Sunday, September 28, 2008

I found a Benjamin air rifle in the garage......

I like to say my first gun was a Marlin bolt action .22, given by my father as a working tool to carry on the farm.
That’s true, as far as it goes, but only for a given value of true.

My first rifle was a Sheridan Blue Streak pump air rifle; Still made today as the Benjamin- Sheridan, and now a division of Crossman. It’s the only air rifle I know of with a .20 caliber bore (5mm). For years the pellets were just known as ‘Sheridan pellets’. Bought five hundred at a time, I went through thousands upon thousands of those little lead wonders.

Squirrels and rabbits ran at the sound of the pneumatic pump on that air rifle. Squeek..wooosh…squeek..wooosh. Five pumps for target practice, ten for small game.

At ten pumps it’s pellet would make a squirrel go quiver-tail with any good hit. Out to twenty five yards it was good for everything from tin cans to rabbits. No fancy optics needed, just a good eye for a blade front sight

Single shot, bolt action, and every time you fired you got a work out. It taught marksmanship like nothing else. At the least, it developed upper body strength!

I learned that it would kill a woodchuck… something everyone else swore was near impossible. My method was simple….. I walked up on the chuck and watched him dive for cover. Examining his holes, it was usually pretty easy to figure out which way he would emerge, and which direction his head would point.

I simply laid down a blanket about ten yards away, balanced the Sheridan on a rock, and went prone for a nice nap in the sun. Inside fifteen or twenty minutes Mr. Chuck would rise up for a look see, and get a pellet in his ear for the trouble. A solid hit was required or he might come out of that hole very, very angry.

Dad said he never saw the like, and happily bought me more pellets, to a certain limit. Wasting them was not allowed, and any dropped in the dirt had to be recovered and washed off.

I wore out one Sheridan, and blew up another. Not the rifles fault… strictly mine. Lets just say that ether will compression ignite very nicely….

My son learned to shoot with a Sheridan, and he too wore his out over the years. Like me, he bought himself another and uses it to this day. Mine was donated to a young shooter long ago, but the house here has a Benjamin air rifle in it, and the family lineage is clear. Bored in .22 caliber, this one has many years under it’s belt and still puts out a pellet with authority.

Brings back a lot of memories too…. Like shooting apples from the tree…. and skipping pellets off puddles…. and ………

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A time for contemplation, A time for beginnings

On this rainy morning, as I relax with coffee mug in hand and listen to the heavy drops hitting the trees, I wait the birth of my first grandson.

It’s a time for contemplation…. to regard the progress of life; A quiet moment to think, and remember, and give vision to the future.

A few weeks back I handed my grandson’s father his own big bore rifle. Not the very first occasion he’d held it, no it was many years ago that he originally felt it buck against his shoulder. A recent move on their part found the rifle stored in my safe, and now it was simply going back home with him. There to join his first .22 rifle, and his first shotgun; All veterans of long walks in the woods and hours on the range. Some of that spent with me as we shared the time.

Now I look forward, in about eight years or so, to teaching a new generation of the family. My mind turns to ‘first guns’, and the impressions they make on a young soul.

My own first rifle was simple Marlin .22 bolt action. With it I roamed many a field and wood, taking game and defending the world from marauding pine cones. Later, a pump action shotgun bought with saved lunch money and cash earned cleaning up equine exhaust products. Further down the road…. a single shot 30-30… the rifle I took my first buck with.

My middle son claimed his Savage 325b that day, and held it with all the loving care I know he’ll hold his new son. Given him as a reward for helping out some friends of ours, the rifle was old a generation ago. Back then a bolt action 30-30 was an inexpensive rifle designed for no frills hunting. Harvest a deer or three, and then back into the closet it went. In my sons hands it turns into seven pounds of solidified memories.

That’s what I’ll need to come up with for my grandson in a very few years. Something with character and soul; something that will hold all the memories we’ll build together.

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven — A time to give birth, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to tear down, and a time to build up. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing. A time to search, and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep, and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; A time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Sunday, September 21, 2008

H+R top break .38 S+W

(click photos to enlarge)
(Note: This is a repost.... life's a bit too busy right now to research a quality post. So.... I reached back a bit and pulled this dusty old post out of the archives. I still own this pistol, and shoot it occasionally.)

