Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Shotgun ammunition for home defense... a few thoughts

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Now that a home defense shotgun has been put together, the question remains: What should we feed it?

First, let’s ask ourselves why a shotgun is being used for home defense. Understanding that will help us make the ammunition choice. A shotgun has some advantages that make it desirable as a home defense weapon.

While any firearm powerful enough to use for defense will penetrate most walls, shotguns are slightly less likely to over penetrate.

A shotgun has the ability to fire a shell with multiple projectiles, increasing the likelihood of a solid hit and thus of stopping the threat. Some say the ominously large bore and unique sound of the action tend to make bad guys choose another activity… one far away from you and your family.

Sticking with the technical, and leaving the psychology aside for now, it’s the ability to fling a small cloud of shot which won’t pass through five houses and a school bus that helps make the shotgun a solid defensive choice. That being the case, lets look at ammunition options for this 'lil beastie.

There are ‘slug’ shells available in every gauge. From cute little 95 grain .410 slugs that almost rival a .380 pocket pistol, on up to 1oz 12 gauge bruisers meant to take down heavy game. Yes, they are available, but are they a good choice for home defense?

Using a slug gives up the advantages a shotgun brings to the table. There is only a single projectile, lowering hit probability. It also penetrates impressively. Used on big game, a slug normally goes clean through. Anything short of a brick wall is unlikely to stop one completely.

On the other hand, slugs give the shotgun a longer reach, allowing buckshot for close in shooting and then being able to reach out to longer ranges with nothing more than a different shell being loaded. There are many schools of thought on this, but I’d like to make two points here. In the heat of the moment, when an attacker has escalated the situation so boldly that deadly force is required, how many people will be able to keep track of which shell they are loading, and for what reason? Also… if the range has gotten long enough to demand a slug (over 50 yards) then maybe the range is long enough that shooting is no longer required defensively. Yes, there might be an occasion when long range capability is required, but at that point the shotgun is simply not the best weapon. A pocket full of slug shells might serve in a pinch, but those ranges speak to the need for a rifle, not a shotgun.

When we speak of defensive shooting with a shotgun, we are really talking about ammunition which shoots shot… and we are left with looking at what size shot and how much. Buck shot or bird shot… and here there really is no choice. Bird shot is just that; small shot made for taking small game birds on the wing. Bird shot will not penetrate well enough to reliably stop an attacking opponent. Sure, it can leave a nasty surface wound and may eventually drop the bad guy from blood loss, but that’s not the goal. Shots fired are meant to stop the bad guy from attacking, and that means stop, not hurt.

For that, penetration is required, and damage to structure and major blood vessels.

Now the choice is narrowed to buck shot. 2 ¾” shells or 3” shells? #4 buck shot or O/O buckshot? Magnum or standard? The choice is actually not all that hard once the performance of the ammunition is looked at.

Normally, a ‘Magnum’ shotgun shell gets that name by carrying more payload, and not by achieving a higher velocity. The extra weight of more pellets means higher recoil; not something to be lightly passed over in a weapon that already has quite a kick. The same can be said for 3” shells over 2 ¾”. Again, they carry more pellets and tend to have significantly higher recoil. There is always a trade off for the higher shot count. 2 ¾ standard shells have a history of doing the job, and there’s no reason to assume bad guys have gotten tougher in the last few generations.

As to shot size, here we have a choice. Typically under consideration for defensive use, ammunition makers load #4, #1, ‘O’, double O, and triple O buck shot. The difference is in the size of the pellets and thus, how many will fit in the shell. #4 is the smallest, and typically has about 27 pellets. O/O is the most common large size with nine pellets being about standard in the shorter shells.


Shown here are four different buck shot shells dissected. Remington 'O' and #1 buck, Federal #4 buck, and Sellier and Bellot O/O buck. The white powder amongst the shot in the Federal and Remington payloads is buffer. It's packed with the pellets to help control deformation on firing. Round pellets fly faster, farther, and maintain better groups.

The smaller the shot, the less mass it has, and the less it’s going to penetrate. #4 buck shot is fairly small… about the diameter of a .22 rimfire bullet but with less than half the weight since it’s round instead of conical. A Double-O pellet is about .33 caliber and considerably heavier. As a result, it penetrates much better.

#4 is considered just a little too light for serious defensive shooting, although it has a place in varmint hunting and pest control. It’s quite effective on fox sized game.

#1 buck seems to be just at the bottom edge of desired penetration, and jumps the typical number of pellets to sixteen. It has a history of reasonable penetration as well, and the increased projectile count raises the odds of hitting a major blood vessel or nerve center.


O/O buck (double O) is traditional in defensive use and has a long track record. It balances penetration vs. projectile count decently, and functions well in the 12 gauge platform.

There is also the question of choke... constrictions in the barrel designed to control how tight the shot pattern is. A shotgun meant for longer ranges will have a tighter choke, for a more dense pattern. Shotguns for defensive use typically have no choke at all, letting the pellets spread as quickly as possible. Does that mean a hunting shotgun with a full choke is useless for defensive use? By no means, as the following photo shows.

