Category Archives: Weapons Accessories

X Products AR Can Launcher

There’s modular, and there’s crazy modular. Here’s an AR upper with a twist — it contains a plugged, ported barrel, and launches an ordinary 12 oz. soft drink can out to 100 yards. Coming soon from X Products, you can preorder it (as an upper) now with a $20 deposit.


More fun than anyone should have… The Can Cannon is a patent pending launching device that uses a propriatary gas ported barrel and pressure tube to launch heavy, thin wall objects, without burning a hole in them or directing hot gas directly into them. Currently set up for launching full un-opened 12oz soda cans, when used with standard mil spec blanks it can reach an average distance of 105 yards!
Why would you launch a soda can? Because it’s fun! Plus, it’s an incredibly fast and fun decoy to shoot at. Every demonstration leads to more smiles and laughs than any product we’ve ever introduced. BATFE approved design is not considered a Destructive Device or firearm.

via AR-15 Soda Can Launcher – Accessories Launcher – X Products.

Expected cost of the whole thing will be $399 or less (again, this is upper only) and it works with GI M200 blanks.

X Products is, of course, well known for its line of 50-round drum magazines for ARs and various other rifles in 5.56, 7.62 and 9mm. One is shown above in the Can Launcher, and the one below is in a Black Rain Ordnance AR.

X-15_Drum_in_Black_Rain_Rear_ViewThe metallic X Products drums are heavy for a 50-round mag, but reliable (although they can be… selective… about the supposedly-STANAG weapons they’ll work with, X is pretty up-front with this information).

You’re probably wondering a few things. Like: how does X make this work? And how did they get ATF to sign off on this as a non-gun? And we wouldn’t be if we didn’t have answers for you.

That big, soda-can-caliber cylinder threads on like a free-floating fore-end, but the barrel of this AR is radically different. It’s short, and ported, and capped. When you drop a can in, it rests on the cap and creates a de-facto high-pressure-low-pressure system like that going on inside a 40mm grenade.

The blank’s high pressure in the barrel exits through the ports into the large area behind the can, pressurizing it and sending the can downrange with a satisfying toonk!

The pressure in the “low pressure chamber” behind the can is sufficient to launch the can.

The ATF, for their part, appears satisfied that the capped blanks-only barrel is not intended for live-ammunition use. (And indeed, if you tried it, you would not be pleased with the result).

There are videos of this in action at the link above. So, how much did we like it? Enough to put ourselves down for one:



We have absolutely no earthly, practical use for the thing (X Products suggests launching decoys for training gun dogs, but our dog only thinks he’s big enough to do that). But we are buying it because it’s neat, it will be fun if we can figure out where to shoot it, and because imagination ought to be encouraged, and we know no better encouragement than the profit motive.


A More Flexible Benchloader?

If you ever had to load hundreds (or thousands) of M16 magazines, the second greatest thing ever invented was the stripper clip and stripper-clip-guide system. The mag is easy enough to load by hand, but it’s time-consuming to do it by onesies. Still, the GI system is only the second-best. The best is Maglula’s machined Benchloader, if you’ve got loose rounds: drop the mags in, drop the rounds in, schoooonk, you’re done. Machinery FTW! How it works is not rocket surgery, but here’s a link to a demo of the device from Brownells so you can see it in action; it’s .mp4 video so we couldn’t embed it in WordPress. And here’s a photo of it:

maglula benchloader

Standard Benchloader

The Israeli company’s patented (7,059,077) Benchloader has had two limitations: the first is range of mags. The original Benchloader was limited to 30-round GI mags. It couldn’t handle the 20-round mags we still like (although we have an idea for an adapter), or newer things like Magpul PMags (people are always confusing Maglula and Magpul, but they’re entirely different companies), or even the near-GI-dimensions steel H&K Maritime mags that many SFers swore by in our day. So there’s a “standard” and a “universal” version, but the “universal” version just gets you a few other 30-round mags: HK 416/SAR-80; Beretta AR-70/90; and Magpul, Thermold, Orlite, and SIG polymers (we hear it works with Lancer polymers too, but Maglula doesn’t claim that). Note what it doesn’t work with: 20- and 40-round alloy mags, non-STANAG curvatures like the original 1960s Colt mags, any of the snail and drum mags, and Surefire Suomi-style mags.  And limitation two, it was X-Pensive. How expensive? Try $430, for either version. Not all our ARs cost that much!

