Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Soviet* SEALs Stay Strapped while Submerged

Underwater AK2If you’ve been used to carrying a gun every day, you hate being without one, but frogmen have long had to either go without, or use special underwater weapons. The reason is the fundamental difference between aero- and hydro-dynamics: weapons efficient in the air are much less so in the denser medium, water. Weapons efficient underwater are hopelessly compromised on the surface. A number of unsatisfactory options for the combat swimmer include: just carrying a knife for undwerwater action; having two separate weapons; doing without armament during the underwater phase; training to bring a handgun into contact with an underwater opponent.

Underwater AKFor quite a few years Russia has been working on a single multipurpose sub- and surface gun, which would allow them to retire their special purpose underwater weapons, like the smoothbore APS (which looks like an AK with a footlong magazine, because it’s basically an AK that fires footlong underwater spears) and a variety of pistols. While specialist publications and blogs have followed the development of the bullpup AK ADS since 2007, it’s making a splash (no pun intended) now because it was the Tula Instrument Design Bureau’s featured display at a Moscow arms trade show. To make sure you got the idea, Tula displayed it in an aquarium.

The gun uses two different kinds of 5.45mm ammo, one for limited-range underwater engagements, and one the conventional, standard Russian infantry round. As the frogman changes mediums, he changes magazines, and he’s good to hook. The rifle appears to be a bullpup AK with a  few modern updates — a Picatinny rail and a 40mm grenade launcher (not the old 30mm one, although this one works on the same principles as the old one). An older Wikipedia entry has the photo of an earlier iteration that you see below (it’s expandable with a click). From this we can learn that the ADS:

  • Uses a standard AK-74 magazine;
  • is available in a suppressed version (using this at the same time as the GL, though, appears to be a Hollywood impossibility; the suppressor casing intrudes into the firing line of the grenades);
  • Has a Glock-style trigger safety that we believe to be a first among Russian weapons;
  • Appears to have rather short-radius iron sights built in;
  • Does have the P-rail on the carrying handle, which is the sincerest form of flattery perhaps, but kind of 1990;
  • Appears to have an adjustable gas system;
  • Appears to have a non-reciprocating, left-hand or possibly selectably-ambidextrous, non-cycling charging handle, and,
  • Appears to have, apart from changes required by the long trigger, classic AK lockwork, judging from the position of the pins in the receiver.  This implies selective fire, with a trigger, dual disconnector, and hammer system on the same general principles used in the M1 Garand and AR-15.


There’s been a lot of media coverage of the new gun, which must please the marketing department. To us, the best general-media coverage (because it’s got the most technical information!) is this story and video at Russia Today. (If we haven’t munged the code, the video is embedded below).

Designed by Russia’s Tula Instrument Design Bureau the ‘ADS’ gun can shoot underwater using a special cartridge, which in size is suitable for the standard magazine case Kalashnikov assault rifle.  To fire under water or on land, one only needs to replace the magazine of the 5.45 millimeter automatic rifle.

“Until now underwater fighters were compelled to use two types of weapon – for use under water and the Kalashnikov for overland firing. Now it is only necessary to replace the ammunition magazine,” Nikolay Komarov, head of department of foreign economic relations of the manufacturer in Tula told

The ‘ADS’ is also equipped with a 40 mm grenade launcher. Developers believe that its effectiveness and accuracy are comparable if not greater than the legendary AK-47m.

“The main feature of it is that the fire can be carried out both under water and on land. Currently, no country in the world has been developing such machine guns, they are developing only underwater guns,” a representative of the developer told Ria.

The weight of the machine gun with the grenade launcher is approximately 4.6 kg. The ‘ADS’ uses bullets of 5.45х39 mm at a firing rate of 800 shots/min with the aim range on a land of 500 m.

The rifle’s effective firing range underwater when using a specially designed cartridge is about 25 meters at a depth of 30 meters and 18 m at a depth of 20 m. The new underwater cartridge is externally very similar to standard 5.45×39 ammunition except for a different specially calculated bullet shape. The bullet length is 53.5 mm compared to an overall cartridge length of 57mm.

As compared to the Soviet underwater assault rifle APS that was designed back in 1970s, the new ADS is no less efficient when firing on land than a traditional Kalashnikov. Firing 5.66 mm caliber steel bolts, the APS with its non-rifled barrel is somewhat inaccurate on land. Out of water the APS’s lifetime was only 180 shots with an effective range of around 50 meters.

via Underwater ‘Kalashnikov': Russia showcases first ever efficient amphibious assault rifle — RT News.

Now that’s really a “sub” gun!

The new gun was displayed at an international arms fair in Moscow, Interpolitex, which has separate expo halls for cop gear, unmanned vehicle technology, physical and border security, and military equipment.

As we mentioned, it’s been around for a while, and The Firearms Blog has covered the gun’s special-purpose ammunition before, and linked to a Russian-language report with further video on the gun. (UPDATE: From the TFB report, the round appears to be a saboted, possibly fin-stabilized, penetrator and the case appears to be rebated rather than rimless. There’s more info on the ammunition at — linked below). From this we learn that the acronym ADS stands for “Avtomat Dvukhsredny Spetsialny,” which meatball-translates to “dual-medium special assault rifle.” We also learn what the Russian word for “bullpup” is:

(This post has been edited to correct the invisible video. You should now have a working video window above. We regret the error).

It occurs to us that Maxim Popenker has to be all over this development, and sure enough he has been, and his page has excellent detail on the history and development of the ADS, including pictures of an earlier developmental version that shot the APS’s foot-long speargun darts, and a patent-filing image of the normal-length underwater ammo, and an explanation that it’s actually quite different from an AK:

They used the A-91M bullpup assault rifle as a starting point, retaining its bullpup layout, gas operated action with rotary bolt locking and forward ejection through the short tube running above and to the right of the barrel. Some parts of the weapon were necessarily redesigned and materials revised to work reliably when submerged in water, gas system was modified with addition of the environment selector (“air / water”). Integral 40mm grenade launcher (which fires VOG-25 type ‘caseless’ grenades using additional front trigger inside the trigger guard) is fitted with removable barrel which can be removed when it is not needed by the mission profile. Muzzle of the barrel is threaded to accept muzzle brake / compensator, tactical silencer or blank-firing adapter.