A recent acquisition for the collection, and presented as received, is this little bit of history. A Harrington and Richardson top break revolver in .38 S+W.

H+R built these little jewels from the turn of the century till just before WWII. Coming in .32 Smith+Wesson, .32 Long, and .38 Smith+Wesson, they were never over powered by any means.

The top break revolver did not have a cylinder that swung out, but a frame that pivoted open revealing the rear of the cylinder. The early models did not have an automatic extractor, instead using a manual rod like a typical modern revolver with a swing out cylinder. Later models, like this, used an automatic extractor that ejected the shells rather smartly if the pistol was operated with authority.

One issue that plagued the concept was occasional jamming. If the star extractor managed to get above a case that did not get thrown clear, the case would fall back into the chamber and the extractor would seat above the case. This effectively jammed up the gun till it could be cleared manually, which took some small effort. It was something that happened rarely, and usually only when the shooter failed to let the extractor eject the cases as it was built to.

This particular pistol is in excellent mechanical condition, despite having literally been stored in a sock drawer the last decade. The grips are original and intact, something mildly unusual as the plastic often got damaged over the years. It has known some rust, but not too badly. All in all it’s a decent example that will clean up nicely and is fully functional.

This later model is chambered in .38 S+W, an anemic cartridge by today’s standards.

I have pictured it next to a .38 special, a round considered minimal for defensive use today. It’s practically dwarfed alongside the ,357 magnum, although the family resemblance of all three is unmistakable. They are in fact a continuation on a theme, in each instance the case being extended to increase capacity, velocity, and stopping power.

Pictured alongside its contemporaries, the .32 S+W and the .32 long, the .38 S+W does show why it might have been preferred in its day. While the .32 long tossed a 100-grain lead slug along at 650 fps, the .38 S+W hit the same velocity with a 158-grain bullet.

Today a 158 grain .38 special moseys along at 850 fps and is considered just barely adequate.

This pistol will be stripped down, detail cleaned, and then spend some time at the range.

While not a whiz bang polymer high capacity high intensity wonder gun, it is a solid piece of history with generations of enjoyment and service left in it. Ammunition is available, and even when not it’s especially easy to make from its offspring, the.38 special.

The American public purchased these pistols in the hundreds of thousands, with over a million being produced. While some makes were of questionable quality, the H+R built top break pistols were nearly on a par with Smith and Wesson.

Favored by shop keepers and home owners desiring some simple protection generations ago, this type of pistol is frequently found today in decent usable condition, and can be had for reasonable prices. There is a collectors market, but its usually a low dollar one. A pistol of this make and condition can often be found for under $150 with a bit of searching.

Another neat firearm for the collection!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Armalite AR180b, piston powered from the start

The whole world knows the shape and sound of the US military's M-16 rifle. In service since the 1960's in one form or another, the weapon platform has seen use in battles across the entire globe. Not quite as well known is it's history, or the man mostly responsible for the M-16 with it's gas impingement form of action.

Eugene Stoner was working for Armalite when he conceived the AR design of rifle. Through various trials it found it's way into the military inventory and first saw service in Southeast Asia. Amidst complaints of reliability issues, Stoner redesigned the rifle (the AR-18) and reverted back to the short stroke gas piston. The military decided to stay with it's M-16 investment, and corrected it's ammunition and training issues that were the root cause of the M-16's issues.

Over the years, Stoner's updated and improved AR-18 design found favor with arms makers outside the US, and Morphed into many well known military weapons of the century, although it never came home to the US military. H+K especially liked the design, and borrowed many parts of it for their battle rifles. The Stoner AR-18 shadow falls heavily on the SA80, the SAR80, and the G-36.

On the home front, both the Armalite company and the AR-18 patent saw new owners and countries. The AR-18/ AR-180 itself became as much a collectors rifle as a shooter. Sometime around the year 2000 a reformed Armalite redesigned the AR-180 again, into the AR180b, and began production.

The AR180b combined the best features of the AR-15 and the AR-180 into one lightweight and dependable package. Never designed for full automatic fire, it's sales were aimed at the civilian and police markets. Introduced at a price several hundred dollars less than the competition's AR-15 rifles, it should have taken off well, and would have if dealers had not universally raised the price to AR-15 levels as it hit the store racks. After all, it was black and looked like an AR-15, so why shouldn't they get full AR retail for it?