"Universal" Benchloader

“Universal” Benchloader

Caldwell mag charger

Caldwell Mag Charger, a $70 plastic alternative.

If you handle a Benchloader, you see part of why it’s so costly. It’s machined from aluminum alloy,  anodized, and a precision product all around. And another contributor to the high price is that it has had little competition, at least until the 2013 introduction of the Caldwell Mag Charger, which is a little more fiddly but works with ammo dumped in from 50-round boxes. (Too bad GI ammo comes in 20-round boxes, if it’s not in strippers).

But now Maglula is introducing am injection-molded plastic version, the Range Benchloader, that promises to sell for about $170 and work with a wider range of magazines. Some blogs (like The Firearm Blog and MyGunCulture are claiming it works with Surefire mags, and we’re also hearing claims it works with Beta C-mags; we note that Maglula is not making those claims, yet*; we’d want to see it do it before we committed the money for that purpose. (We do note that graphite lube is critical to reliable functioning of C-mags, in our experience. The manufacture suggests a squirt every 20 rounds, and we’re not sure what the best way to do this with a Range Benchloader would be, without some experimentation).


Maglula rendering of the Range Benchloader

Note the polymer mag catch, and that the mag is free below that, allowing odd-shaped magazines -- in theory.

Note the polymer mag catch, and that the mag is free below that, allowing odd-shaped magazines — in theory.

We think that the Range Benchloader would ideally be attached to something beefier for loading larger mags, something that would support the mags in roughly the way the original Benchloader did, and we’re not sure how long its polymer magazine catch will hold up in real use.

We’re also not too sure how it will work with odd-shaped magazines. In theory, both it and the Caldwell entry can take them, but the Range Benchloader is designed with feet under it, to be laid on a range bench for support. The mag, if it were wider than STANAG, would have to hang off the edge of the bench. Would that work?

Underneath, the Range Benchloader has feet.

Underneath, the Range Benchloader has feet. It looks like it also has two sockets for permanently screwing down to a support or bench.

Only one way to know. Anybody want to see it tested against the original Benchloader and the Caldwell Mag Loader? It might be a while. Maglula has shown only these renderings, and is only promising the Range Benchloader in January, 2015. (The company also makes a variety of smaller loader/unloaders, particularly useful for all those double-stack pistol mags, and Benchloaders for some exotics, like Galils or those AUGs and G36s that use non-STANAG mags. They also make an ingenious loader that applies GI stripper clips to Mini-14 magazines. Here’s a link to a .pdf of their one-page 2014 catalog).

* the Maglula page on the Range Benchloader only claims compatibility of the same mags already claimed for the Universal Benchloader, plus the Lancers we mentioned above: specifically “M16 / AR15 / M4 USGI (NATO STANAG 4179); Magpul PMAG; Lancer; H&K metal 416/SA80; Beretta AR 70-90; Thermold; Orlite; SIG Arms (black AR mags). Maglula also notes that it comes with a carry case.

A King’s Ransom (Rest)

You could not read The American Rifleman or other high-end gun periodicals in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s without noticing that, when the writers were serious about measuring the accuracy of a handgun, they used a machine rest, and often mentioned it by name: the Ransom Rest. A Ransom Rest is a handsome assembly of machined castings, and its purpose is to take much of the human factor out of accuracy testing, much like the more complicated and heavier machine rests the military uses for acceptance testing of rifles. Bolt it down to a bench, and human shooters’ individual variation in pistol accuracy is erased. This is what the base Master Series Ransom Rest looks like:

Ransom Rest

To use it, begin with a cleared and triple-checked pistol. Remove the grips from your pistol and with an appropriate grip insert mount the pistol in the rest, using the three “star nuts” on the left plate. There is a sequence to tightening the nuts, explained in the instructions. Adjust the trigger lever (big red handle) and the trigger release finger (small red plastic-covered rod) so that the release finger contacts the trigger at center and the trigger lever is about level behind the firearm. Then adjust the gun onto target with the bolts, and bolt it down. There are some small differences in setting up the rest for revolvers and auto pistols; Glocks and other polymer pistols need more settling shots than steel or alloy-framed pistols from which the grips are removable.

