Old Guns, Modern Ammunition

PPSH in action: sparks at the muzzle are fragments of steel bullet jacket

PPSH in action: sparks at the muzzle are fragments of steel bullet jacket

One of the major draws of old firearms used to be the availability of inexpensive surplus ammunition. Thanks mostly to the UN and our own government, much of the available surplus is now destroyed rather than sold. Modern surplus comes mainly from military production overruns designed to reduce per round cost to the government-run plants in Russia. One of the calibers most affected by this has been 7.62×25 Tokarev. The round is a higher-pressure variation on the 1896 7.63×25 Mauser pistol cartridge which, although minutely different in geometry, would fit the later Soviet guns. Due to the higher pressure of the Soviet round, it is not safe to use in the vintage Broomhandle Mauser pistols.

The Comblock use of that round began with TT30, TT33 and vz52 pistols and continued in PPD34, PPSh41, PPS43 (available now in pistol form) and the 1990s Bizon submachine guns. Bottleneck shape helped reliability in extraction. Generally loaded with 85-grain steel-jacketed (and often steel-cored) bullets, it quickly gained reputation for a flat trajectory and high penetration. With muzzle velocity ranging from 1200fps to 1550fps from pistols and non-deforming bullet construction, it was not surprising. Very low cost of surplus guns in that caliber and cheap ammunition made it easy to overlook the real down sides of using surplus. The minor down sides were abrasive jackets and corrosive primers, along with typically bright muzzle flash. The major down side was the uncertainty about past storage conditions and pressure. Certain batches of Chinese and East European 7.62×25 produced erratic velocity and caused considerable wear on the guns. One theory was that these were intended for submachine guns, but the same ammunition sometimes turned up on 8-round stripper clips obviously meant for loading pistol magazines. The Soviets of WW2 were fond of the high velocity because it gave extra range to their ubiquitous submachine guns. Though striking power of the 85 grain bullet was quite limited at extreme range, at least they could get hits where German 9mm or Lend-Lease Thompsons in slower 45ACP required considerable hold-over.

Unissued vz52 with original holster

Unissued vz52 with original holster.


Modern holsters (such as those by Dragon Leatherworks) are available for vz52

Modern holsters (such as by Dragon Leatherworks) are available for vz52

To me, this cartridge was a historic curiosity until the new batch of unissued vz52s showed up at Czechpoint. The idea of an old but unissued pistol with roller lock mechanism designed after the MG42 machine gun has appealed to me ever since I first fired that gun back in the late 90s. vz52 is quite a bit more refined than the Russian TT33 and much nicer to shoot. It’s long and tall but also very flat, making it easy to carry. In addition to the original flap holsters, a lot of modern leather is available. If Dieselpunk aesthetic appeals to you, an even more exotic looking Sterling pistol is now available in the same caliber. So I looked at the ammunition situation and discovered that 7.62×25 is no longer a boutique round. Winchester and Sellier&Bellot load ball and Magsafe offers a frangible in case you like high velocity but do not want the attendant penetration. All these are non-corrosive, so you can plink at the range and not have to clean the pistol at once to avoid rust.

Mk 318 Mod 0: A Better Bullet, No Matter What They Call It

SCAR Afghanistan

A short-barreled SCAR-L equips one of America's finest, somewhere in Afghanistan

The United States Special Operations Command is using a new 5.56 NATO cartridge, and now the Marine Corps is trying it out as well. Some folks refer to it as the SOST round, others call it the OTMRP round, the phrase “barrier blind ammo” has been tossed around the internet, and the official Navy designation is Mk 318 Mod 0. No matter what name you use, it seems that everyone except the US Army wants to load their rifles with it.

In response to the 9/11 attacks, our country went to war in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. It didn’t take long for the troops to complain that the 1980s era 62 grain M855 ammo used in their M4A1 rifles was ineffective. In 2002 a big report detailing these problems was written up by the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana and sent to the Pentagon. In 2003, America opened a second front in Iraq, and more information began coming in. The new war stories, combined with additional scientific testing, began to weigh on the Pentagon, and in 2005 they issued a formal request to the ammunition industry for “enhanced” ammunition. Intimidated by the complicated military procurement process, nearly every ammo maker in the country turned away. The Federal Cartridge Company was the only business to respond to the government’s request.

