Friday, April 24, 2009

Images from the high power shoot

Our local club holds a 'military rifle match' each month, for much of the year. I've fired the course in heavy snow storms and scorching sun. Perfectly fair of course, as everyone shoots under the same conditions.

The course of fire mirrors High Power match shooting, with targets being the standard bullseye, only the scoring rings being reduced in size for the 100 yard range. 10 rounds offhand, in ten minutes. 10 rounds seated rapid fire in 60 seconds. Another 10 rounds rapid fire prone in 60 seconds, and finally 20 rounds slow fire prone in 20 minutes. We have 5 rounds for sight adjustment at the beginning of the match.

Each month's match is themed. Pre-1900, WWII, Bolt action, Battle of the bulge, Vietnam era, etc. One need not stick to the theme, but most shooters try to.

Me..... I shoot just about every match with the same 1938 Turkish Mauser. It's a mile long, with open battle sights, and never designed for target shooting. It is, on the other hand, what I shoot in the matches each time and I've grown to understand it's rough edges. Generally I score in the mid to high 300's with it, out of 500 possible points. I don't use a sling, what with the front sling swivel being so far forward I have to use the spotting scope to look at it. It's just me, that old rifle, a mat, and whatever ammo I cobble together. Breath... stabilize... aim/squeeze.... fire.... reload.

For a collector and aficionado of old military rifles, these shoots are like a trip to Disney World. The weapons that show up are a varied mix, but always interesting and always in excellent condition. My old Mauser is the ugliest of the bunch... but manages to hold it's own against the fancy brethren.

Here.... a few images from the last match.

In an upcoming post I'll tear down the Grand Old Turk and illustrate how I've tweaked and tuned it into my 'match' rifle. Nothing dramatic, but small touches that allow a $100 gun show dog to rack up next to $1000 Garands and not give up an inch of pride.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Buckshot fired from a rifled shotgun barrel? Hmm......


Having taken a good look at various types of buckshot loads fired from both a short riot gun with no choke, and a full length shotgun with a full choke, We appeared to have a good handle on how buckshot is going to behave at the target.

But.... one test was left out, even if improbable. What happens when buckshot is fired through a rifled shotgun barrel meant to spin slugs? Will we see the 'Donut of Doom' so commonly espoused? Will it effect the pattern at all?

A rifled shotgun barrel is designed as a slug thrower, not a 'shot' thrower. Sure, it will go bang with shot and stuff will come out the end of the barrel, but what happens after that is not so clear. The spiral rifling meant to impart spin on a solid slug and stabilize it. It will impart the same spin on the shot charge. It must have an effect, but exactly how much of one was unclear to me till today.

Using a single shot H+R rifled slug gun in 12 gauge, I fired three rounds of #4 buck at
a silhouette target. The #4 buck has 24 pellets per shot charge, and leaves sufficient 'pattern' for analysis. Three rounds.... nearly 75 pellets, and enough to make a judgment on what happens (click on the target photo to enlarge).

The firing distance was about 35 feet, and roughly 30% of the pellets hit the silhouette with any effect. The rest.... decorated the hillside. The conclusion is clear; a rifled barrel will force the shot to spread at a very rapid pace. Where a cylinder bore shotgun will place all it's buckshot on center mass at that distance, a rifled barrel will splatter most of the pellets far and wide, with only some hitting the target in a useful manner. The 'donut' of shot did not appear on this target, and the pattern was without... well.... 'pattern'.

Would I use it for defense? If there was no other choice, yes. Given any choice at all I would prefer a smooth bore of any type over rifled for shooting buckshot.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Improvised positions.... rifle practice

Arriving at the club to find an empty 100 yard rifle range, it seemed as good a chance as I’ll ever get to practice improvised shooting positions. The monthly high power matches help me learn the classic rifleman positions; Prone, kneeling, and offhand. With an empty range and beautiful weather, it was an opportunity to try a few other shooting situations.

Ammunition supplies still being thin, I was willing to devote only a few magazines worth to training just now. Even with some nasty Wolf steel case ammo begging to be shot up and forgotten, sixty rounds were to be my limit for the day. Therefore, each shot had to count.

A few rounds of the standard ready load were expended checking the rifles zero. There was no reason it should have moved, but seeing the holes appear just exactly in the right place again leads to confidence in the rifle. Zeroed in at 100 yards, the Eotech 512 sight provides a very rapid target acquisition while still allowing fairly detailed aiming. The center dot covers only 1” at 100 yards, while the outer ring is 60 inches wide. Surprising for a sight with no magnification, shooting two inch groups proves fairly easy. The rifle is sighted dead on at one hundred yards, which still has it in the black at two hundred. This is a suitable setting for a rifle of this type, at least to my thinking. While the 5.56x45mm cartridge might be effective out to three hundred yards and beyond, that’s stretching my ability to hit anything with this rifle. I regularly practice at two hundred yards, and have confidence in the rifle at that range.