And this is how it’s used (there would probably be sand or shot bags on that board, if it were not bolted down; C-clamped beats shot bags, and bolts beat C-clamps):

Ransom in Action

After each shot, the muzzle will flip up. This is the Ransom’s recoil-absorbing design, and you return the rest (not touching the pistol or the trigger lever) to horizontal.

You should fire a cylinder or mag of rounds just to set the Ransom in, and adjust if necessary. (It’s amazing how recoil exposes what you thought was “tight enough” and really wasn’t). As a rule of thumb, it will take more rounds to settle a more powerful pistol. Until it has settled properly, the rounds will string along the vertical axis.

Ransom Rests are still made in today. The manufacturer appears healthy, and they stand behind their product; they’ll refurb your old Master Series rest or other Ransom rest at a fair price.  You can buy new Ransoms at Midway or Brownell’s. But you don’t see them nearly as much in gun reviews, these days. Why is that? We see several reasons:

  • Certainly part of it is the long-running cultural shift from revolvers to auto pistols. As we’ve shown in the past whilst quoting old magazines, revolvers had a much bigger market and mind share thirty years ago, and the Ransom Rest was originally conceived in the day when target shooting was dominated by revolvers. Even when they were supplemented and even replaced it was only by a single auto-pistol at first, the M1911, to which the Rest was readily adapted. Modern polymer pistols have been harder for the Rest to come to grips with (pun sort of intended).
  • With an auto pistol, the Rest is less accurate than a good shooter firing from a sandbag, unless it is re-sighted every shot (which it probably should be, anyway, but many reviewers don’t do that).
  • The shift in the center of gun-culture gravity from professional reviews to enthusiast reviews over the years has meant a corresponding decrease in data-driven information collection. Even as chronographs have become more affordable and usable, fewer reviews of guns and ammunition contain meaningful chrono data, and very few of them are atmospherically normalized to an ISO standard atmosphere, even though the math is trivial (and some of the e-chronos will do it automagically).
  • Fad and fashion. A lot of reviewers monkey-see, monkey-do their reviews. (Nothing wrong with that, if the review you’re copying is a thorough one. Everybody has a first day on the job).

Finally, they’re expensive. But the Ransom Rest is a pretty useful thing for several purposes. The company also makes a series of rifle rests that the benchrest community swears by.

Adventures with Lange Pistole 08, Part 1

The Artillery Luger has been troubling us with unreliability lately, and Kid really wants to shoot it. So we have to trouble-shoot it first, and with Lugers that seems to be equal parts art, science, and Santeria. (Of the Germanic, Vulcan-logic variety, of course). We don’t think this thing will be cured with a single laying-on of hands and in a single post, but we try nonetheless. Not our hands, at least, and if we will pray for something from His hands, we’ll save that prayer for something bigger than a troublesome toggle.

File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08

File photo (source unknown) of an LP.08

(Note: we’re having trouble loading images this morning. Please stand by).

So, “Was für ein Zeug ist das?” (“What is that.. thing?” — range question)

First, let’s say a few words about what an Artillery Luger is. It was really the first Personal Defense Weapon, to use modern terminology, of the automatic-weapons era. The Germans never called it an “Artillery Luger,” by the way; they called it, with classically Teutonic lyricism, a Lange Pistole 08 or Long Pistol of 1908. The pistol had a roughly 8-inch barrel, a rear sight modeled on that of a Mauser rifle with a wildly optimistic 800-yard gradient on it, and a number of other unique parts that appear at first glance to be ordinary P.08 parts but aren’t. (One suspects that they The LP.08 also was issued with some notable accessories, including, on a 1:1 basis, a holster that was backed by a board that formed a detachable shoulder stock, making the weapon a handy carbine. The holster rig includes a shoulder strap and a pouch for two spare magazines — after 100 years, surviving holsters tend to be dry, brittle, and sometimes shrunken. The other accessory that truly completes this pre-James Bond rig is the 32-round “snail drum” magazine, which, to quibble, isn’t a true drum like that of the TSMG or PPSh, but more a coiled stick magazine. In this case, the misnomer is German in origin: they called it the Trommelmagazin 08.