The Navwar/Crane and Federal/ATK bunch worked together quickly. This “Special Operations Science and Technology” team knew what they wanted and how to get it. Performance objectives for the new ammo were as follows:

  •  Increased consistency from shot to shot, and from one lot of ammo to another, regardless of temperature changes.
  • Accuracy in an M4A1 rifle always better than 2 minute of angle (2 inches at 100 yards, 3.9 inches at 300 yards).
  • Increase stopping power after passing through “intermediate barriers” like walls and car windshields.
  • Increased performance out of short-barreled carbines such as the FN SCAR, while at the same time decreasing muzzle flash.
  • Keep the cost as close to the old M855 as possible.

It was a tall order, but the first prototype batch of ammo was delivered to the government in August 2007. Increased velocity and decreased muzzle flash were accomplished by tweaking the type of powder used, but the real magic was found in the bullet design. The bullet was named the Open Tip Match Rear Penetrator. The front of it is a hollow point backed up by a lead core, but the lead core only goes about halfway down the length of the bullet; the rear half is solid brass. When the OTMRP bullet hits a hard barrier, such as the windscreen of a car being driven by a suicide bomber, the front half of the bullet smooshes (that’s a technical term) against the barrier, breaking it so the “penetrator” half of the bullet can fly through and hit the target beyond. This “barrier blind” bullet acts like two bullets in one, the second brass bullet flying exactly through the hole made by the first lead bullet.

SOST Round

This cutaway drawing shows the "reverse drawn" open-tip design of the OTMRP bullet. Photo by Federal Cartridge

Special Forces often use modern hollowpoint ammunition forbidden to the rest of the military. They do this by classifying themselves on paper as “counter-terrorist” forces which can follow law enforcement guidelines rather than military law. To be fielded by an entire branch of the military, the new round could not be classified as a hollowpoint by the Pentagon. Federal Cartridge helpfully pointed out to Pentagon lawyers that the SOST bullet uses a new “reverse drawn” forming process. The base of the bullet is made first, the lead core is placed on top of it, and then the jacketing is pulled up around the lead core from bottom to top. They said the bullet isn’t a hollowpoint, it’s an “open tip”, and the reason why the tip is open is just a byproduct of the manufacturing process, and has nothing to do with the terminal ballistics of the bullet’s stopping power in soft tissue. The lawyers bought the explanation, and with a wink wink here and a nudge nudge there, officially classified the new round as “Mk 318 Mod 0″, legal for the military to use according to the laws of warfare. In completely unrelated news *cough*, the round is said to be devastating against bad guys. The front half of the bullet fragments very consistently, creating what has been described as a “snowstorm” of lead in the first few inches of soft tissue. The solid copper rear of the bullet then penetrates around 18” of ballistic gelatin while tumbling. Ouch. The SOST bullets peform this way even with the reduced velocity of a 10.5″ chopped barrel. No wonder the Marines decided to buy “a couple million” rounds of the ammo to try out as part of a 10.4 million round ammo purchase in September 2010.

The only branch of the military not to show any interest in the new round at all is the US Army, which is instead deploying its new M855A1 “Enhanced Performance Round,” also known as the lead-free or “environmentally friendly” round. The Marines also bought 1.8 million rounds of this ammo as part of the same September 2010 order mentioned above. The M855A1 is a solid copper bullet topped with a 19 grain “stacked cone” alloy steel penetrator tip. The Army touts the fact that the M855A1 can penetrate 3/8-inch thick steel at 400 meters and also has “barrier blind” properties. Some observers say that the Army is dead set on buying ammo from the development program it paid for, and won’t buy ammo developed by the Navy no matter how good it might be. Others say that with budget cuts coming soon, the Army is anxious to advertise itself to influential Congress members as the most environmentally friendly branch of the armed forces. Perhaps the Army’s testing has convinced them that M855A1 really is a better round—all we know for now is that they aren’t interested in Mk318 Mod 0.