That brief snippet does not do Max’s reportage justice; go there and Read The Whole Thing™.  Max’s pages on the A-91/A-91M and its non-bullpup forerunner the 9A-91 may also be of interest. Here is some information on the mechanism of the 9A-91:

The 9A-91 rifle is a gas operated, rotating bolt weapon, which utilizes a long stroke gas piston, located above the barrel, and a rotating bolt with 4 lugs. The receiver is made from steel stampings; the forend and pistol grip are made from polymer. The steel buttstock folds up and above the receiver when not in use. The charging handle is located on the right side of bolt carrier (it was welded solid on early production guns, or can be folded up on current production guns). The safety / fire selector lever was located at the left side of the receiver on early guns, but was since relocated to the right side, to clear space for the sight mounting rail. Safety / fire selector lever has 3 positions and allows for single shots and full automatic fire.

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 12.34.09 PMHere’s a picture of the right side of the ADS, somewhat crudely snipped from the Russian video above, with part of the selector visible at far left. You can see another reason we think the lockwork is AK-derivative. Without an ADS to examine, or maybe a .pdf manual (hook us up, Rosoboronexport, willya?) we can only speculate, of course. It does make us want to get our hands on one.

* Yes, they’re not Soviets any more, but we were going for the alliteration — and Mr Putin does seem to forget that from time to time.

An M1 Garand with a Japanese Accent (Galand?)

We’re so going to hell for that title. But we couldn’t resist.

Here’s a bare teaser of a video from the NRA’s National Firearms Museum. We’ve never been there, but a friend who often visits raves about it. Here’s a teaser they did of one of their guns:

People often ask why the US was unique in fielding semi-auto weapons nearly universally in World War II. The only other nation that had tried to go semi-auto, Russia, retreated to bolt-action simplicity until the war was won. (In 1945, they finally introduced a practical and reliable semi-auto, the SKS-45, only to replace it within a few years with the AK, which hit mass production in the early fifties). Germany supplemented its Mausers with semi-autos, just like they supplemented their equine transport with trucks, but in 1945 the Wehrmacht was still mostly horse-drawn and bolt-action.

Japanese Type 5

Japanese Type 5 semi-auto rifle in 7.7 x 58mm. This one is worth embiggening.

In Japan, they had good bolt-action rifles and decent light and heavy machine guns. One wonders how the decision to copy the American M1 Rifle was taken, and suspects it was something like Smith & Wesson’s then-CEO’s ill-starred response to Glock: “Copy the mother******!”

The Japanese Type 5 (sometimes called the Type 4) was made in small numbers. Unlike most late-war Japanese guns, surviving examples like the minty one in the Museum seem to be well-machined and carefully-finished. As you can see, the Japanese didn’t just reverse-engineer the Garand, they adapted it to Japanese training and logistics.

Dig that crazy tangent sight. And note the foreign contours of the receiver.

Dig that crazy tangent sight. And note the foreign contours of the receiver, and the stripper clip guide.

The most obvious adaptation is the 10-round, Mauser-style magazine which is loaded by two ordinary 7.7mm five-round stripper clips, a standard item in Imperial Japanese Army and Navy logistics. The receiver looks very similar, but its contours and dimensions are changed to accommodate the magazine of 10 7.7 x 58 rounds, the stripper clip guide, and Japanese machining methods. The stock shows some Japanese style, constructed of two pieces of wood joined below the beltline of the butt, and showing finger grooves in the forearm. And the rear sight’s classically Japanese, a Mauser-style tangent sight coupled with a small, high-accuracy-potential peep-type aperture. Japan’s other sighting feature was a ladder sight with an aperture of its own that coexisted with the tangent sight, and sometimes included folding lead-estimation bars for estimating lead on aircraft; we’ve never seen this on a Type 5. Few Type 5s were made (estimates range from 100 to 250), and still fewer survive (single digits). The weapon shown here is in the National Firearms Museum and is the most commonly-photographed survivor.

The NFM has a page on the Japanese long arms of World War II, which includes more photographs of this elegant gun.

What’s a “Shrouded” Bolt Carrier?

And why do you want it?

This picture should answer the first question. (We don’t know the original source; if it’s yours please advise and we’ll give you credit and a link). And to explain what-all you’re seeing, and answer the second question, we have to teach youse guys some history.

(The Image has been removed, after the copyright owner identified himself in comments and asked us to do so. We have sent him a message seeking permission to restore the image (or a similar one) with appropriate credit to him, Randall Rausch, and his site, We regret the inconvenienceto you, our readers,  but we’re sure you also want to respect his rights). 

The original Armalite AR-10 and AR-15 were never designed to be semiautomatic rifles: from day one they were intended to be select-fire weapons, which was the global military preference of the 1950s, while these guns were in the earliest stages of development.

When Colt modified the AR-15 design to create a semiautomatic Sporter (which went to market in the mid-1960s as the AR-15 SP1), the ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch wanted Colt to make a weapon that was not readily converted back to rock n’ roll, and that did not accept full-auto parts. And Colt took a belt-and-braces approach, modifying many parts of the gun compared to the M16 and XM16E1/M16A1 being produced for government contracts. (The sporter rifles did not cut into military production as much as you might think, because Colt used the sporter program to salvage parts that had been running-changed on the military production line, like 601 style lower-receiver forgings). The parts that Colt modified included:

  • Lower receiver. A 601-style forging with no retaining-pin-spring boss (the feature retro-AR heads call a “partial fence”) was used. The pivot pin location and size was changed. The pivot pin was replaced with a screw. The shelf area was not milled out enough to allow insertion of the auto sear, and the auto sear pin hole was not drilled. Some Sporters used oversize trigger and hammer pins, and so were machined to suit. Later changes to the forging and machining of the military lower, such as the full fence (guard boss around the magazine release) and machining for an increased pivot angle, were not made to the Sporter lower for a very long time. The engraving was different, including Safe and Fire instead of Safe, Semi and Auto on the left of the lower.
  • Trigger. The trigger was modified so that the disconnector from a select-fire or burst-fire firing mechanism could not fit into it. what was an open channel in the back “leg” of the selective-fire gun’s trigger was closed off.
  • Disconnector. Its tail was cut short so that it could fit in the slot of the semi-auto trigger.
  • Hammer. The auto hook was removed, and a notch was introduced, the purpose of which is (1) to prevent the hammer riding the firing pin down if the disconnector fails, and secondarily, (2), to jam the gun if an M16 firing pin is installed.
M16 hammer left, AR-15 SP1 hammer to the right. The hook on the upper right end of the M16 hammer engages the auto sear. The notch on the upper left corner of the SP1 jhammer is intended to produce collar lock.