Moving to a silhouette target placed at the 100 yard berm, I looked for options in the way of improvised rests; preferably something to simulate firing from cover.

Selecting a wooden roof support post, I practiced leaning my weight against the post (simulating a tree or wall corner). With the hand against the wall, I opened my hand to make an improvised rest for the rifle. Catching the forearm in the crook of the thumb, and using the thumb to grasp the rifle, it makes for a very stable rifle rest.

Get into position, and fire a round. Now back away and repeat, trying to get into position, acquire the target, and fire in two to three seconds per shot. A full magazine of twenty rounds takes several minutes to go through. Within twenty or thirty rounds, the motion begins to come naturally.

This improvised position is an easy one to practice with dry fire and snap caps. Live fire is fun and instructive, but dry firing has its value as well. Muscle memory comes from repetition, and more is better.

Moving from the standing improvised rest next came shooting from behind low cover. In this case, a range burn barrel. While an empty barrel provides only concealment, and poor stuff at that, its size and shape make for a good challenge. Getting low enough to be covered by a typical barrel is difficult, and requires hunching down into an uncomfortable firing position.

Here the shooter is faced with choices. Kneel or sit? Rest against the barrier or not? I prefer kneeling, as it makes moving again faster and easier. Given the choice of shooting from a rest or not, I practiced both options.

Something that must be taken into consideration…. if the rifle has a muzzle break, as many modern rifles do, shooting alongside a barrier can and will direct powder residue back at the shooter. Protective glasses are a must. A face full of unburned powder and debris can be extremely distracting, and without eye protection could be disabling.

Again, back away to standing between each shot. This makes for excellent exercise, and I managed to crack a fair sweat just going through thirty rounds. Try going from standing to kneeling, hunched over, and back to standing, thirty times…. feel the burn (g).

The target does not show pinpoint accuracy, but every shot is placed well enough to be effective with a rifle such as that. Given the attempted time constraint, I’m not overly displeased with the results. Two to three seconds to snap into position with improvised cover and get an effective shot off….. That seems acceptable. It certainly seems like a lifetime while doing it.

Putting away the Armalite, the rest of the range time was turned over to a CZ452 in .22LR. Practicing formal positions for next weeks match; another 100 rounds went down range, some even striking the target. This here rifle shooting stuff are fun!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Experimenting with hand loads, heavy bullet 9x19mm


One of the joys hand loaders… well… ‘Enjoy’ is the ability to experiment with various loads. They are not locked into set formulas as the commercial manufacturers are, making their ammunition to SAMMI specifications with a pantheon of firearms to be served. Hand loaders can design a load specifically for one gun… their gun… and no other.

That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to stray too far from the reservation, as all things mechanical have their limitations. A case full of very fast powder behind a heavy jacketed bullet just might cause a .45 colt to spontaneously disassemble itself in a very unfriendly fashion. Likewise a very light charge of slow powder can cause a rifle to self destruct as well. Loading manuals are excellent guides, and most hand loaders should live within their constraints.

For those willing to accept the risk, and willing to engage in the required study, experimenting with hand loads can be exciting and rewarding. One must know and understand the process, and approach the endeavor with caution. That said, there is room to play… and play I shall.

Recently I was building some moderate 9x19 hand loads as practice ammunition. On the shelf, in my sight as I worked at the loading bench, was a box of Rainier plated bullets. 158 grain hollow points designed for the .38 special, my own snub nosed Taurus announced an immediate dislike for the bullet after trying only a few dozen of them. The rest of the box sits on the shelf, waiting for fortune to provide an answer.

Thinking about those bullets as I worked, I realized that while they measured .358” in diameter, they were only just barely larger than the nominal .356” bullets used in the 9mm case. At 158 grains, they were quite a bit heavier than the weightiest bullet I had ever seen in a 9x19, 147 grains. On the other hand, being made of copper plated soft lead, they could be expected to register fairly low pressures if conservative loads were used.

A plan was coming together…

When I was done with the normal 9mm practice load, I left the ‘Power Pistol’ powder in the measure, but backed it down to a fairly sedate load weight for the caliber. Researching the heaviest bullet load data I could find in 9x19, I dialed back a half grain from the 147 grain jacketed bullet loads. Even though the bullet I planned on trying was heavier and slightly wider in diameter than normal, I counted on the extreme softness of the bullet to work in my favor, as well as the strength of the pistol I would be trying them in. Were these jacketed bullets I would never have tried it, as the pressures would likely have been too high for comfort.

Why try the load? For two main reasons, and a host of smaller ones; chiefly I was curious to see if it would work. In addition, I had the bullets and finding they would shoot decently in one of my 9mm pistols would mean another few boxes of ammo I could make cheaply. These are reasons enough. I loaded several dozen for testing.

At the range one fine morning, I set up in a pistol bay, placing a bench at the fifty foot line. It’s a stable rest from which to judge accuracy, and fifty feet is a good distance to wring out ammunition in a carry pistol. For this testing, the Ruger P-85 took the duty. Built like a tank, it’s more than capable of dealing with a slightly higher than normal pressure should the load have been misjudged.