Interested in trying the SOST round? You can! BVAC makes a round which they advertise as being “Made in the USA to the same specifications as Mk 318 Mod 0”, and Federal has released a civilian version as well under the not-catchy-at-all name AB49. Because an executive order by President Bill Clinton banned the sale of “surplus” American made military ammo, Federal advertises AB49 as “loaded similar to Mk 318 Mod 0.” But lets not kid ourselves the way the government does. In all likelihood there is only one assembly line producing this ammunition for Federal Cartridge. When the assembly line is finished making its allotment of ammo for the government’s order each week, it runs for awhile longer making some extra for public sale. The official government NSN number for the ammo is “FC-10C801-013.” That number is stamped on each cardboard box of Federal AB49. Hint, hint, civilians.

The Zombie Book, Chapter 7: Hornady Z-Max Ammo Find!

This here's mah avitar

Duke, Great Documenterer of This Here Zombie Apocalypse

This here’s another chapter in the Zombie Book by your pal Duke. I’ve been documentering this here Zombie Apocalypse for almost four months now, and I can tell you one thing for sure—there ain’t no shelf life on those third pound Happy Burgers. I never liked pickles on ‘em to begin with, but I do miss sesame seed buns without mold. Happy Burger patties have become a real staple of Duke’s continued non-zombified existence!

Hornady Zombie Max Ammo

Hornady Zombie Max Ammo — Keepin’ Duke Alive!

Anyhow, this chapter is gonna be about ammo. I was scavenging a Gunz-A-Rific the other day and found a whole stash of Hornady Z-Max Ammo. The rifle bullets are the ballistic tip V-MAX design, but with green plastic inserts instead of the traditional red ones. Pistol bullets are Critical Defense with green plastic tips shoved in the hollowpoints.  Laughs are pretty hard to come by these days, but when I saw the boxes I hooted and hollered like a 3 Stooges marathon was on. Back in the day, just for kicks, Hornady made a special run of this ammo in funny neon-green boxes with “Zombie 101” tips on the back, like “set up some trip lines around your yard” and stuff like that. The package is such a chuckle they actually had to put a warning on the box saying that this stuff is live ammo and it isn’t a toy. Well, let me tell ya somethin’, fellow survivors of the wasteland—Hornady Z-Max Ammo is definitely NOT a toy—it’s stone cold some of the best ammo I’ve ever fed to an undead horde.

Right now I’m rockin’ two pistols. Sometimes I get a bit excited and put one in each hand. Damn zombies on my left get ventilated from the Glock 19, and damn zombies on my right get ventilated from the Rock Island 1911. Well I don’t have to tell you, with a gun in each hand a misfire with bad ammo wrecks the whole plan. The Hornady stuff never misfires, and it shoots REAL straight. I used an AR-15 with a big scope to clear me a path from the roof of the Gunz-A-Rific to a Happy Burger down the street. For two nights and a day in between ‘em, I went through 500 rounds of .223 Zombie Max (all they had) and when it was all said and done I’d counted up 382 downed zombies. Some of them zombies I’d popped from 300 yards away! But I have to admit, they seem slower than before. It wasn’t as much of a challenge to lead ‘em, I don’t know if its because the weather is colder or if they’re just running out of energy or what.

Anyhow, the Z-MAX bullet is a hollow point with a plastic tip that gets forced through the middle of the bullet when it hits a zombie noggin. Every shuffling, lurching son-of-a-buck that got hit with one went down immediately, because the bullets expand every time. Now I’ve shot plenty of ammo of every kind, and even full metal jacket gets the job done most of the time, sure. But high quality expanding ammo means a one shot stop for certain. That means I conserve ammo, and I can move from one moaning, drooling target to the next with speed and confidence, son! Add that to the accuracy of these rounds and, well heck, who am I kidding? There’s something satisfying about using the right tool for the job, and the job is zombie hunting. Z-Max ammo just feels right to old Duke… like a heaping pile of hot Happy Burger patties cooked over a furniture bonfire as the sun slowly sets over the wasteland.

Till next time, remember: fresh water, fresh batteries, candy bars, and a positive attitude will help you survive. I hope to see more of you, my fellow survivors, someday soon. Duke never charges for an autograph!


Quantity has a Quality of its Own

Henry Golden Boy .22 lever action holds 16 rounds.

Henry Golden Boy .22 lever action holds 16 rounds.

Use of a .22LR rifle makes practice easy and enjoyable.

Use of a .22LR rifle makes practice easy and enjoyable.

