Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

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.

What TrackingPoint Must Do to Sell to SOF

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

So, Who Do You Hit First?

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

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

Who Don’t You Hit?

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

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

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

What’s Missing From 1st-Gen Tracking Point

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

Emission Control / Encryption / ECCM

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

Two-way communications

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

Intelligence gathering MASINT capability

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

A Ballistic Development Interface, SDK or App

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

tracking_point_trad_mode

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

Demonstrated, Documented Durability

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

Demonstrated “Fail Safe” mode.

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

Full Auto Stabilization Mode

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

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

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

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

New from TrackingPoint

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

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

shotglass

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

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

tp_ar-newest-use-me_1

For that, Tracking Point offers:

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

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

tracking_point_trad_mode

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

tracking_point_freefire_mode

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

tracking_point_advanced_mode

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

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

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

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

precision-guided-300-wm-semi-auto_0

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

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

precision-guided-semi-auto-7.62-new

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Afterlife of the USMC M40

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Know You Want One

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

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

Chuck Mawhinney Signature M40

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

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

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

Remington Repro M40 accessories

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

SC Rifleworks M40

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

M40-66

 

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

Remington Repro M402