“Artillery Luger with Snail Drum” is how it’s known today, andeveryone will know what you’re talking about.

The magazine and stock will fit on most Lugers, but the ATF only exempts the Artillery and Naval Lugers (and a few even rarer variants) from NFA. Attaching the stock to an ordinary P.08 is a rather serious NFA violation, “Manufacturing a short-barreled rifle,” and ATF would rather pursue that against you than try to, say, interdict instead of facilitate Mexican cartels’ gun supplies. (Cheer up: they once expected Luger owners to register the guns under NFA, or grind the stock lugs off, so on this, they’ve actually improved in the last sixty years or so). The last time an Artillery Luger was used in a crime is not recorded.

(Without the stock, the magazine merely adds weight and complicates the balance of a Luger. We’d guess that everyone in the very small minority of owners of these guns that actually shoots them tries it like that once, just to be gangsta, with nobody watching. “Look at me, I have a drum mag in my pistol, eat lead, target!” And then never does it again, because it’s murder to hit anything like that, and nothing takes the joy out of shooting as fast as missing does).

Starting in 1914 these long Lugers were issued as rifle replacements to soldiers who needed a weapon only for short-range self-defense. The first of these were the German Imperial artillery units, and that’s what gave this pistol its common name. By war’s end they were used by the first Storm Troops, small, heavily-armed units trained and equipped for rapid, mobile warfare in the trench environment, as well as their usual PDW employment. After the war, a number remained in Weimar military and police use (these will be marked with “1920” over the original date in the chamber area of the slide). A number came back to the USA as war trophies, and many more were imported and sold. Prior to 1968, the imports didn’t have to be marked by the importer, so most Artillery Lugers in the USA lack any import markings.

While Lugers were manufactured in modern factories for the time, they are a complicated and intricate mechanism, and almost all metal-on-metal interfaces on the Luger were hand-fitted. Some parts, such as the trigger mechanism, were extensively hand-fitted. This means that on a non-matching gun, you’re at the mercy of the smith who swapped the parts in the first place. Well, you hope it was a smith; if it was just a drop-in of mismatched parts, there’s still gunsmithing ahead to make the Luger run. On some guns, “matching parts” is of concern only to collectors, but on a Luger they’re a signal flag that the gun was, at one time, anyway, carefully hand-fitted.

Our copy is matching, but was long ago professionally reblued (although not a restoration), erasing much of its collector value. However, we’re less Luger snobs than Luger fans who like to shoot the Heath Robinson things, and for us it’s always been a reliable shooter — until recently. Recently it’s gotten a bit truculent about cycling.

On to Troubleshooting

There are four FIrst Things in Luger troubleshooting:

