboleths. This is a service rifle, not a talisman to Aton the Sun Disk (may he smile upon your X-Ring always, but let’s keep Him out of rifle maintenance), and we just got through telling you the red dot is transferable. Add the following to the toe-tag on the weapon: Zeroed Point-Blank 100m (or whatever). 15 Nov 2014. Jane Roe, Special Agent (or whoever your best shot is).

Now, you still only have half the long guns you need for your agents to be comfortable facing the cartel sicarios or other long-gun-armed malefactors. And when you get the other half back is  entirely out of your control, but depends on some payroll patriots somewhere else who don’t answer to you. But you have done everything you could to arm your agents, demonstrated you give a rat’s rump about them, and cut off a potential morale problem a-borning.

Now it’s time for the pep talk. Tell them what you did and what they can expect. Make sure they understand that they are now better armed that the cartel enforcers with weapons that are proven reliable and that will put a bullet where the red dot is. They’ll still complain, but fixing that is beyond the scope of this blog.

One last comment:

Jeff Prather, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who now runs the Warrior School…. [and] who used the M4 throughout his law-enforcement career, said the weapon is “very robust” and that any issues found in the Border Patrol inspections are likely simple fixes.

“All you need to do is pull out the old firing pin and put in the new one and the rifle is ready to go,” he said.

Vitiello said that may be the case, but the work must be done by a specialist.

“It may be easy to replace a firing pin, but these are things that should be done by a professional,” he said.

Horsefeathers. Don’t be too awed by armorers; they’re simple gun plumbers. An M4 is not a Saturn V Moon Booster. Most every manufacturer1 certifies armorers in two days or less of training, and the benefit of experience is an asymptote: returns for more training and experience start diminishing almost immediately.

via Border Patrol agents say agency’s gun recall puts them in danger | Fox News.

Notes

1. For example, Colt’s LE Armorer course is three training days and 23.5 training hours, but covers multiple rifles and carbines. Bushmaster, two days and 15 hours; Sig-Sauer, 1 day; and we could cite many others if the post weren’t already late!

No Easy Day, the Rifle

We received the following advert in the mail. Posted without extensive comment. It doth embiggen with a click:

ned-4

More information, and sales, at this link.

The promised non-extensive comments:

The carbine is made by USM4, which has a dope deal with the Special Forces Association (which is what the Special Forces Outdoors store is, a store where proceeds in part support this fraternal org for former and current Special Forces members). Obviously USM4 and the SFA have cut some kind of dope deal with Mark Bissonnette (aka Owen) as well.

The carbine seems extremely pricey, but it comes as a complete package. The description of all the included goodies is missing from that ad above, but it’s on the website, and we’ll reproduce it here:

Each No Easy Day Special Missions Carbine rifle package is supplied complete with all components installed including a Geissele SSA trigger, Magpul stock and vertical foregrip, Ergo pistol grip, Centurion rail with matching rail covers, AAC flash hider permanently pinned, Surefire M600U weapons sight, L3/EOTech HSS I Holographic weapon sight/G33 magnifier, two Magpul QD sling mounts, two Magpul 30-round magazines, Princeton Tec Remix Pro LED headlamp, Viking Tactics wide padded MK2 sling, and an autographed and serialized ‘No Easy Day’ hardcover book. The package is available in black or digital desert camo finish. Optional equipment ordered with package will be supplied in matching black or camo/tan finish where available.

There’s a typo in that description (the Surefire M600 is a weapons light, not a weapons sight), but if you look you’ll see that that’s a pretty comprehensively equipped rifle. In fact, that laundry list of goodies doesn’t mention that the set comes in a Pelican case (but it does). The Geissele SSA is the semi-auto version of the trigger Geissele provides to certain SOF elements.

Now, how you feel about Mark “Owen” and his decision not to submit his book for prior review (which would, almost certainly, have spiked the book; there’s one set of rules for suits and admirals, and another set for guys whose war involves discharging firearms), will probably color how you feel about this carbine. Given its high price we expect it to be a relative rarity, but it’s unlikely to be a wise investment (bear in mind what we’ve said about guns as investments). In the long run (20 years +) we expect it to appreciate, but probably not when measured in constant dollars or relative to other possible uses of the money.

Update: Further Description of the Kit

Introducing the ‘No Easy Day’ Special Missions Carbine (SMC), engineered to fulfill the demanding requirements of military combat and designed from the ground up by Mark Owen, conceived at the ‘Tip of the Spear’ during his 14-year career as a U.S. Navy SEAL. The No Easy Day SMC is a complete system, developed with the unique knowledge and experience Owen gained from hundreds of special operations missions. Every component of the No Easy Day SMC has been hand-selected by Mark and the rifle is built and assembled to his exact specifications. Everything you need in a package built for action, at a price you can afford.