M16 hammer left, AR-15 SP1 hammer to the right. The hook on the upper right end of the M16 hammer engages the auto sear. The notch on the upper left corner of the SP1 hammer is intended to produce collar lock.

  • Selector. The selector was modified so that it had no Auto fire position, and could not be turned beyond the Semi position (labeled Fire on semi-auto guns).
  • Bolt Carrier. Two areas of the BC were radically milled on Colt semi BCs. The cylindrical section of the distal end of the BC, which acted in a select-fire gun to trip the auto sear, was milled off, leaving the BC significantly lighter and with a C-section rather than O-section in that area. And the area behind and beneath the firing pin — the “shroud” — was milled away. This was to allow the hammer notch and firing pin retaining collar to make contact and produce “collar lock” if an oversize firing pin is installed.
  • Firing pin. The semi and auto firing pin are identical except for the dimension of the retaining collar that contacts the firing pin retaining pin. The semi-auto pin is specified at .330″, and the military one was .370″. However, Colt parts during this period can be far out of spec, as much as two-hundredths out. Also aftermarket firing pins show signs of eyeball reverse-engineering; they are seldom machined to the Colt dimensions, and can have collars as large as .400″! The small firing pin collar in the semi-auto gun prevents unnecessary collar lock; installing a larger-collared firing pin risks it. Remember that collar lock if the disconnector fails is a good thing, because it prevents a runaway gun; collar lock without disconnector failure is pathological.
  • Upper receiver. The upper receiver of the SP1 was designed and machined for the pivot screw and can’t be made to adapt to a mil-spec lower without some kind of adapter or modification. (Silver-soldering a 7075 rod in place and redrilling the hole to the correct location and dimensions works, but the solder will not take anodizing). When the Army insisted on the superfluous bolt forward assist on its M16 variant (creating the XM16E1, later M16A1), the sporters remained “slick-sided” for many years.

The parts that Colt modified more than met ATF’s requirements, and since then, ATF has relaxed somewhat on the idea of M16 parts in AR-15s.

In more recent years, bolt carriers tend to be one of three designs:

Three common types of AR bolt carriers:

Three common types of AR bolt carriers, from top to bottom: (1) SP1 type semi bolt carrier group; (2) partially cut-down semi bolt carrier group; (3) M16 style full-auto bolt carrier group.

The creation of collar lock was only necessary in the light of over-fulfilling the ATF requirement to make ARs hard to convert to full-auto; since ATF has ruled that M16 bolt carrier group parts in a semi AR are not ipso facto a machine gun in the absence of any M16 or unmodified fire control group parts, for most builders the best answer for reliability is to use an M16 style fire control group (#1 in the image above). A full collar, semi group like #2 is also good. It has the region of the carrier which trips the auto sear removed, but retains the firing pin shroud. If you must use a Colt or other carrier like #3, be mindful of firing pin collar size and the fact that most aftermarket pins will not function properly without modification. (It’s a decent “beginner’s first lathe job” to turn a firing pin collar down, but the material is stainless steel and tough to cut).

So what can go wrong if you mismatch parts with an open, unshrouded bolt carrier? As we said above, “collar lock if the disconnector fails is a good thing, because it prevents a runaway gun; collar lock without disconnector failure is pathological.” And collar lock is an extreme example of something going wrong, and you’re very unlikely to see it. (We’ve only seen one instance in the wild, and we’ve watched literally millions of M16, M4 and AR rounds go downrange). What’s more likely is wear to your gun. A definite sign of collar size mismatch in an unshrouded-carrier gun is a bent firing pin retaining pin. This is the small shaped-wire pin (often called a “cotter pin,” which is not correct terminology) that holds the firing pin; it’s the first thing out and last in when you disassemble the bolt.

The early AR-10s and earliest AR-15s (pre-M16) had a machined steel pin in this position, satin chromed like the rest of the BCG. Changing to a vastly easier-to-make wire pin was smart from a manufacturing standpoint; this part is normally very lightly stressed. If it’s getting beat up, something’s wrong in your system, and Occam’s Razor points us to the firing pin collar.

In high-round-count guns, the firing pin itself can get all beat up and scarred. In the original AR design, the bolt carrier pushes the hammer down until the disconnector grips it (or trigger grips it, if the trigger is already reset, which is unlikely in normal firing); in the SP1 design, the firing pin can contact the hammer. The FP is harder than the bearing surface of the hammer, but not by all that much; both surfaces get wear and the firing pins look beat up.

Finally, this design, wherein the BC was modified, is a credible response to a designer’s very real concern (to fail-safe the disconnector and prevent a runaway gun).  Even today, some reputable manufacturers ship guns with this form of BCG; Colt persisted in doing it through the HBAR era (our only recent Colt is a Colt Defense LE SBR and has a mil-spec bolt carrier, so we can’t describe their current civilian market product), and Ruger’s SR556 and newly-announced SR762 piston ARs have unshrouded bolt carriers, and they work perfectly fine and hold up well. You just need to be aware of the technology before you go swapping parts.

The extensive modularity of the AR series, which led Colt to the before-its-time CAR family of weapons and now supports a multi-billion-dollar worldwide industry, is not universal. This is because of modifications like this that subsequent parts makers didn’t know about or understand. It’s also because there’s now such a wide variation in ARs and parts out there that even the most conscientious quality-control manager can’t anticipate every combination, or even what the end conditions are.

For 30 years in the Army, we were blissfully unaware that such a thing as an unshrouded bolt carrier existed. When one first showed up in the parts pile, our response was probably unprintable, and in our ignorance we attributed it to the work of Bubba the Gunsmith™. But we looked into it and discovered the logic behind it that made reputable firms like Ruger and Colt adopt this as a safety measure in their semi ARs. For the average shooter, this will never be a concern. It’s more of the problem for the guy who builds his ARs out of parts or who buys ARs built by manufacturers who are mere assemblers without the engineering or gunsmithing depth to address any problems. And even if you have problems, the good news is that the AR’s very modularity makes it typical AR problem: one that gives you several pathways to a fix, and a reliable AR.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week:

FCSAJust how accurate is a .50 caliber rifle? The Fifty Caliber Shooters Association can tell you. The world record, set in 2009 by Lee Rasmussen, is a 5-shot group of 1.955″. Before you say “better than 2 MOA, that’s not bad,” that’s not a 100-yard group. That’s a thousand yard group! It works out, they tell us, to 0.1868 MOA. (Note: this is disputed in the comments, where Greg who did the math comes up with 0.1867 — a difference of one ten-thousandth of a minute of angle, perhaps, but math is math and correct is correct – Eds).