  1.  All Lugers are picky about ammunition. It was designed to work with a single cartridge, and it needs something pretty close to the original. Forget about modern bullet shapes, Georg’s design wants round nose or truncated-cone FMJ, period. (Yes, we have seen attempts at Luger feed-ramp polishing by Dremel-wielding Bubbas, and it put us in mind of the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept). It also wants good levels of chamber pressure: we’d recommend NATO 9mm over commercial SAAMI 9mm, which is a bit downloaded because of interwar rumors of feeble 9mm firearms (maybe due to some unfortunate wretch breaking a 9mm Parabellum in a Glisenti). However, we’d not recommend +P or +P+ ammunition in anything that was made when all Europe was ruled by kings. Which brings us to:
  2. All Lugers are old, and all of these particular models are 97-100 years old. Fortunately, they are made of good alloy steel, and the sort of steel they are made of is not subject to gradual weakening due to fatigue, or at least, is far less subject to it than nonferrous metals. Absent overstress, a Luger’s parts will never give out. Absent wear, they’ll always fit together right (which means lubrication is your special friend if you want to shoot one a lot). Absent corrosion, their steel parts should be strong as they were on Day 1, metallurgy of steels being what it is, but the springs may have weakened from age or overuse.
  3. As in every auto pistol, the magazine is a potential single point of failure. The Luger mag is incredibly well-designed from a functioning standpoint and is not much given to crapping out, but it can be damaged by abuse, and as #2 says, the originals are all a century or so old. P.08 mags were made up to the arrival of T-34s and Shermans atop the factories, and after the war have been made by various third parties. Aftermarket magazines are hit and miss; original magazines are superior (but expensive), if not cracked or broken.
  4. The system is complex and there are a number of places where unwelcome friction can mess up the gun’s cycle and timing. So seeking and reducing that friction can help.

And of course, the gunsmith’s version of the Hippocratic principle (“First, do no harm”) is always in mind. We try to do the minimum to the gun and avoid permanent or hard-to-reverse alterations. Because, Bubba. And the Weaponsman Principle (“Don’t be that guy.”)

It's many things, but a Luger is not simple.

It’s many things, but a Luger is not simple. This is the standard Pistole 08.

With those principles and constraints in mind, first we tried the good old GI method: how much lubricant can a firearm absorb and not be too slippery to grip? Then we wound up having an adventure simply going to the range. Turns out, Ye Olde Weaponsman’s membership in this range had lapsed. (Guns are our thing. Paperwork, not so much). Then, the old SS chose to give up its GhoSSt on the way home. Basic troubleshooting availed us not, so AAA sent a ramp truck for the last half mile, and our local carsmith is hooked it out of here yesterday. Oy. So we don’t know yet if the drench-it school of lube has made Old Unfaithful faithful again.

We kind of think not; that would be Too Easy, although the fact that the gun worked until recently suggests that it’s failing because something changed, and level and viscosity of oils is something that’s constantly changing.

So, for the time being, we went to Plan B, which is to do some mechanical training on the Luger, and look for anything anomalous (we had found nothing on the pre-range inspection). We recall thinking, “this will not end well,” but we dismissed the thought and did not go get the mismatched beater Luger instead. And we walked Kid through the intricacies of assembling and disassembling the Luger, with no more trouble than the occasional Luger part imprinting itself on the hardwood floors. He is the only kid in his high school with hands-on time with an Artillery Luger, he thinks, and he’d be the envy of all his friends if he talked about the guns we have at home, which he does not.

And at this point, we’re going to wrap for the morning, in order to get on to other things. But Kid did find an anomaly in the Luger that caused some intermittent friction. To be continued!

Plastic E and F Silhouettes — when to replace them?

plastic_targets_fig_fmThis post is a response to a perhaps deservedly snarky comment that was posted to to a recent post on how the Army, mirabile dictu, is actually training smarter for a change.

And BTW, have they done anything to fix those asinine plastic targets, which once the center is shot out, won’t fall no matter how many times you miss right through the center of the gaping maw?
Like perhaps stringing their inventor up by the man-giblets with comm wire?

We had experienced the same thing… Hollow Harry, the Silhouette Who Would Not Die. You see, the M30/31 target stands lower the targets when they “feel” a bullet impact on their mounted silhouttes. No impact, because your bullet passed through the foot-square hole at center of mass, no target drop, no credit towards your Expert badge. It wasn’t fair, but then, what is?

And so we wondered — what is the wear-out standard for a well-ventilated pop-up silhouette?

Well, it turns out, Uncle Sam has a manual for that. It goes by the thrilling title of Operator, Organizational, Direct Support and General Support Maintenance Including Basic Issue Items List and Repair Parts List for Small Arms Targets and Target Material. If that’s too much of a mouthful, just memorize FM 9-6920-210-14 (USMC FM 6920-14/4). But despite the unwieldy name, it addresses our problem — sort of.