The targets were nothing more complicated or costly than eight inch paper plates with a hand drawn dot in the center. These serve fine for informal shooting, and sometimes even more formal training and competition.

Up first, a magazine of factory Federal 115 grain ball. Not the pistols favorite load, but a good conservative data point to judge other loads against. Fired at fifty feet, the Federal easily made four inch groups without any straining on my part.

Moving to the pistols favorite carry load (a 124 grain hollow point in front of a hot load of Power Pistol) the Ruger once again made a four inch group, although with much greater authority, both in recoil and blast.

Trying the experimental 158 grain plated bullet load, the pistol managed groups about five inches in size, just north of the aiming point. Perceived recoil and muzzle blast was no greater than the Federal factory load, and examination of the fired cases revealed no pressure signs outside normal expectations.

The Ruger functioned well with the bullet, even though it’s clearly not designed for the 9mm cartridge. The bullet nose is better suited to a revolver, but the P-85 managed to feed and chamber it without a hitch.

Conclusions reached? The load functions well, without problems. More can be loaded for further testing, and the load will be recorded in the log as suitable for use when such components are on hand.

Having found the Ruger P-85 manages to shoot bullets designed for the .38, I am left to wonder if the .38 special will shoot bullets I cast for the 9x19mm. Hmmm…… Another experiment in the offing.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Defensive shotgun skills.. Moving to cover, and transitioning right to left


Once again, a nice afternoon found my sons and I at the range. This day... defensive shotgun drills were on the menu.

Practice may not always make for a perfect response, but it's certain that lack of
practice almost guarantees poor performance in stressful situations. If that situation is one involving defensive shooting skills, poor performance could be very bad indeed. Some movements come naturally, and others do not. The more complicated and more unnatural the movement, the more it needs to be studied and practiced.

In my case, transitioning from right handed shooting to left handed shooting often causes problems to appear. Add in the factor of movement, and things go downhill very quickly. Doing both with a pump action shotgun made for some interesting discoveries!

Shooting a weapon that requires different actions from each hand can be a ballet in itself. Most folks can master a pump action shotgun with only a little practice. Take the same firearm and reverse the actions; forcing the strong hand to work the action and the weak hand to control firing. This seems to cause confusion and a momentary loss of concentration. The motions that come naturally to a shotgun shooter when
working strong hand may become almost laughable when switched to the weak hand. Forgetting to work the slide is the main culprit, while aiming can also become difficult.

Here in this video, I move from behind an improvised range barricade into shooting while moving. Taking cover behind another barricade, I reload while keeping as much attention downrange as possible. Once reloaded, I transition to weak hand and fire while moving back to the original cover position.

A lesson learned during this particular drill; if the shotgun has any malfunction at all, don't stop during the move to clear it! Move even faster to cover, and clear the malfunction there as rapidly as possible. Stopping in the open to clear a malfunction or misfeed could be.... unhealthy.

This day I was shooting up some 12 gauge loads with #7 shot, terrible ammunition that I had made while teaching myself to reload shotgun shells. It made for multiple malfunctions, once even ripping the base off a shell on extraction. My son helpfully suggested I save the ammunition for malfunction drills... my response: "What do you think we are doing now?"

While the reload seems slow, it really only takes about 10 seconds to fully load five rounds. Top level shooters on the AMU team take about a second per shell to reload, so a little slower is no shame. The first round is dropped in the loading port and the slide brought forward to battery. The weapon is now back in business if need be. The rest are loaded as quickly as possible without fumbling, while still keeping attention downrange towards the threat/target. Once fully loaded, the shotgun is moved to the left side, and shooting on the move commences again. In each case, before moving the first shot is taken from cover of the barricade.

Since the transition from strong to weak hand is a difficult one for me, it gets extra attention during practice. Repetition is the key, with many, many shells expended getting the movements to become habit.

In the following video, I maintain position behind the makeshift barricade (upturned shooting benches) and transition from side to side with every shot.

A lesson quickly learned here; I cannot kneel properly and shoot side to side like that. It proved too awkward. I had to practically sit on my heels, with both legs and feet under me as I moved. Rocking back and forth like that was the only way to bring
the shotgun quickly to bear in both directions without changing the entire body position each time. I had to sacrifice some body stability to stay flexible enough to make the transition right to left, and back again.

In addition, I learned my natural tendency was to toss the shotgun from one hand to another, losing control of it for just a fraction of a second. While this might have been slightly faster, it 's an unacceptable trait and must be practiced away. Always maintain control of the weapon.

My boys and I burned up enough shells today that we emptied what had been a full 5.56 ammo can. Along the way we learned some new skills, and practiced some learned previously. Each run through on a drill found us picking up a new pointer, discovering some small twist that made it smoother, and getting one step closer to actually having a clue what we are doing.