(The only .50 we’ve shot, a pre-M107 Barret M82A1, was a 2 MOA gun with match ammo, which we usually didn’t have. It was minute-of-general-neighborhood with ball ammo).

rasmussen04opBy the way, it wasn’t just any day that Rasmussen broke the 10-year-old record: it was the 4th of July.

We’ll let the FCSA tell their own story:

The Fifty Caliber Shooters Assn., Inc. (FCSA) was established in 1985 by a small group of dedicated people who set for themselves the mission to advance the sporting uses of the .50 BMG cartridge. The FCSA is a non-profit organization registered in Tennessee and Utah .

FCSA provides a quarterly magazine, VERY HIGH POWER™, a Suppliers Directory, professional consulting information on fifty caliber rifles, and reloading information for its membership. In addition FCSA maintains an active, comprehensive web page at offering accessibility and insight into the organization for internet visitors and members alike..

Our primary sport at this time is 1000 yard shooting competition with a mission to advance the art of extreme long-range accuracy with the fifty caliber rifle. FCSA sanctions approximately ten to fifteen organized 1000 yard rifle matches per year in various locations in the continental United States.

FCSA has over 4000 members and is growing steadily. FCSA has members in twenty-two countries including England , Switzerland , Finland , South Africa , Australia & Canada .

The organization also believes, with some justification, that it is civilian large-caliber shooters who lead the way, and the military long-range sniper program trails. There is some justification for that belief.

The FCSA provides a service to military and law enforcement with research and instruction as well as an active liaison in both communities. Major John Plaster, USAR (ret) has written in his book ULTIMATE SNIPER, “most of today s .50 caliber military sniper rifles were developed without one single dollar of govrtnmrnt money.” To give credit where credit is due, it has been the private sector perfectionist of the Fifty Caliber Shooters Assn. who has lead the way in refining .50 caliber cartridges, rifles and 1000 yard plus shooting know how.

The site is interesting and it and its links worth exploring not just for big-bore buffs, but for anyone intrested in accurate shooting.

There is even a kindred organization in the UK for British large calibre gunners — God love them. And there’s also a version in der Schweiz; the Swiss FCSA is available in all four actual Swiss languages: English, French, German and Italian. (That’s a joke, for any humourless Romansch speakers out there). So for once we have a crumb to throw to some of our international readers, to whom we seldom, in our USian isolationism, have links we can serve.

One interesting factoid about the Swiss .50 shooters — on some ranges, silencers are mandatory. Is there any place on Earth more civilized that Switzerland?

via FCSA – General Information.

When the pilots wanted CAR-15s

This would fit in a Cobra cockpit... if only the pilots could get them.

This would fit in a Cobra cockpit… if only the pilots could get them.

In 1969, AH-1 Cobra crewmen flying over Vietnam wanted CAR-15s for self-defense if they had to set down in Indian Territory. This is the story of how they asked, and how the Army said … no, leaving any such unhorsed knights of the air to face the NVA (by 1969 VC were no longer a factor) with nothing but a .45 or a .38 revolver.

Big Green did not much care for the XM177, and by the summer of 1969, it was on its way out, so even if higher echelons sympathized with the pilots’ need, they might have been unable to help very much.

Every takeoff gets a landing, but the pilots don't always get to pick where they land. (The crew whose 1972 predicament is shown here survived, believe it or not).

Every takeoff gets a landing, but the pilots don’t always get to pick where they land. (The crew whose 1972 predicament is shown in this artist’s rendering survived, believe it or not).

The tale is told in a once-classified document. On 11 Aug 69, as part of a periodic report, an aviation unit in combat in Vietnam, the 268th Aviation Battalion, requested “CAR-15s” as defensive weapons for AH-1G HueyCobra crewmen.

It seemed like a logical request. If forced down, unlike UH-1B/D “slick” helicopter crews, Cobra gunship pilots couldn’t rely on their door gunners’ M60Ds, and again unlike slick crews, they couldn’t stow a personal M16A1 aboard their skinny copters:

Observation: Army aviators flying AH-1G aircraft in RVN require a defensive weapon.

The office is as big as it needs to be, but there's nowhere to stash an M16.

The office is as big as it needs to be, but there’s nowhere to stash an M16.




Evaluation: Experience indicates that Army aviators flying the AH-IG require a defensive weapon in addition to the standard issue ,38 cal. revolver. The M-16A1 cannot be carried in the cockpit because of its length. Due to its compact size and proven efficiency, the CAR 15 could fulfil this requirement- This additional weapon is particularly needed because of the diminished crew of the AH-1G.

Recommendation: Each pilot flying the AH-IG be issued CAR 15 as a defensive weapon.

Command Action: The suggesting unit has submitted an MTO&E incorporating this change.

It sounds logical, and the 17th Aviation Group, the next highest level of command, was in agreement by 15 Sep 69:

Paragraph 2e, Logistics, Page 6: Concur. These weapons
were previously requested by another unit utilizing AH-1G helicopters.

The USARV G4 Section stated that the CAR-15 was an ENSURE item, has been adopted as a standard item of equipment, and a POI has been developed. The USARV G4 Section further advised that the wearon is not in production bucause of increased emphasis on production of the M-16 rifle. Command action is deemed appropriate.

By 27 Sep 69 the 1st Aviation Brigade, the grand pooh-bah of Army aviation in Vietnam, agreed:

This headquarters has reviewed subject report and concurs with th:e contents as indorsed….

But a higher command finally got around to  saying “nay”. US Army, Vietnam, was the big HQ with the big picture, and by 1969, the CAR-15 was not in their picture at all. On 13 October 1969, a document signed by an Adjutant Generals Corps lieutenant rained on the aviators’ parade:

Reference item concerning “Logistics,” section II, page 6 paragraph 2e; nonconcur. No additional quantities of the XMI77 SMG (CAR-15) will be procured. Units currently authorized the XM177 SMG in MTOE and TDA documents will change LIN Z76282 (XM177) to LIN R94977 (M16A1). The XM177 SMG will be supported through cannibalization when on-hand spare parts are exhausted.

The pilots had to make do with pistol or revolver, period. Sorry about that.