In Change 3, from 1986, they say:



OCR’ing that, and cleaning up the fringes, we get (and call out in bold for emphasis):

Page 5. Paragraph 2-2a.1 is added after 2-2a:
2-2a.1 Plastic Targets (Polyethylene).

The usage and selection of the plastic targets, listed under Miscellaneous Equipment in appendix B, are as directed in paragraph 2-1, above. Plastic targets are plastic silhouette targets kneeling type E, 12002896 (2, fig. B-54) and plastic silhouette targets prone type F, 12002899(1, fig. B-54).

These plastic targets are primarily used for M16/M16A1 rifles and M30/M30A1 and M31A1 target holding mechanisms.

Plastic targets will be replaced only when they have deteriorated through usage (bullet holes) to a condition where they cannot give suitable service.
Page 5. This note is added after 2-2a .1
Note. Plastic targets are listed in accordance with appendix B. Refer to section III in the description column under heading “Miscellaneous Equipment” for the item and exact quantity issued for each separate plastic target National Stock Number.

So the official “word” is pretty vague, and the concept of “suitable service” is likely to be pretty elastic, tracking training-aids budgets more accurately than it tracks the condition of the actual targets. Paragraph 2-1, mentioned above, is mere lawyer’s boilerplate, demanding that all targets be used in accordance with safety rules and Army and local regulations. Paragraph 2-2 is where the different types of targets and their uses are defined.

You can find a scroungy scan of a scroungy copy of this manual on Google Books, and download the .pdf there.

Rimfire Challenge Ammo Guaranteed by ATK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Three Reasons Not to Use the Blackhawk Serpa Holster

100 of these wound up in a landfill. Not doing that risked a lot more of the taxpayers' money.

100 of these wound up in a landfill. Not doing that risked a lot more of the taxpayers’ money.

It is our considered opinion that you should not use this product. Last SF company before retirement bought 90 or 100 of them circa 2003 (an SF company has 84 officers & men if at full strength, plus operational floats) and we discovered the same thing everybody else has: the Serpa has three serious safety-of-use problems, either of which alone would be enough to recommend retiring and destroying the holster and using anything else. Even Mexican carry.

We understand why the Serpa holster was designed. Pistol retention is a serious problem for anyone that tangles hand to hand with hostile persons. The police are more likely than armed forces to throw down mano a mano, but any soldier or Marine in ground combat can wind up in that place, the good old unsought fist fight or grapple-for-the-gun game. Many police forces, and some military units, specify a retention holster for just that reason. But there are a number of ways to design a retention holster. There are three reasons that the Serpa is the wrong way:

Safety of Use Issue #3: Stuck Pistol Syndrome

The Serpa does provide positive retention — sometimes too positive, especially if grit, sand, gravel or mung in general gets into it. If it gets into the retention release mechanism, Jesus Christ Himself isn’t getting that thing open. That’s rather a problem, because if you’re like us, you don’t generally go to unholster a gun until the situation has already gone uncomfortably nonlinear. The only thing worse than pulling your gun too soon is pulling it too late. The only thing worse than pulling it too late is attempting to pull it, and then failing to pull it at all, after signalling that you were going to. This problem by itself should be enough to disqualify this holster family.

Safety of Use Issue #2: It’s Slow

No matter how much you drill, the trigger-finger release is going to be slower than some of your other options. Worse, it’s going to be less consistent, because from time to time you may address the holstered firearm a little differently, and it doesn’t take much change in alignment to miss the flipping catch. If you miss the catch, you have to grope around, all while the clock is ticking. There are holsters that don’t make you do all this, so this problem by itself, also, should also suffice to disqualify this holster family.

Safety of Use Issue #1: Increased ND Risk

This is the biggest Serpa problem that people talk about. By using your trigger finger to disconnect the gun, and then having that finger fall on your trigger you great we increase the odds you’ll touch off a round with the pistol aligned somewhere other than at the proper target.

This video (NSFW but understandable language) shows an experienced shooter having a very typical Serpa ND. In the slo-mo at about 0:57-59 you can see exactly how it happened.