The USM4 SMC is a strictly limited production rifle destined to become part of history, born out of direct experience at the front line of America’s defense against terrorism. This is your once-in- a-lifetime opportunity to secure a truly military-grade weapon system, in the configuration personally specified by Mark Owen as his rifle of choice for any special combat mission. “The No Easy Day SMC is simply the finest complete weapon system available,” says Mark Owen. “I would have carried this SMC on any one of my combat deployments.”

Comprised of Mil-Spec all-US-made components by premium manufacturers, the SMC features a Colt SOCOM upper and barrel mated to a USM4 billet lower receiver etched with the No Easy Day logo. Equipped with a Geissele SSA trigger, Magpul furniture, Ergo grip and Centurion rail, the SMC is completed with the L3/ EOTech HSS I Holographic Weapons Sight with matching G33 magnifier, Surefire M600U Ultra Scout Light, AAC Blackout flash hider/QD 51T suppressor mount, and a Princeton Tec Remix Pro LED headlamp, the item of equipment Owen would not go on a mission without. A custom- cut Pelican 1750 hard case houses the complete system.

Every system sold includes a personally autographed copy of Mark’s book, “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden”, serialized to match the rifle serial number.

This limited edition package includes special offers to obtain optional tactical combat equipment including a civilian version of the L3/Insight APTPIAL-C AN/PEQ-15 Advanced Target Pointer/ Illuminator/Aiming laser with both visible and IR lasers; a TNVC/Sentinel Binocular Night Vision System; an AAC M4-2000 Suppressor (subject to NFA regulations); and an Ops-Core FAST Base Jump military helmet. The Pelican case is supplied with cut- outs ready to accept all this optional equipment.

IN OUR CONTINUING EFFORT TO SUPPORT A COMMUNITY THAT HAS ALREADY DONE SO MUCH, A PORTION OF THE PROCEEDS FROM THE SALE OF EVERY SMC PACKAGE WILL BE DONATED TO THE SPECIAL FORCES ASSOCIATION AND THE SPECIAL OPERATIONS CARE FUND.

To this we’d add, why not a SEAL charity? We have been advised that “Owen’s” attempts to donate proceeds to various frogman charities have been rebuffed, in the light of his OPSEC violations. (We initially typed OOPSec, which might have been a Freudian typo).

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Art of the Rifle

art of the rifle analysisArt of the Rifle was sent to us by a friend who, like so many of us, constantly strives to improve. He noted that our recent W4, Precision Rifle Blog, was great. “Data-driven just the way we like it. And if you like that, you must like Art of the Rifle, right?”

“Sure, the book by Jeff Cooper. It’s a little dated now…”

“No, knucklehead. The blog.” So we hunted up the blog he was referring to. He liked the pseudonymous owner’s near-obsessive data collection and organization. We’ll show some examples of that momentarily.

What does the author say about his blog?

In May of 2011 I decided to begin documenting my progress in rifle shooting via a blog. Being extremely curious as to the finer points of using a rifle, and not being able to find information about that kind of stuff online, I decided to learn it and fill the information gap myself. I hope that what I do here will provide useful information or a source of some interest to you.

via About | Art of the Rifle.

To us, and perhaps to the friend who tipped us off, the most interesting part of the blog was his recent one-year attempt to hit a remarkably practically-opriented goal:

Develop the ability to hit an uncooperative moving target, no greater than 4” in diameter, inside of 200 yards at known or unknown distance, on demand, regardless of terrain, conditions, stress, tiredness, fatigue, or time constraints.

He analyzed ten different shooting positions, documenting things that are “common knowledge” (such as, a supported position is superior to unsupoported) but providing a quantitative measure of exactly how superior it is.

art of the rifle chartAt the end of his year, he posted comprehensive data (see the chart on the right for an example) and a rather bleak, but refreshingly honest, conclusion:

My actual performance in hitting the 4″ target is nowhere near my goal. It was humbling to see the results on a stationary target. It is much better to be informed than to be ignorant and to believe in capabilities that one does not actually possess.

Anybody trying that hard to get better at shooting is going to get better. Not without difficulties, plateaus, and reversals, but he’s going to get better, and if your personality is suited for his style of analytic approach, you can learn things at his blog that will help you get better.

Other parts of the blog we found very valuable are

  • the “Reading,” or sources/enrichment page, with both blogs and books referenced (indeed, Cooper’s classic Art of the Rifle makes an appearance here, suggesting that the blog’s name is inspired).
  • The Reference Section, which gathers key information and posts from the Art of the Rifle blog into a single page.

Enjoy this week’s Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week, then, Art of the Rifle Blog.

No, really, the SKS is “the Next Garand?”