Not everyone can shoot powerful centerfire guns. For a person with wrist damage, even a mildly  recoiling 9mm service pistol would be too much. A person with little upper body strength would be  hard-pressed to handle an AK or an M1 carbine, though they feel very light to most shooters. Shoulder  damage would make recoil of a .223 feel excessive. Many turn to rimfire guns as the best alternative, counting on landing a greater number of hits to make up for the lower power of the round. Is that prudent?

Let’s look at the home defense application first. The reduction of power from the oft-recommended  12ga or 20ga shotgun to a .22 rifle is drastic. A typical .22LR bullet weighs 40 grains, same as a .30  caliber #1 buck pellet. A single round of buckshot contains 16 of them, more than a typical rimfire  magazine. Penetration is very similar at 10″ to 14,” with 40gr hollow points expanding to about .30  caliber in gelatin when fired from rifles. While rifle bullets retain velocity further downrange, that’s  irrelevant for the typical in-house defensive use. Due to insufficient penetration, 30-grain varmint  rounds are less effective against human size attackers.

By this comparison, we can expect a magazine dump from a sporting semi-auto .22 rifle to have an  effect similar to a single shotgun blast. A rimfire rifle has no muzzle flash and much less  pronounced report compared to a shotgun. Given the minimal recoil of such rifles, good practical   accuracy is actually quite typical in home defense situations. For the same reason, diligent practice  is possible even for those who cannot handle the recoil or the weight of the bigger rifles.

The down sides to using rimfire used to be the reduced reliability of the ammunition, the awkward  rimmed cartridge shape for autoloaders and the limited magazine capacity. Fortunately, these  problems are now largely imaginary. Let’s consider them one by one.

“Everyone knows” that rimfire ignition is less reliable than centerfire. That is certainly evident with  bulk ammo. Some brands and lots may have a misfire every 20 rounds. This lack of reliability is  most certainly not an issue with the higher grade cartridges. A CCI competition shooter has  recently reported a million rounds fired without a single misfire. While not up to a million rounds, I’ve  had zero malfunctions over tens of thousands of such defense-oriented types as CCI Mini-Mags  and Velocitors, or any of the Eley-primed types.

10-round box magazine.

10-round box magazine

32-round box magazines

32-round box magazines

50-round rotary magazines

50-round rotary magazines

Rimmed cartidges are indeed rather tricky to fit into magazines. Fortunately, we’ve had well over a  century to perfect the feeding devices. Straight box magazines can hold up to a dozen, tube  magazines up to 18, curved box magazines up to 32. They all work fine. Some people prefer the  smaller flush-fitting box (or rotary in the case of 10-22) magazines, others like the higher capacity  and the additional leverage at reload time afforded by the extended models. Rimfire drums can  hold 50 rounds but keep only the few rounds in the feed tower under spring pressure. The  remaining 40-odd cartridges are supported by the individual cogs. That solution drastically reduces  the friction inside the rotary magazine and also eliminates possible deformation of the unjacketed lead bullets. 275-round pans for the American 180 submachine guns remain a less practical  curiosity. The plus side of the rimmed design is the simplified headspacing which permits looser  chambers and thus greater tolerance for fouling.

AR15 with a dedicated .22 upper

AR-15 with a dedicated .22 upper

Sig522 with a red dot sight.

Sig522 with a red dot sight.

10-22 with a light/laser and a folding stock

10-22 with a light/laser and a folding stock

AR15 with a .22 conversion kit

AR-15 with a CMMG .22 conversion kit

The sporting background of the traditional rimfire rifle makes it a bit challenging to operate under  pressure, especially when reloading is required. Fortunately, a large number of rimfire clones of  fighting rifles are now available. These mimic Sig 556, AR-15 and SU16 carbines in all but the  caliber and the weight. Most use polymer lower and sometimes upper receivers to shave off a  pound or two of weight, with almost another pound saved by the lighter ammunition. These guns have familiar oversized controls, accessory rails and tend to be fairly robust. When recoil is a concern but weight isn’t, rimfire conversion kits become an option.

Keltec SU22, a very light carbine.

Keltec SU22, very light carbine.