In this case, there was a combination of negative transfer of training from the more conventional 5.11 holster that this shooter used with another pistol, and the Serpa putting his index finger too close to the projectile initiator, too early in the draw sequence. Tex says he doesn’t blame the holster, he blames himself; fair enough, you can’t have an ND without human input. But his tools made the ND easier, instead of raising obstacles to an ND.

As we’ve said, every one of these issues is serious enough to warrant discarding the Serpa holster (and any holster that works like it, with an index-finger release paddle). But the increased ND risk with the Serpa is, in our opinion, the most consequential of these issues and the one that, even if you dismiss the other two, needs to sink in before you have a mishap like Tex’s.

We’re not sure even he knows how lucky he is. Mere inches from the channel that .45 slug dug in his thigh is one of the superhighways of the circulatory system, the femoral artery. A bullet in that artery would have led to his incapacitation in minutes, and ultimately, death, unless the right first aid was available extremely rapidly. He seemed to us to be alone on the range. How often have you shot, alone? It’s a calculated risk.

Doing it with a Serpa makes the calculation all wrong.

It’s not just us

We aren’t the only ones who just say no to Serpa. For example, Paul Howe wrote in 2005:

Another problem … a recent student …. exerted excessive pressure from his trigger finger to the unlock button and when drawing the weapon, drug the finger along the holster and into the trigger guard, discharging the airsoft weapon prematurely into his leg during his draw sequence.

Trigger fingers are just that, for the trigger. I think it should remain straight and have one function, to index the trigger.

Larry Vickers says:

I have banned for almost two years now Serpa style (trigger finger paddle release) holsters from my classes – several other instructors and training facilities have done the same. …. I understand many shooters use Serpa holsters on a regular basis with no issues whatsoever. However an open enrollment class environment has its own set of challenges … and a trigger finger paddle release holster is asking for trouble.

Todd Green in 2011:

At this point, is going to follow the lead of other instructors such as Larry Vickers and ban the SERPA (and the various cheap knockoffs on the market) from classes beginning in 2012. I have been suggesting to students that they bring something else to classes up until now and will continue that for anyone who is already registered for a class in 2011.

And earlier that year, in reference to the Tex Grebner accident video posted above:

[T]he SERPA retention mechanism certainly lends itself to such accidents more than most other holsters. Instead of keeping your trigger finger well clear of the gun during the initial part of the drawstroke, the SERPA and its clones require you to press your trigger finger toward the trigger as you draw.

A lot more instructors say about the same thing. Travis Haley, Chris Costa, and a lot of guys you never heard of but that have seen these things cause one problem after another even on what should be a routine flat range. Rational Gun has a list of some of them, but Google will find you even more. (For example, RG has a link about the FLETC ban, but we don’t believe he mentioned the IDPA ban on the Serpa).

Yet this thing is still on the market, and people (and worse, agencies) are still buying them. Don’t Be That Guy™.

Crimson Trace’s “Foundation of Success”

crimson-trace-laserFrank Miniter writes in the normally anti-gun Forbes magazine with a remarkable business story — a profile of the way the spirit reduced to a few handwritten lists, recited with the faithfulness of a cloister’s vespers, animate a business in our industry: Crimson Trace, the maker of compact lasers and laser handgun grips, like the one on the Glock at right. A taste:

There are two handwritten lists on the sheet of notebook paper. They are written in black ink on a sheet of paper torn from a legal pad in 1994. He tells me he used to read these aloud with his business partners—mostly engineers—every morning. Small edits show it was tweaked and added to until they thought it perfect. So perfect, he says, they got so they could say the numbered lists without the piece of now crinkled and smudged paper. When that happened Lew put the lists in a frame and tacked it on the wall.

Under the title “Our Mission: What it’s going to feel like” is:

1. Our futures are financially secure
2. We all own part of everything
3. Work is fun
4. Our tools and equipment are topnotch
5. Our customers love us
6. Our building and property are impressive to say the least
7. We own other profit-making corporations
8. Our profits are at all time highs
9. Our competition cannot touch us
10. We are moving forward into the future

Lew proudly says these ten hopes and dreams aloud to me as he did every morning with his team for years.

via The 21 Rules That Built An Industry Leader.