A headline to that effect — actually in the form of a question — at Shotgun News nearly made us throw something. In which ate-up worldview, on which backwards planet, and in which topsy-turvy, mixed-up, tossed-up, never-come-down belief system is the SKS the next Garand? One of them was a US service rifle for almost 40 years (the National Guard went direct from Garands to M-16s), a frontline service rifle for 21-24 of those years (1936-57/60), has combat cred from two victorious wars, and was described by a legendary (if hyperbolic) general as “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” In addition, it dominated High Power and Service Rifle target shooting for decades, too, even after the M14 and M16 replaced it in the services’ rifle racks. Indeed, the article hits most of these M1 high points. Meanwhile, the SKS had a mere flash-in-the-pan period as a frontline service rifle in Russia, and was even the second banana in its one great war (the Vietnam conflict, where the preferred NVA weapon was always the AK).

Well, SGN’s Keith Wood was looking for a provocative title, and he sure as hell found one. But as we read the article, our seething subsided. Wood wasn’t dinging the M1, and he was talking instead about something where the SKS seems to be emulating the Garand — market appeal. The Garand was for years in very good supply vis-a-vis demand, thanks to the production of millions; but now the limited (if high) production and survival rates are having an impact, as a constraint on supply; ergo, prices rise. Wood thinks that SKSes may see similar price rises, perhaps not soon, but sooner or later. Here’s the crux of his argument:

When I began hitting gun shows with my dad back in the late 1980s, I recall seeing crates of new SKSs, still in cosmoline, for sale at a mere $79 per rifle ($75 if you bought the entire crate). I don’t recall the country of origin of those rifles, but I believe that they were Chinese Type 56s. Even though I probably had the money in my pocket from working odd jobs, the old man wouldn’t let me take one home — “junk” he said (he has one now). Today, a Chicom SKS will run you north of $300. Even adjusted for inflation, the price has more than doubled in those 25 years. “Surplus is drying up” Jacob Herman at Century Arms International told me when I inquired about the overseas availability of rifles such as the SKS. As fewer guns become available, prices will climb — thus, $300+ SKSs.

Though over 6 million Garands were built, not all of them stayed in the U.S. to be sold as surplus. Garands were shipped to armies all over the world where they have sat in warehouses since later designs were adopted by the armies of those nations. For decades, the best place to purchase a Garand has been through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) — many CMP Garands were sourced from these overseas stockpiles. CMP Garands start at $595 today, and wait times are as long as 9 months. If you don’t want to wait for a CMP rifle, you can buy one off the used market, but be prepared to pay closer to $1000 for a serviceable example. With an executive order preventing many overseas M1s from being re-imported by the CMP, that price is certain to rise further as supplies diminish. Garands are fairly expensive today, but they weren’t inexpensive rifles when they were brand new. The $85 price tag that the Department of War paid for the M1 in the 1940s calculates to almost $1400 in today’s dollars, which means that Garands are actually less expensive today than they were seven decades ago. There was a time though, that Garands were dirt cheap. During the 1950s and 60s, M1 Garands and Carbines were available as surplus for less than the U.S. government paid for them in the 40s. Relatively speaking, the Garand was as available and inexpensive in those days as the SKS was in our recent past.

The heart of the matter is pure economics. You have two rifles that were produced in seemingly endless numbers and sold as surplus for a song. As supplies constrict due to natural or regulatory factors, prices rise. We’ve seen it with Mausers, ’03 Springfields, M1 Carbines, Garands and, yes, even SKSs. Barring unforeseen supplies or future policy changes that will flood the U.S. market with old military rifles, we will see prices of all surplus arms continue to climb. At some point, we’ll likely look back at even today’s high prices longingly as ‘the good ole days.’

We note that SKS prices have already dropped once: when they were allowed to be imported in the 1980s, pent-up demand was quickly sated. Those collectors that had paid handsomely for Vietnam bringbacks (up to $1000) suddenly were looking at the same gun, merely import-marked, with a $139 retail price (or even lower, as Wood noted). If investment is part of your gun-collecting plan, that’ll leave a mark, and the market is always subject to such fluctuations and corrections.

But before you make investment part of your gun-collecting rationale, we have some bad news for you.

A Firearm is Seldom a Wise Investment

Unless your alternative is something like hookers and blow, firearms are generally a rotten investment, and that’s the inner MBA talking, not the gun geek. (The MBA is the one you want to listen to at investment time). Some firearms appear to have appreciated well, when in fact they’ve merely held their value or appreciated slowly. For example, take a nice Winchester-made Garand purchased in 1978 for $600. Today it’s worth $1500. It was originally purchased by the War Department, Wood notes, for $85 (a lot of money, in 1945). So it looks at a glance like the value has more than doubled since ’78, and grown almost 20-fold since its manufacture.