Peter Grant, a friend who has trained many handicapped shooters, favors .22LR in very few  cases, mainly when centerfire is just not an option. He said that the low cost of the ammunition and  the minimal wear on the shooters allowed his trainees to hit a rolling ping-pong ball reliably after  expending hundreds and even thousands of rounds in practice. Three of his students used laser sighted rimfire pistols to fight  muggers, all with the same outcome: dead thugs had their faces  cratered by multiple .22 slugs. With the same rounds being notably more energetic when fired from  rifles, there’s no doubt that they can be adequate for self-defense. A 12-gauge shotgun or a  centerfire rifle may be the choice for most Americans, but the lowly rimfire rifle is far from  inadequate. In many cases, it gets pressed into defensive service simply by being closer at hand than a dedicated fighting rifle. In any case, it’s worth knowing what it can and cannot do in combat.

Indiana State IDPA Championship

“If you’re finished, unload and show clear.” Just like that, my competition season ended last weekend in Atlanta, Indiana – just north of where I used to live. I had more than a couple of people ask me why it was I decided to pick the Indiana State IDPA Championship as the last match of the season, and the answer is simple. It’s all about the people. There are all kinds of smart guy quotes out there about how life isn’t about the destination, but the journey – and I believe that the people you meet on the journey determine whether it’s a fun journey or a trudge.

CDP Marksman Champion Dave Ross with Match Director Jeff Brown and Team CTD's Caleb Giddings

I started shooting competitively in 2008 at Atlanta Conservation Club, and in fact the 2008 Indiana State IDPA Championship was my first major match. I shot it in 2008, 2009, and 2010 as well, so there was no way I was going to miss it this year. And while the shooting is good and the match is excellent, this one is all about the people. Without Atlanta Conservation Club’s IDPA matches, I quite simply wouldn’t be writing this right now for Cheaper than Dirt. When I showed up to my first match, I had a Beretta 92D in a Fobus paddle holster. I wasn’t mocked, I wasn’t treated differently, I was welcomed. That attitude of encouraging participation and bringing new shooters in is the reason why I stayed, and to be quite frank it’s the reason I still hold such a torch for IDPA. I’ve seen it at its best in Indiana, and I want it to be like that across the country. I cannot thank Jeff Brown, Joe Tyson, and the match staff at the 2011 Indiana State IDPA Championship enough for another great year of fun COFs and good times.

But now let’s talk about the match itself, and to do that I’ve got a new episode of Down Zero TV!

As usual, a huge thanks also goes out to Woolrich Elite Tactical Series for providing my awesome vest and pants, and to Gargoyles eyewear for the eye protection. Speaking of stuff I used at this match, a little bird told me that BVAC won’t be making their excellent 124 grain JHP load much longer, which I’ve personally used to shoot 2 inch groups at 25 yards with my XDM. What I’m saying is that if you want some of these excellent rounds, go buy them now before they’re all gone.

It’s been a great season, and I can’t think of a better way to close it out than in my old stomping grounds of Indiana. Keep checking back at the Shooter’s Log for off-season training plans, as well as goals for next season!

32ACP Gets Serious

Kel-tec P32 with Laserlyte side-mounted laser

Kel-tec P32 pistol with Laserlyte side-mounted laser

(P32 | Laserlyte)

When the 32ACP cartridge was designed by Browning in 1899, it was intended for small and medium handguns. The round was a substantial improvement on all counts over the .320 rimmed previously used in small frame revolvers. Loaded with smokeless powder and jacketed bullets, 32ACP has much better performance than the .320. Being semi-rimmed, it also fit autoloaders as well as revolvers. Initially popular with police and other private users, 32ACP was extensively used during World War One due to the overall scarcity of service handguns for officers. As more powerful calibers replaced it, 32ACP use was relegated to pocket pistols. In the United States, it was given a second lease on life by the introduction by Kel-tec of P32 pistol. Tiny and lightweight, this locked breech handgun allowed the use of 32ACP in the niche where only 25ACP or .22LR were previously possible.

vz61 Scorpion machine pistol mid-burst

vz61 Scorpion Machine Pistol Mid-burst

One unusual weapons chambered for 32ACP is the vz.61 Scorpion machine pistol designed in Czechoslovakia. Adopted in 1961, it used the same cartridge as the CZ50 pistols carried by the Czech security officers. It was eventually adopted by support troops and special forces of about twenty countries. The standard load was 50 rounds in two 20-round and one 10-round magazines. Thanks to a rate reducer incorporated in the design, the cyclic rate is low for a machine pistol, only 850 rounds per minute. As you can see from the photo taken mid-burst, vz61 can be controlled with only one hand. Since automatic weapons are hard to come by, I tried out the next best thing — the Scorpion pistol.