Miniter seems to have lasered in on something that is of bedrock importance to the Wilsonville, Oregon company. While the first list describes how the founders of the company intended to wind up (and did), a second and perhaps more-important list was titled, “How do we get there?” and comprises 11 more rules. (To read it, you’re going to have to click over to Frank’s article and Read The Whole Thing™, which you know you wanna do anyway).

And here’s founder Lew Danielson’s ideas about why these rules are about people, not things; and how it influences hiring:

The rules to run a business by must deal with people, not products. This is because people create the products. When I hire someone, and I still interview everyone, I ask them about their hobbies and passion. I want to know them as a person—I figure if they made it to my office others have already vetted their resumes. When I ask someone if I can count on them and they get these misty eyes and tell me they better believe I can, well, then I know I have a loyal and passionate part of the Crimson Trace team.

Frank Miniter has far more information about the culture of Crimson Trace and the character of its people packed into his column. We’d tell you you-know-what, but we already did, right?

Science of Background-Matching Camouflage

You’ve all seen the scene from one of the Jurassic Park movies: the dinner-seeking dinosaur matches it’s background so perfectly, and blends in so perfectly, that it seems to vanish. This is a type of camouflage called background–matching (called “color resemblance” in Cott’s 1940 classic, Adaptive Coloration in Animals), and while it’s a bit speculative in dinosaurs, it’s been used for millennia by other animals — and may be used in the future by humans. We’ve seen it before in a Bond movie, too: the invisible Aston Martin.

Now see it with cube-shaped boxes on various settings around the MIT campus in Cambridge, MA.

Background Matching (“color resemblance”) is one of a very few broad methods of using color to conceal. The others are obliterative shading (countershading), disruptive coloration, and shadow elimination.

In the real world, how would such adaptive camouflage work? Andrew Owens of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory et al. have conducted a study (.pdf) that tested a couple thousand people on 37 iterations of algorithmically developed camouflage. The camo tried to hide a cubic virtual box, and Owens and the team used six different algorithms to try to make the box disappear from multiple angles.

The results of the test can be restated simply:

  • Algorithmic camouflage was effective at making an object hard to find. It consistently took three times as long to find the box hidden by the most effective algorithm, compared to the one with the least effective.
  • The least effective algorithm was to simply average the colors of the background into a single neutral (presumably neutral, anyway) shade.
  • The most effective used some sophisticated math called a Markov Random Field and then hid any color boundaries by requiring them to map to the actual physical boundaries of the concealed object (in the test, a cube). How does that work? Because a viewer would see the color contrast boundaries if they appeared on any one face facing him, but would only see a boundary on an edge if he could see both of the two sides that formed that edge.

We may have failed at the “restated simply” task, but we gave it a shot. For a deeper understanding, or just to have the experiment explained and the conclusions restated complexly, do Read The Whole Thing™, and check out the lab’s page about the camo project, and MIT’s press release, which talks up the pros of camouflaging HVAC and other systems hardware in otherwise historical or natural place.

We, of course, saw the military utility foremost, but then, we are knuckle-dragging widowmakers and all that.

This is enabling research that will lead in due course to adaptive camouflage. Yes, an M1A1 or Stryker or MV-22 has far more facets that Owens’s cubes, and the technology to cover those vehicles economically with conformal displays for camo purposes has yet to make it out of the lab. But this paper is an important step (not a first step, of course, because the authors build, as ever in science, on prior work) towards the translation of this capability along the RDT&E chain from concept, to science, to engineering.

Along with Owens, Professor Bill Freeman, and visiting student Alex Flint from the MIT CSAIL, the team included UVA graphic-computing expert (and inventor of Photoshop tools) Connelly Barnes, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute imaging & robotics researcher Hanumant Singh.

Note also that the paper has some useful stuff for those who want to understand how camouflage works and how to make it work better, in the bibliography and footnotes.