Armalite still makes the AR180b, and it has a small but loyal following. Knowledgeable AR180b owners are now having giggling fits as they read articles loudly announcing new short stroke piston kits for the AR-15/M-16 rifles, the AR180b having had this reliable action from the beginning.

The AR180b weighs in at just over six pounds, and that's with a full length barrel. Much of the weight savings came from making the lower receiver of high strength plastic. For any normal service the receiver is indestructible, and will survive things that would destroy an AR-15. While redesigning the lower unit, Armalite built it to use standard AR-15 magazines and an AR-15 trigger group. This allowed the use of all the surplus magazines on the market, and also made repairing any trigger issues a breeze, with parts available from a dozen sources.

The upper unit is where things get different. A shooter need only use a cartridge to depress a plunger at the back of the action, and it will tilt apart similar to an AR-15. The similarity is only cosmetic, as everything else is different. Very different.

The bolt does not ride against the receiver, excepting a stud used to rotate the bolt head. This makes the action very reliable in dirty conditions, having room for debris to fall free. Instead, the bolt rides on two long rods, which also guide the recoil springs. Both rods and springs are contained in the receiver, unlike the AR-15. This means the AR180b (and AR-180) can have a real folding stock.

The bolt is acted on by a short stroke gas piston riding above the barrel under the upper forearm. Having removed the bolt and guide rods, the forearm can simply be lifted off and the entire gas system cleaned and serviced. The entire field stripping can be done with no tools, and achieved in under a minute. Reassembly is slightly more fiddly, with care needed to properly insert the bolt into the receiver, but can still be done in a about a minute.

Unlike the AR-15 type rifle, with the AR180b no gas enters the action. This increases reliability and makes cleaning a breeze. No more digging hardened carbon out of the bolt head!

Another major difference incorporated into the AR180b, the charging handle is a knob directly inserted into the bolt. This greatly simplifies working the action, and does away with the need of a forward assist. The action can also be manipulated with the rifle shouldered, unlike the AR-15 which requires a charging handle be pulled back right where a shooters face would be.

One point the AR-15 does have over the AR180b is the bolt release. The Armalite does not have one, and this makes shooting single rounds problematic. The AR180b won't be a contender in high power competition any time soon. On the other hand, reloading the chamber after inserting a full magazine is fast and instinctive, and many find it faster than hunting the small lever on the side of the AR-15.

The AR180b does not come with a flash 'suppressor', the ATF having deemed them entirely too evil for normal humans to own. Instead, it has a muzzle break that is reasonably effective. It's machined as part of the barrel, and some folks have a gunsmith replace it with a traditional flash suppressor. Likewise it does not come with a bayonet lug, the ATF having determined that drive by bayonetings are too common to allow the lug.

One unique feature of the AR180 and 180b is the built in proprietary scope base. It's a wedge-like affair welded to the top of the upper receiver. While a little strange, it's extremely effective. An optical sight can be mounted and dismounted easily by hand, returning to zero each time. The downside is availability of scope mounts to fit it. Only Armalite and a few aftermarket specialists make the spring loaded mount it requires.

One company, StorkWerkz, makes a high quality mount that in turn has a standard rail on it. They also sell replacement forearm sets of machined aluminum with multiple rails, just in case the 'robowarrier' image is desired.

My experience with the Armalite AR180b has been a good one. Over the years I've owned a few AR-15 platforms (all Colts) and each has fallen by the wayside, traded or sold. The Armalite is unlikely to suffer that fate, appealing to me more than any of the other black rifles ever did. With an Eotech 512 mounted on a StormWerkz mount, the rifle is boringly easy to shoot well. Hitting the target rapidly is a snap, as the rifle is light and recoil is minimal.

I ran across this rifle by sheer luck, unfired and in the original box for only $575. That is, strangely, the original suggested retail price as well. The rifle now retails for over $850, if you can find one. I consider myself a happy Armalite owner.

Maxpedition carry bag: Man Purse, Baby!

Yup, I carry a purse. You wanna make something of it? Huh punk?