Scorpion pistol with two 20rd and one 10rd magazines

Scorpion pistol with two 20rd and one 10rd magazines

At first glance, vz61 is overbuilt for 32ACP. Loaded with 20 rounds, it weighs as much as a Browning Hi-Power. I viewed it as a mere curiosity until the first range trip. At the range, I discovered the two major uses for the Scorpion. The first one is “fun” — it has been consistently the most popular pistol among my friends of the many I brought to share. The reasons for the popularity are obvious: vz61 is easy to shoot well. The gun is stone-cold reliable: I ran over 400 rounds of ball and hollow point ammunition of several brands through it and have yet to see a malfunction. Dan Brown, the owner of vz61 importer Czechpoint, said that his select-fire Scorpion is at 4000 rounds now and he has yet to see a glitch. The trigger, after a lengthy take-up, is light and crisp. The sight radius of full 6 inches and the fixed barrel provide surprising accuracy. Recoil is very light, closer to a rimfire pistol than to a centerfire gun.

20 rounds fired at 7 yards

20 rounds fired at 7 yards

Considering the machine pistol origins of this gun, the accuracy has been quite surprising. The group above represents a full 20-shot magazine emptied fairly briskly, without support. The A-zone full-size silhouette target can be reliably hit out to 20 yards, the silhouette itself out to 50.

Gun Tote'n Mamas holster purse can hold a lot of gun

Gun Tote'n Mamas holster purse can hold a lot of gun

This exceptionally low recoil and the light-weight recoil spring make this gun idea for the second use, self-defense for recoil-sensitive people.While 32ACP is generally considered a poor stopper, vz61 makes the most of that cartridge. Muzzle velocity from the 4.5″ barrel is about 1050fps with ball (70-100fps greater than from pocket pistols) and higher with hollow points. And the full 20+1 rounds can be delivered rapidly and accurately. The gun can be fired as any other pistol, with one or two hands on the pistol grip, or by holding the magazine with the weak hand and using a stretched lanyard as an additional support point. Although shipped by Czechpoint with a belt/leg convertible holster, this gun is probably more suited for off-body carry, such as with this Gun Tote’n Mamas holster purse.

Powder, patch, and ball

I was going to talk about the IDPA World Shoot today, but a post from CTD Mike caught my eye and demanded my immediate attention. Mike’s talking about traditional muzzleloading vs. modern muzzleloaders, which is actually a subject that I have very strong feelings about. I’m not what anyone would call a serious hunter, but the very first rounds I fired in any sort of competition were from a black powder rifle, specifically a Hawken pattern rifle in .54 caliber. I used to attend primitive rendezvous in California as a teenager, where I learned the mantra of “powder, patch, ball” to load my rifle – I learned to throw a tomahawk and a knife, and why keeping your powder dry is important. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m a bit of a purist about muzzleloader hunting – sure, you can buy modern muzzleloaders with scopes and optics and pointy bullets that shoot flatter and hit harder, but to me, I don’t see the point. If I wanted to whack a deer through a scope at 200 yards, I’d use a .243 Winchester.

And the thing is, I can’t convince you on the internet why traditional muzzleloaders are better than modern ones, because it’s something you have to experience; the gentle shove of recoil, the smoke and sulfur, and the satisfaction that comes from knowing you’ve mastered a skill that our ancestors used to survive on the Great Plains. But in my best effort to do that, here’s how to assemble a “muzzleloader starter kit”, from guns to ammo and other gear.

Lyman .54 caliber trade rifle

Start here, with a rifle. This Lyman .54 Caliber Trade Rifle comes in at a reasonable price tag of $360; sure it doesn’t have double set triggers or adjustable sights, just old fashioned fixed sights and a single trigger. That means you’re going to have to be able to shoot well to utilize this thing in the field, and can’t rely on technology to help you shoot. Now, you’re going to need to be able to load the rifle, so there are some tools that you’ll need, such as a bullet starter and a good ramrod.