Term Brief Definition Explanation Link
CAR-15 1960s term for an AR-15 carbine Colt tried developing the AR-15/M16 into a series of weapons called the Colt Assault Rifle -15 (CAR-15) family. Except for the short carbine, which the Army called a submachine gun, none of the variants really took off and most of them exist only as toolroom prototypes. “CAR-15″ became service slang for the weapon officially known to the Army as various marks of XM177 and to the Air Force as the GAU-5.
ENSURE Army logistics program The ENSURE project encompassed procedures for Expediting Nonstandard Urgent Requirements for Equipment and was initiated on 3 January 1966. The purpose was to provide a system to satisfy operational requirements for nonstandard or developmental matériel in a responsive manner and bypass the standard developmental and acquisition procedures. Link
G4 Logistics office in a General-officer command A Logistics or supply office in a smaller command is S4; one in a joint command is a J4. G/S/J 1, 2, and 3 are Personnel, Intelligence, and Operations, and these are historically the four principal staff sections. Link
LIN Line Item Number A LIN is used by the Army to identify end items of equipment in logistics records and databases, including MTOE/TDA. An LIN may or may not map directly to a Federal, National, or NATO Stock Number. Other services may have their own equivalent numbering systems for the same end item. Link
MTOE or MTO&E Modified Table of Organization and Equipment This is a list of what a standard-type unit (like an aviation battalion) has for people and equipment. Link
NVA North Vietnamese Army American acronym for the bad guys’ army. Officially it was the PAVN: People’s Army of Viet Nam.
POI Program of Instruction This is fundamentally a series of lesson plans covering a subject. A POI for a weapon (like the XM177E2) would describe how to train users to employ and maintain the weapon, and would include both classroom and firing-range lessons. Link
SMG Submachine Gun This was the Army’s term for the CAR-15 during its experimental and developmental phase, through approximately 1983. By 1985 the same weapon, essentially, was known as the M4 Carbine.
TDA Table of Distribution and Allowances This is like an MTOE, but for a non-standard unit. For example, the Army elements assigned to the joint SOG had a TDA. Link
USARV US Army, Vietnam This was the highest level of support command in Vietnam 1965-72. The highest operational command was MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) which merged with USARV in 1972; all US forces in Vietnam disbanded in 1973.
VC Viet Cong “Vietnamese Communists” in Vietnamese, it was the American acronym for communist guerillas in the South. The VC were so badly beaten up during the Tet Offensive in Jan/Feb 68 that they were eliminated as a factor in the war, at least militarily.

A Dozen Bright Ideas to Improve the M16 – from 1968


The caption says M16A3, but the illustration looks like an A1.

In the course of our research into primary documents about the M16 program, we have found some interesting things. In March, 1968, the Army and Colt agreed to look into a dozen possible improvements to the M16A1 rifle. Some of these improvements would come to pass right away. Some would come to pass in due course. And some would never happen. The contect of the agreement was the troubles that the M16 series rifle had experienced since introduction, which ranged from changed ammunition that inadvertently sabotaged the gun, to reliability problems that occasioned testy Congressional hearings, to normal teething difficulties. In addition, everyone from end-user riflemen to shop-floor workers had made suggestions for improving the gun. Here are the ideas which, as of March 1968 had been agreed on by the manufacturer and US Army Weapons Command, but had not had a formal RTA.

  1. Buttstock. Change the filler material and provide space for storage of the four-piece cleaning rod and other cleaning equipment.
  2. Magazine. Change the configuration to provide for a thirty-round capacity.
  3. Magazine. Develop new plastic materials and a new follower assembly to permit issue of disposable, pre-loaded magazines.
  4. Magazine Spring. Make the spring of stainless steel to prevent rust and corrosion, thereby increasing magazine life and reliability.
  5. Upper and Lower Receiver. Shot peen the surfaces to provide a more durable finish and to aid in the prevention of exfoliation and inter-granular corrosion.
  6. Handguard Slip Ring and Spring. Redesign the slip ring to allow easier removal of the handguard and cadmium coat the spring.
  7. Ejection Port Cover and Pin. Use stainless steel for these parts to prevent rusting.
  8. Barrel. Chrome plate the barrel to improve resistance to corrosion and metal fouling deposits.
  9. Extractor Spring. Utilize nested springs to provide for longer spring life.
  10. Magazine Cover. Utilize a plastic bag or cap cover to protect magazines from adverse environments. (As of 19 April 1968, two million magazine covers had been delivered from the contractor, 693,089 shipped to Vietnam, and another two million were still on contract.) 1
  11. Rear Sight. Provide for a center index “0”.
  12. Charging Handle Latch. Add Delrin to the charging handle latch material to prevent wear of the upper receiver.
SF M16A1s and ephemera. Click to embiggen (really big file).

SF M16A1s and ephemera. Click to embiggen (really big file).

Numbers 1, 2, 5, the first half of 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 were done, sooner or later. For an example of sooner, magazine covers were already in use (and soon, the Army issued zip-lock magazine bags). Another “sooner” improvement was the conversion from a chromed chamber only to a fully chromed bore, which helped durability in the face of corrosive conditions (intermittent immersion or soaking) and also in cases of high temperatures. For a “later” example, the handguard slip ring was changed from a cylindrical to a conical section, first for carbines, and later made standard on the M16A2. Likewise, the center windage “0” (implemented as a single long line) became standard with the M16A2 rear sight:

M16A2 sight

Numbers 3, 4, the second half of 6, 7, and 12 were not.

For example, while the 30-round magazine (#2) was developed and fielded (its first significant combat use was the 1970 Son Tay Raid, the magazine-spring redesign (#3) was never done. The current issue spring is chrome-silicon steel, not stainless, although stainless-steel springs are available both as retrofits for GI magazines and in premium aftermarket mags.

The AR platform took many years of modifications & improvements, and incalculable man-years of hard work, by the anonymous toilers of the Weapons Command. The end result is the reliable, versatile and ergonomic weapon we know today, but it took quite a lot of tinkering with the very solid basic design to get us to where we are now.  These 12 proposed mods from 1968 are among the many way stations between design and true success.  (They can be found on pages 11-31 through 11-33 of Appendix 11 to the Report of the M16 Review Panel, 1 May 68. This is the file: ADA953121.pdf).

Snipers: feeling obsolete yet?

Young girl (she’s 12, and obviously a good sport). Four ranges (250, 500, 750, 1000). Four rounds. Four hits.

Note that, because of the way TrackingPoint automates range-finding and atmospherics, this is without putting dope on the gun.

Then, she takes a 500-yard target with a single shot — it’s a 3″ plate. Dingg.

The TrackingPoint "Tag" button locks the gun on target.

The TrackingPoint “Tag” button locks the gun on target.