Both targets were shot at 35 feet. The target on the left from a 12 gauge with a short barrel and no choke, the target on the right from the same shotgun with a full choked hunting barrel mounted. Clearly both would be effective shooting and likely to stop an attacker.

My conclusion?... My home defense shotgun will be loaded with Remington 'O' or 'O/O' buckshot. Patterning well, with decent penetration and pellets large enough to reliably have an effect, it's my choice for the house scatterblaster.

(note: A little research can be a good use of time. I'd like to point out that Xavier has had some excellent posts in the past on home defense shotguns. Guns and Ammo
magazine has also covered the topic.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A 'perfect' pocket pistol? Maybe the Ruger LCP fits.




My own search for the 'perfect' carry pistol has taught me that such does not exist. Something 'better' will always come along.

I began concealed carry with a Ruger Speed Six in .357 magnum. Heavy and bulky, but powerful and dependable and reasonably accurate and...... What more could be asked for?

That didn't stop me from asking.... and I moved to a Colt Combat Commander.
Eight rounds of .45acp power in a flat package that was 99.999% dependable, and besides that... it was a Colt .45. What more could be asked for?

Well.... maybe if it was a little lighter, and easier to conceal under Summer clothes. After all, Hiding the pistol on me was most of the battle. My carry piece needed to be small enough, light enough, that I
would carry it all the time... right? I moved to an older Taurus model 85 stainless snubby in .38 special. It was little, fairly light, and very dependable. Surprisingly accurate too for a snubby. That little heater was a breeze to carry, whether in a belly band or a belt holster... or even a coat pocket. The cartridge, .38 Special, had a long history and was reasonably effective with the right ammo. What more could I ask for?

Well.... perhaps if it carried more than five rounds... that would be nice. Flatter would be helpful as well. This brings us to my S+W M+P 9mm compact.
Twelve rounds of 9x19mm! A round arguably as powerful as the .38 Special with modern loadings. The M+P was not really any larger in dimensions than the Taurus snubby, and actually a little flatter. Add in a design which promotes instinctive shooting for me, great accuracy, and pretty good reliability. The M+P compact is a pistol one can carry all day long without noticing, will work every time, and shoots straight. What more could someone want?

Well.... perhaps if it came in a real caliber... one that started in '4' and ended in '5'. That would be nice. Loe and behold... S+W did just that! So.... my chubby butt was moved to the toy shop in search of the new breed, where my fancy was instead stolen by the Glock G-30 short frame model. Here was everything I looked for in the new M+P .45c, but came in a tried and true bullet resistant (if not bullet proof) Glock package. The G-30 is powerful, accurate, very shootable, and carries like a dream. All day long it rides my belt, and I seldom feel the slightest discomfort. The little Glock has racked more miles riding on my bod
y than most hybrid cars will any given year. What more could someone ask for?

Well...... I have learned to stop asking that question. There will always be something newer, better, more powerful, easier to carry, more accurate.... it's all just a matter of time. I can easily envision a future where I carry a Mk VII Mega Blaster
series two, with a 5 kilowatt laser effective at two miles, and all in a package smaller than my cell phone..... and I'll still be looking for something better.

The reality is not hard to see, once the glitz of 'newer' and 'better' w
ears off. We'll carry what we carry for what seems the best of reasons at the time. Choose your features from the full menu, but realize that every choice is a trade off. Big, small, powerful, easy to shoot, accurate, fast, safe, light, heavy..... you choose to suit your needs and desires.

Which brings us to a particular set of needs shared by many people, and the answer Ruger provides in the LCP weapon.

"Small enough to vanish into a pocket, especially with a 'pocket holster'. Light enough to pocket carry while wearing Summer weight shorts..... and no belt. Powerful enough to provide some reasonable level of distraction and deterrence, taking full advantage of modern pistol ammunition ballistics. More dependable than the average small auto, and with no added controls to complicate matters."

This list of 'requirements' reads like the specifications for the little Ruger LCP. Certainly not a primary weapon by any means, it does fill the role of backup pistol as if designed for it... as it likely was. In addition, it serves admirably in another role..... as a pistol to always be found with it's owner. By virtue of size, weight, and simplicity it fairly begs to be pocketed. Not just when leaving the house for errands,
but quite literally all the time. It's a ready addition to a bathrobe pocket, and simply vanishes into a pair of comfortable jeans. Go ahead and sit on it while eating breakfast... you might not even notice. Completely forgettable till it's presence is required or sought, the LCP has a lot of nothing going for it... and that may be it's best feature.

Crossing the (postal) scale at less than ten ounces, the Ruger LCP is also well under an inch thick. With a total size much smaller than a snubnosed revolver, the LCP can be 'palmed' by anyone with fair sized hands. Lay the pistol on a table, and most folks will have little difficulty completely covering the LCP with one hand.... comfortably.... with room to spare.

Small pistols are nothing new. Colt made pocket pistols for generations, as did Beretta and a host of other companies. Some were quite high quality, built of fine steel and sporting grips made from excellent wood. The Ruger LCP has none of that, being formed of modern polymers and using steel only where it must. This best explains why the LCP in .380 weighs less than the dinky Beretta Bobcat in .22 rimfire.