But that makes a common error — it fails to account for the time value of money. And it makes another error — it fails to account for inflation. On inflation grounds alone, firearms are a weak investment. Here’s that M1 Garand example, and a 1980 and 1988 SKS examples to go with it:

Appreciation Original Values 2014 Values
Rifle Year Value …of Gun …of Cash (CPI) …of Cash (Invested) Inflation Factors
Winchester Garand 1978 $650 $1,400 $2,373 $9,744 The gun appreciated, but not in real-dollar terms. In 1978 dollars, the Garand is now worth $384! The Invested column is based on the S&P 500 Compound Annual Growth Rate, adjusted for inflation.NOT adjusted, the results are: $36,569.
Chinese SKS, non import marked 1980 $450 $350 $1,300 $6,597 Investment? You lose money, compared to simply holding even with inflation. In 1980 dollars, this VN bringback SKS is worth $91.50 Not adjusted for inflation, S&P 500 returns $20,048.
Chinese SKS, import marked 1988 $130 $250 $375 $867 In constant 1988 dollars, this gun is about a wash at $124.25.You still would have done better in the S&P 500. Not adjusted, $1,751.
©2014 WeaponsMan.com

The basic calculators we used are the Inflation Calculator at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the stock-market Compound Annual Growth Rate Calculator at MoneyChimp.com.

If you play with these calculators until you understand them, you can save yourself a lot of money on graduate school. Even sophisticated investors often fall into the trap of working in floating rather than constant dollars. (If you want to know how much a gun you bought in 1980 has appreciated, you must figure the appreciation in either 1980 or 2014 dollars, or you’re working with inconstant units and will get a pleasant, but false, number).

Likewise, time value of money is a hard concept to internalize. It’s a measure of opportunity cost; it’s what potential for that money you lose when you invest it in, say, an SKS. You can’t put the same dollar into your brokerage account and your gun safe.

As you can see, an investment in an S&P 500 index fund beats almost any tangible personal property or collector’s item. Most small investors try to pick individual stocks, and wind up not doing as well as an index fund.

However, not everyone has the discipline to invest in an index fund and keep their jeezly mitts off the money for two or three decades. If you are THAT guy (or gal), a safe full of firearms is a sort of forced savings; guns, if maintained, lose their value much less rapidly than other items like cars or home remodeling, and don’t lose all value the way consumption items like jewelry, electronics or vacations do.

Here’s an AR training aid of sorts

We have our doubts as to whether an injection-molded plastic part, even one with brass inserts, will be serviceable as a practical AR-15 lower. Even the manufacturer says so. (Yes, we now you can build a lower out of anything, but even the forged-aluminum-alloy originals wound up benefiting from reinforced pivot pin receiver bosses and a beefier buffer tower). But just for showing off how an AR trigger mechanism works, they’re the cat’s ass!

unpolished ghost gun receiver

We are proud to offer our Clear Stripped Lower Receiver we are calling the “Ghost Gun.” This lower is made as a training tool and product showcase model that is usable but is not designed for the rugged use that our fiber-reinforced Nylon models are. We designed this model to showcase trigger and internal function for teaching and industry usage. This receiver is made from a UV stabilized Nylon that is highly resistant to oils and lubricants. It also weighs in at 3.6oz ( the lightest receiver that has ever been made) Any high quality parts kit can be installed but minor fitting might be required.

flame poliched ghost gun receiverThe manufacturer, Tennessee Arms Co. LLC, offers the “ghost” receiver for under $60; a flame-polished version, which makes the surface of the plastic smooth and clear, is an extra $10, or you can do it yourself with a propane torch (and a great deal of caution). Or you can use the receiver in its standard, translucent mode (seen in the image at top).

Another good use might be to show off different AR triggers on a shop counter.

Because it is a complete receiver, it must ship to an FFL (or export in accordance with law). They do reiterate the warning about durability on their sales page:

This receiver is only intended as a teaching tool and for product showcase. If regular hard use is intended please purchase one of our Fiber-Reinforced Nylon models.

via Ghost Gun- Clear Stripped Lower Receiver – Tennessee Arms Company, LLC.

Along with the clear receiver, which they say is a clear aliphatic polyamide (Nylon), TN Arms also makes opaque receivers of other nylon polymers. Nylon has a long history in firearms; the first mass-produced plastic receiver was nylon (the Remington Nylon 66), as are Glock receivers.

The injection molding of the receiver seems to have been quite a challenge, with two brass or bronze inserts, limited draft, and areas that have to be cored, including the magazine well, trigger pocket, and mag release pockets, to name a few. We’d like to see that mold! (And we wouldn’t like to pay the bill for it!)

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.