One suspects the video is edited to remove some fiddly creating and erasing of tags. (The way TrackingPoint works is that you “tag” the target with the laser, and the weapon fires when the target and the trajectory are aligned. If your tag is not on target, you don’t have to fire; stay off the trigger, and you can erase it and place a new one as necessary).

Still, if you’re not impressed with this, you haven’t spent time trying to train hard-headed guys to hit targets at these ranges.

There are still things that only an experienced and trained sniper can do. Any SF or Marine sniper will tell you destroying targets with precision rifle fire is only one small part of a very big job. But TrackingPoint does take a lot of the art, and all the voodoo, out of making a long-range shot in real-world conditions.

We’d like to see how it works in the next thousand meters. The first thousand is the milieu of the mountain hunter and the conventional military sniper. Let’s go out where SOF snipers sometimes shoot, out beyond the first mile. That is, of course, of limited utility to hunters (I can’t imagine many in the Western US/Canada, Alaska, or Africa that would want to take 2000-m shots) but it would really be a sweet spot for military sniping.

When did the XM16E1 become the M16A1?

Phillys Missing M16A1For some reason, this seems to be a mystery to many people on internet forums. Worse, many more people in internet forums think they know, but are wrong.

The M16A1 was type-classified on 28 Feb 67. Some time after that Colt changed the rollmark on its lower receivers.

You will never see an authentic H&R or GM Hydra-Matic Division XM16E1. By the time their contracts were concluded in 1968, the M16A1 nomenclature was standard.

Also, the change from XM16E1 to M16A1 is not associated with any of the running changes in rifle production. These changes were very many, and they happened for several reasons. In rough order of the reasons for making a change request, which took a couple of different forms:

  1. The drawing was wrong, and had to be changed to conform to what it should have been. This was the case with a number of the Fairchild Armalite drawings and these changes were mostly made in 1964.
  2. The manufacture of the part had diverged over the years from the drawing, and Colt and the Army agreed that the change was immaterial to the part’s function, so the drawings were altered to conform to the current production part.
  3. Changing the drawing allowed faster, cheaper, or less wasteful production.
  4. This full-fenced XM16E1 was produced between the Lower Receiver Forging change and the nomenclature change -- 1966 to January 1967.

    This full-fenced XM16E1 was produced between the Lower Receiver Forging change and the nomenclature change — somewhere between 5/1966 and 1/1967.

    The Army or another customer asked for a change. An example of this is the improved lower receiver forging, with a protective boss around the magazine release. The Army asked Colt for this, Colt asked permission on 14 Jan 66, and received permission on 16 May 66.  This change is very commonly associated with the change from XM16E1 to M16A1 by online savants, but it’s completely independent. (Colt used its supplies of older forgings on export, law enforcement and semi-auto guns for decades). The closed-end flash suppressor was another one of these. They tended to be approved rapidly, since the Army asked for them in the first place — the closed-end flash suppressor was requested by Colt on 1 Sep 66 and approved on 8 Sep 66.

  5. Parts or guns had been produced which didn’t meet the spec, but were still arguably serviceable. These “after-the-fact waivers” were usually approved after testing documented that the non-compliant parts or guns were OK.
1960s Colt M16 mag (l.) showing spot welds (mag on right is Armalite 25-round prototype).

1960s Colt M16 mag (l.) showing spot welds (mag on right is Armalite 25-round prototype).

Not all requests were approved. Colt and the Army squabbled for years over high cyclic rates, caused when the Army substituted gunpowders, for example. The Army also denied a Colt request to salvage magazines with one or more questionable spot welds by seam-welding the magazines in 1964.

Some changes were very rapid. In 1965, bolts and bolt carriers went quickly from chrome-plated (“electrolized” in Army speak) to Parkerized (actually, “parco-lubrited”) in hopes of getting more durability (actually, they’re parco-lubrited outside, but internal surfaces are still chromed). The bolt carrier keys were still chrome — for a couple of months.  Within three months, they, too, changed to parco-lubrite out and chrome in. So a parkerized bolt carrier with a fully-chromed key, that appears from the staking, etc., to be original, dates itself to early 1965.

three-prong FH 2What happened to the old parts when these changes took place? It depends. If the change wasn’t a big deal, Colt may have been permitted by the contract overseers to use the old parts till exhausted. If the change was a safety or reliability issue, the Army would insist on the better parts. In this case, Colt set the noncompliant parts aside, where possible, to use on export and civilian guns.

This is one reason the three-prong open-end flash suppressor persisted on Colt SP1 rifles for many years after its 8 Sep 66 sunset in military production. Uncle Sam didn’t want them any more, and there was a bin, or drum, or pallet full of the things in the factory already.

What to shoot when there’s nothing to shoot

The ammo box is empty again! Oh noes!

The ammo box is empty again! Oh noes!

Ammunition is coming back into stock, even popular calibers that were hard to find like 9mm and 5.56. The last one to recover is the fundamental .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridge, but there’s starting to be stock again. What’s got people still feeling like there’s no stock, is that prices remain elevated. For example, .22LR is back in stock, but according to’s bargain aggregator, it’s nowhere near pre-crisis prices. It will vary depending on when you click that link, and where you live (you need to enter a ZIP to get shipping estimates), but for us prices for available ammo ranged from roughly 15¢ per round to well over 50¢ delivered. And some of the low prices required commitment to high quantities of ammo.

Any Econ 101 student could tell you that the high prices are a marker of elevated demand relative to supply. Yet it’s not that busy at the range. Everyone is still stocking more than shooting, we think. There’s still a palpable fear of other shortages, which may be partly paranoia, but it’s also in part the consequence of our shared 2012-13 experience. It’s reasonable to assume that, given some future crisis or new attack on the 2nd Amendment by hostile politicians, ammo supplies may completely dry up again.

A lot of shell-shocked (or maybe it’s lack-of-shells-shocked) or sticker-shocked shooters have just given up. You know we’re not going to recommend that. So what’s the action plan to allow one to continue training when ammo supplies are tight? We have five things for you to think about.

Step I: Recalibrate your Assumptions

Previously, survivalists and high-volume ammo consumers assumed that some ammo would get tight, but that hunting rounds (.22 LR, common centerfire non-military rifle rounds like .30-30, and 12 and 20 gauge shotgun) would remain common, and that ammo produced in large quantities for the military would remain available. The Crunch of 13 shows that’s not the case. You gotta bring your own date to this dance.