Regarding controls.... the LCP has very, very few. The trigger; Pull it through it's long and smooth double action pull, and the pistol goes off. That's about it, aside from the magazine release button.. No external safeties, no release for a slide locking back on an empty magazine. No..... nothing. It does have a slide lock, but it must be manually engaged to function, and is suited for range use or times when the pistol must visually be empty and safe. In normal firing it does not come into play.

The Ruger LCP is chambered in .380 acp, a round often thought the lowest end of usefulness in self defense. It's a weak sister to the 9x19 Luger round, and is generally the most powerful round suited to blow back operated pistols... if the words '.380' and 'powerful' can be used in the same paragraph. The 9mm Makarov is marginally stronger, but just barely.

The LCP has a smooth design, with nothing sticking out to catch pocket linings or clothing. It's not a hammerless design, but the hammer is so shrouded as to be ignored. The works are double action only, with a very long trigger pull. Smooth, with a clean break, it most resembles a double action revolver in use. The same smooth and rapid long squeeze gives the best results, even though the LCP will never, ever be regarded as a target pistol.

The sights are machined into the slide itself. In front, a low nub, with the rear having a wide undercut notch. Nothing protrudes above the slide to catch. In fact, at first glance it would be easy to say it really has no sights, at least until the pistol is raised into the line of sight and they become evident. This is in keeping with the pistols intended design and use.... last ditch backup defensive shooting at short range (across a room would be a far shot).

This is not to say the pistol is inaccurate. My experience may vary from others, but the first six rounds fired from this little boomer left a group that could be covered with one hand, at a distance of about twenty feet. The next six rounds made a ragged whole in the middle of the first group. After thirty or forty rounds learning the trigger, control was acceptable, predictable, and reasonable.

As for care and feeding, I have tried only two variations on the .380 theme so far. One, a 90 grain FMJ load, fed every bit as good as one might hope. Function was perfect, and the little pills made a happily tight group even at pocket-pistol range. The other offering was a 90 grain JHP hand load specifically designed for the Colt .380 government model. As such, it's a warmish load, as the itty bitty Colt fully locks up. Even so, the Ruger spit out the harsh hand load without hiccup, and fed the truncated cone JHP as if designed for them.... as it probably was. This was somewhat of a surprise, as many small pocket pistols do not feed well on a diet of jacketed hollow points.

My impressions so far? Entirely favorable. The Ruger LCP is designed to fill a niche, and it does that job nicely. It's a quintessential pocket pistol, small, light, reasonably powerful, reliable, and not wildly expensive. Selling most places for under $300, the little 'powerhouse' is priced well for the market. It's directly compared to the Kel-Tec P3AT, and in fact the Ruger appears to have much the same design. The price difference generally runs about $50 or so, with the Kel-Tec being cheaper. A little research into the two pistols is not a bad idea, and that's what I did before making my purchase. I chose the Ruger over the Kel-Tec, as the price difference did not outweigh the perceived quality difference.

The Pistol went from it's initial range session straight to my vest pocket. At home, it slides into a plants pocket as it was designed to do. When I am out someplace, it can be found on me... someplace.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I ain't dead yet......

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Mini-update folks, on the fly... as it were. My duties (and joys) at teaching are keeping me spectacularly busy. Eventually I'll find time to write and share, but right now... whatever I produced would be rather poor quality.

Shooty things I could be writing about, and will be when time permits....

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I managed to do a bit of trigger work on my Glock G-30, and not screw it up. That will be a post, with photos, when I have time to do it justice.
* A Ruger LCP has followed me home. Let me just say.... "Hmmmm".... this is interesting. I now see a clear place for a very small, very light, and comparatively powerful pocket pistol. This thing is worth several posts, at least. Especially so once I run my stock of .380 ammo low and have to load specifically for the Elsie Pea.
* The seasons first cord of firewood has been delivered... so naturally my thoughts turn to backyard backstops for shooting small bore. Some of that wood will be 'stored' in the form of my new backyard .22 range. Look for a post with photos (g).
* Laura Burgess, fine woman she is, sent me an e-mail with the following attached (see below). Folks, this thing looks neat, and I may have to count my pennies to buy one. Why.... should speak for itself.

Time to rush off to school, my friends. 45 young minds wait on their daily warpage installation. (THINK boys, THINK!!). Ya'll have a fine day!

Carteach



THE SURESTRIKE™ LASER TRAINING SYSTEM

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Laser-Ammo--2611smSureStrike transforms any fully operational pistol into a laser emitting dry-fire training weapon within a few seconds. The SureStrike has dimensions similar to those of a standard ammunition cartridge and is simply loaded into the weapon’s chamber through the breech, then held in place with a safety pipe and nut.

color5 (2)Activated only by the firing pin strike, the SureStrike emits a microprocessor controlled, eye-safe laser pulse, or a “shot” of red light, which simulates the point of impact where a bullet fired from the pistol, would have struck. This immediate feedback results in rapid self correction and positive reinforcement.

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