Dialing down the manly defensive reaction a little, I'd like to write about the Maxpedition carry bag I use. In my opinion, the ultimate man purse.

In our modern 'culture', and I use that term very loosely, a purse is something carried by woman. In reality, what most woman carry is a handbag and not a purse.

The history of the 'purse' goes back through the ages, and ranges from a simple skin bag holding flint and gut string to the mountain man's possibles bag which might hold a wide array of tools and supplies.

Soldiers for all time have carried gear with them in shoulder bags, as have hunters and craftsman working afield. It's only in the last few centuries that a man carried purse has fallen out of favor, and women took over the duty of hauling all the gear and supplies.

Today, with our technological toys and gadgets, along with all the flotsam normally gathered in a mans pockets, man-purses are making a come back. Not everyone wants a 'Bat-Belt' full of holsters and clipped on widgets.

My own choice is a Maxpedition 'Fatboy' Versa Pack.

After reading multiple reviews, I decided to give the Fatboy a try. It's a carry solution for those days when I don't want a holster on my belt.

Some days are T-shirt days, or more usually tuck-in-the-shirt days. That does not lend itself well to concealed carry. I desired a purpose built weapon bag, but have never been comfortable with fanny packs. I'm wide enough already without having
something adding another few inches to my table toppling girth. Maxpedition had the solution, and a manly beast it is!

It's made of very heavy synthetic, similar to what a tow strap is built of. I can't imagine ripping it, or having the fabric itself wear out. The zippers and fasteners are built of heavy polymer and don't look the least delicate. The carry strap and main pouch have fasteners that can be handled easily with gloves on, and the zippers have pull ties to allow the same.

Designed for hard and heavy use, the Fatboy also has concealed carry in mind. Behind the main pouch is a zippered pocket big enough to comfortably hold a 1911 sized pistol and a few spare magazines. The back side of this pocket is covered in Velcro, and a minimalist universal adjustable holster can be slapped onto it, along with magazine pouches. All stays quietly out of the way till the big zipper is pulled, leaving the pistol wide open and easily drawn.

I should mention.... this is concealed carry only in the sense the weapon is not openly displayed. That, and much of the public would have no idea it's a bag designed for carrying a pistol. To those in the know it fairly screams GUN!. In my decades of CCW carry, I have never had anyone question me about carrying a weapon after spotting it on me. In the year or so I have carried the Maxpedition occasionally, I've had several people comment on the carry bag with full understanding of what it is. In one case, an officer made eye contact, then glanced at the bag. I said one word, quietly, "Permit", and he moved on without fuss.

The Fatboy must have been designed by someone who has carried a shoulder bag before. It's shaped in such a way that it falls naturally to a comfortable position, and that means it must be purchased in a right hand or left hand version. The carry strap changes in width and angle depending on the version ordered. For those who despise a heavy bag banging against your side, the designer placed a snap/strap on the backside of the bag so it can be fastened to a belt and kept solidly in place.

The carry strap itself comes with a comfortable and adjustable shoulder pad, and a quick disconnect buckle in case you want to drop the bag instantly. If the bag is grabbed and used to drag you, the buckle can be squeezed and the strap releases. That's a well thought out detail.

There are pockets built in that are suitable for cell phone, flashlight, wallet, and anything else you might imagine. If those are not enough there are strategically placed velcro patches that allow attachment of accessory pouches. One large velcro strap on the front of the bag is perfect for unit patches and name tags.

In growing accustomed to a 'man-bag', I have taken the time to build it into my range practice. Adding draw/fire exercises using the bag, I have found it's only a few seconds slower that drawing from a belt, with practice. As I carry the bag to my left side, and I am right handed, my left opens the zipper and my right makes the draw naturally. It's all one fluid motion given the outstanding design of the bag. It's only slightly slower when un-holstering a cell phone or wallet.

Looking at the Maxpedition web site, this bag shows available in a number of colors. Many accessories are also available to customize the carry solution to your needs. They also sell varied shoulder bags, brief cases, back packs, fanny packs, wallets, and other assorted goodies. If all are the same quality as the Maxpedition products I own, then their prices are not high, but a good value.I expect to have my Fatboy bag in service for years to come.

Note..... this little review is wholly my own. Maxpedition doesn't know me from Adam and they haven't given me a thing to write nice words about them.