That means that the guys stocking up are acting rationally. Just like you should have six months’ wages in the bank (or otherwise set aside) for unexpected contingencies, you should have six months’ ammunition. Indeed, a far-sighted stockpiler might want to bridge the four or eight years of a hostile administration. This is true even if you don’t  consider yourself a prepper — just a shooter. Ask yourself, Am I shooting less? If the answer is “yes,” and for most shooters it is, you need to get the max training benefit from the reduced training time you’re actually getting. The tendency here is to plan around the training time you wish you were getting; be alert for that error and resist it.

Step II: Plan to Rotate Stock

This IS our war stock. What?

This IS our war stock. What?

More people than ever before are keeping large supplies of ammunition on hand. But the guys who have done this all along do something you don’t do: consciously rotate stock. Most shooters I know work on a sort of LIFO logistics: “last in, first out” and when they go out to shoot, take the ammo off the top of the stack — which is usually the most recently purchased. The problem with this is that the contingency ammo further down the stack never gets used. Until it’s really needed.

Now this shouldn’t be a really serious problem, because ammo should last for decades. (Indeed, shells and cartridges that turn up after a century have still been live). And you should store it so that it’s never degraded in any way. But you might not want to count on it.

There is an exception: if you are in a situation where newer ammunition is degraded in quality, you might want to retain pre-crisis ammunition for defensive and other high-priority uses, and blow off the low-qual stuff in training. But generally, you want to run FIFO (first-in, first-out) logistics on your ammo stockpile.

Step III: Obvious Substitutes

There are many substitutes for shooting, some of which are cheap, easy and low-tech.

  • Dry firing is one excellent example. There are many variations of dry firing, including penny drills (balance a penny on the front sight whilst firing for follow-through and flinch control); pencil drills; ball-and-dummy reload drills. There are entire books of dry-fire drills. You will be better at shooting if you follow the procedures in one of these.
  • Air- and bb-guns are a natural substitute that has several benefits. These can be especially good when you’re doing early stages of team tactical training; back in the bad old days when we did HR/CT/CQB and generally cleared buildings with handguns, it was SOP to run the drill first with Crosman or Daisy CO2 pistols. They’re cheap, less likely than even .22s to be subject to shortages or cutoffs, and require very little in the way of protective gear. For rifles, a simple .177 gas-spring single shot gives you a lifetime of shooting for short money; here are a few recommendations from a survivalist blog.  In our experience, airguns styled to look like firearms are less good as guns, meaning less accurate and powerful, than airguns where form follows function.

Here’s a Defense Review video on SIRT pistols and their AR bolt. It was taken in the susurrus of the SHOT show so there’s a mountain of background noise, but it shows you some pros of the SIRT products:

We haven’t tried to use a SIRT with a LaserLyte target. That might be interesting, although it would be nice to see NLT develop a bespoke target for their products.

Step IV: Less Obvious Substitutes

Less obvious substitutes include:

  • Wax bullets, which can be used in pistols and rifles (manually cycling the action) or, where they really shine, revolvers (this gives a new lease on life to those cheap .32 Police Positives cluttering up gun stores). Downsides: you need some minimalist reloading gear and a supply of primers, which in the past year has been as constrained as ammo, and — here is a big one — you need to modify the cases you use with wax bullets in a way that renders them unsafe for live reloading. If you can live with that, especially if you have a centerfire revolver you can use with wax bullets, there’s a number of how-tos like this one out there. We’d want a more positive way of ID’ing the modified casings, is all.
  • Archery, which while it trains different eye-hand specifics, employs very similar brain circuitry to the mind-wiring shooting uses. It requires the same purity of focus, ability to read wind, and mental (often unconscious) time/speed/distance calculations. Archery is inexpensive, has especially low recurring costs, and is deep: you can get as involved in it as you like, or simply fire field points at a bale of straw for a couple of hours. Humans have used bows for at least 8,000 years, and sensibly used, they’re extremely safe; so much that the Boy Scouts permit even Tiger Cubs (the youngest Scouts) to use bows under supervision.
  • Airsoft, which allows mechanical training to a point, and marksmanship training to a point. One of the most excellent uses of airsoft we have seen was by a clandestine cell in an area where firearms possession itself was a serious (i.e. not quite capital) offense. The cell only had a small quantity of firearms. All cell members trained with airsoft replicas of the handguns that were cached “against the day.” That meant that, had the cell been tasked to shoot someone, the actual pistol could be retrieved and handed over to someone who had a good chance of accomplishing his or her mission, even though he or she never even saw a real gun before. This is part of why totalitarian governments tend to ban imitation firearms some time after they ban actual ones.
  • Computer (and computerized) Simulators. This is a field in which computer simulation has received unconstrained funding, made great boasts and shown great promise, but has yet to produce even a single-purpose target simulator that provides measurable skills transference to actual firearms. Simulation can be useful in use-of-force and engagement dynamics training, but most such simulators are out of the reach of a small club, department, or individual.

Things like Simunitions are useful to military units conducting crawl/walk/run training, but are not a reasonable substitute for live-ammo training. Likewise, blanks have very limited utility (for force-on-force training, or for live-and-blank variations of ball-and-dummy drill).

Step V: There’s Still No Substitute

In the end, there’s no substitute for getting out there and shooting. So what you can do, in times of restricted resources:

  • Make every shot count. Don’t just plink or burn ammunition. Have a purpose for every magazine and every round, and evaluate how you’re doing. It’s just as much fun to shoot if you have a reason for doing it, and know what the reason is. Plus, you will be able to see improvement in your shooting, which is pleasant in itself.
  • Increase your focus, concentration and deliberation. This is a subset of the above, of course.
  • Plan each range session before leaving home or office, and shoot to the plan. Only the government can end every range trip with a full-auto, hip-fired SPENDEX. On the other hand, maybe you want to develop hip-shooting skills. Well, make a plan for it. And make the plan at the desk or loading bench, not onsite. Then you’ll never launch a bullet you haven’t already imagined launching (and hitting the target with).
  • Substitute cheaper (but safe) ammo. Do not go to no-name reloads or third-world surplus. (If it’s a financial stretch to buy ammo, it’d really stink to have to replace a kB!’d gun). We’re also hostile to steel-cased ammo; maybe in a junk gun. Constrained availability of popular calibers might be God’s way of telling you it’s a good time to practice a little using the guns and calibers you seldom shoot. Last year, when we couldn’t get 7.62 x 51, we were able to get some soft-point 7mm hunting rounds and have some fun with a wall-hanger FN49.
  • One gun at a time per range session. Having dissimilar weapons divides your concentration and means some percentage of your ammo expenditure is wasted. (There are some obvious exceptions: if you duty-carry a Glock 22 and off-duty a 27, they’re close enough). If you must shoot dissimilar guns on the same day (maybe your range is a long drive or hard to schedule), take a non-shooting break to clear your mind and your muscle memory in-between, say, the pistol and rifle sessions — and accept that you’re not going to get 100% of your potential training benefit.
  • Stop shooting when you stop improving. If you seldom go to the range, you may be tempted to stay longer each time. Don’t do it. A good session is 45 minutes to an hour. Don’t burn out.

Finally, all these recommendations are enhanced by having a coach, instructor or buddy to help you see the things you’re overlooking. The guy doesn’t need to be a champ; just someone reasonably knowledgable and, well, not you. 

Summing Up

Just cause ammo’s hard to come by, or expensive, is no reason to let your perishable (or at least, degradable) shooting skills atrophy. There are cheap and available alternatives.

The most cost-effective ones for a heavy shooter are the ones that have no variable costs. Consider that the SIRT Pro pistol seems expensive at $350. But… if you normally practice at, say, 200 rounds / week, at the best price of 9mm these days being around 30¢ a round with shipping (let’s use another deal-finder for this one, gunbot 9mm deals), you’re spending $60 a week on proficiency. So this is six week’s proficiency ammo.

But that’s probably not what’s going to happen, complete substitution of live-fire training with laser training. If you replaced half of your life ammo with SIRT training, the break-even on the training pistol is three months. But even that’s probably not going to happen: instead, you’re almost certain to continue shooting the same amount, eat the cost of the training device, and practice more when the dry-firing with the practice pistol is considered… your scores should improve markedly, as will your self-confidence.

The most cost-effective of all, of course, is plain old dry fire, which achieves much of what dry-fire with a SIRT unit does, and does it with fixed and variable costs of $0 each. All that stands between you and better marksmanship is a dry-fire program and a little self-discipline.

Authenticated Little Bighorn Carbine at Auction

This has to be one of the Holy Grails of collecting… or at least a matching saucer. The well-preserved 1873 .45-70 cavalry carbine is not just a representative example of the guns the 7th Cavalry carried into the jaws of a far superior Sioux and Comanche Cheyenne force — it’s one of the very guns. Very few guns with provenance are known to exist — Custer’s element’s guns were all taken by the Indians, except for three revolvers left behind, and Reno’s and Benteen’s detachments’ guns were still working combat weapons for years to come. So as you can imagine, with that historical imprimatur, it’s a little pricier than your average trapdoor.


You might ask, how can auctioneers James D. Julia and company be so sure about it? We’ll get to that in a minute, but first we’d like to show you some more of their photography (and yes, kind of like the force Custer faced, they get bigger — in this case, just click, and you can keep your scalp). Here’s the other side:


She’s looking pretty good after 139 years since manufacture, and 137 years since participating in one of the greatest defeats in the history of American arms. (Since then, we’ve been lucky enough to have the Indians on our side). Custer tried to surround 10,000 Indians (mostly noncombatants, but there were at least 2,00 warriors) with 700 men, and got his ass handed to him — his own section of the command was wiped out to the last man, 200-odd of them, and about 50 other troopers fell in several other desperate fights. OK, how about a close-up of her lock? Done:


So how do we know this particular carbine was there? Well, they couch it fairly cautiously, but here’s the meat of their argument:

The SN of this carbine indicates that it was manufactured in the Apr-Jun period of 1874 & is in the prime serial range of known Custer battle carbines.

Julia-auction-Trapdoor_BigHorn_14This is where the speculation regarding Custer battlefield use of this carbine ends. In 1981 US Government archeologists found 18 cartridge casings on the Little Bighorn Battlefield on the west flank of Sharpshooter Hill, between the hill and a low knoll and in the vicinity of the knoll which is located about half the distance between the Reno/Benteen defensive perimeter and Sharpshooter Hill, all of which were forensically matched to the firing pin & extractor impressions of this carbine.

Julia-auction-Trapdoor_BigHorn_15Most of these 18 cartridge casings were picked up in 2 separate locations, one group on the flank of Sharpshooter Hill and another near the north boundary fence. In 2004, additional excavations were conducted during road work on the battlefield and an additional 18 cartridge cases forensically matched to this carbine were found in the Reno/Benteen defensive line.

He goes on to make some further plausible deduction about the shooter’s actions in the battle, and some informed and reasonable speculation about what unit he was with. The very long description has an excellent technical run-down on the carbine and its history, and we recommend it.

Stereo image of the Custer battlefield, taken in 1879. The remains visible appear to be equine.

Stereo image of the Custer battlefield, taken in 1879. The remains visible appear to be equine.

We’ve been interested in this weapon since Ian at recommended the book Archaeological Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn last month. His recommendations are always good, so when we don’t have the book (and it’s not a crazy expensive out-of-print airplane payment or something) we ususlly buy it. It was not a straight-read-through for us like it was for Ian, but we’re really savoring it.

(Here’s a Smithsonian timeline map of the battle which might clarify the location of this carbine in the fight a tad. It draws on Indian legends as well as cavalry memoirs so it might suffer from recovered-memory-itis, but it’s a reasonable timeline).

Along with that, we’ve been watching, in fits and starts also, a movie set in a slightly earlier period, Sam Peckinpah’s “vandalized masterpiece” Major Dundee. That may never show up as a Saturday Matinee (or it might be today’s), but it had us thinking about Indian fighting, the US Army’s original and most successful COIN campaign. It was a campaign of savagery on both sides, not the one-sided chivalry customarily shown in 20th Century saddle flicks. And you know what? If insurgents go to the savagery place against a modern nation, they can’t win. They can only hang in and help the moderns quit. White settlers were not going to quit coming west. (The whole reason the Sioux were displaced in 1876 in the first place, Aracheological Perspectives explains, is that whites found gold on their reservation and uprooted them again). The Indians were going to lose: that was evident in the correlation of forces. The sensible thing would have been to seek terms, and the sensible thing would have been to grant generous ones. But blood was up, emotions were high, and no one was being sensible that spring of ’76.

An awful lot of war decisions are fundamentally emotional, and only rationalized ex post facto. That’s true at every level from heads of state to infantryman. You’re lucky if you hang onto your scalp, then and now.

And you’d better be prepared to part with your scalp if you want this historic, museum-ready Trapdoor: Julia estimates it will sell for $100,000 to $150,000, and like most auctioneers, his estimates tend to run low vis-a-vis realized prices (to encourage bidders, perhaps?) There are more pictures at the site. Enjoy.