The essential shooting needs though are powder, patches, and balls. For black powder, the standard is Goex, and for a .54 caliber muzzleloader you’re going to want to use the FFg granulation of powder. The rule of thumb that I was taught was to start with a 54 grain powder charge, and work your way up from there. Back in the day, my general “target shooting” load was 75 grains of FFg, which delivered solid accuracy out to 100 yards with a patched roundball. Speaking of which, you’re going to need patches. I know what you’re thinking. You’re sitting there thinking “patches? We don’t need no stinkin’ patches” but the truth is you do. Just buy a bunch of the pre-lubricated patches and be done with it. You’ll also need bullets, or more properly roundballs. My favorite brand for projectiles has always been Hornady, they were always consistent and accurate.

As far as cleaning gear goes, the best way to clean a traditional black powder muzzleloader is with dish soap, warm water, and elbow grease. There are a lot of fancy “cleaners” on the market, but I challenge you to look at the active ingredients in those, and the active ingredients in dish soap.

The world of traditional muzzleloading isn’t easy, it requires patience, careful attention to your weapon, and the heart of a tinkerer, but if all that sounds like fun, then to me it’s more fun than machine guns. There is something about connecting to our American heritage in it, a sense of history and purpose that makes the experience more than worth it.

Surviving the Match: What to Wear

By the time you read this post, I’ll be cruising at 35,000 feet in a Boeing 737, shaking my fist at the laws of physics and cackling like a maniac. Well, mostly I’ll be watching The Expendables on my iPhone, but the other way sounds better. In all seriousness, I’m headed off this week to the IDPA World Shoot in Florida, where I’ll be representing Cheaper than Dirt shooting Enhanced Service Pistol Division. This is what the season is all about – all the training, all the practice, all the previous episodes of Down Zero TV were all for this match. And as part of my “surviving the match” series, I’ve got a list of the clothing items that I’ll be wearing at the IDPA World Shoot. Just like the post on Monday about what snivel gear to bring, this is all about enhancing your comfort at the match.

You want this gear

  • Pants: Woolrich Elite Pant. I’ve been wearing these the entire competition season, and they’re great. Loads of pockets, nice and breathable, in my opinion they’re the perfect trouser for IDPA. In case it gets really hot, I also have a pair of shorts from Woolrich.
  • Shoes: Shoes are actually really important for IDPA competition. It’s been raining in FL, so I’m going to have to deal with some muddy, slippery terrain. I wear Adidas Kanadia TR2 trail running shoes for IDPA competition, however I plan on switching up to the new Blackhawk Tanto Light Hiking Shoe.
  • Hat: This is important, but not so much in terms of brand but rather features. You want a hat with a velco back that doesn’t have the traditional “button” on top. For many shooters, that button interferes with hearing protection and can give you quite a headache. For $10, you can get a hat that does all the things you want, plus has nifty velcro spots on the front and back for sticking patches on.

I have some pretty strong feelings about shirts, but to be perfectly honest if you’re not wearing one of those “performance wicking” polos or something, the best bet is a simple 100% cotton t-shirt. You can get them at Target or Wal-Mart for pretty cheap, and when they wear out they make excellent gun cleaning rags.

You can make through it a match in uncomfortable gear, but since there’s good gear out there, why would you? Get some quality stuff and make your next match go easier. And if you’re looking to shoot the same match ammo as I do, hit this link to order some 124 grain BVAC JHP. This is one of the best kept secrets out there in terms of quality defensive ammo. This will shoot 2 inch groups all day long out of my XDM 5.25, and it’s my ammo of choice for any major action pistol match I’m going to.

ATK: Ammo for Uncle Sam, and for Us, Too

If you are an American shooter, chances are you have done business with Alliant Techsystems, even if you did not realize it at the time. If you have bought ammo from Federal, Fusion Ammunition, CCI/Blazer/Speer, Estate Cartridge, or Black Cloud, you have bought from ATK. If you have scopes or accessories from Weaver, Blackhawk!, Simmons, Redfield, Eagle Industries, or RCBS reloading supplies, you have bought from ATK.

ATK only became its own company in 1990. Its parent company, Honeywell, decided to “spin off” all of its defense and security businesses into a new company. Since Honeywell had been building national defense related products for the government since WWII, this was a big deal. Alliant Techsystems set up shop in Minnesota and instantly became a major player on the corporate world stage and in the years since they have slowly acquired dozens of smaller companies under their corporate umbrella, growing larger and larger.

The companies building ammo and accessories for the civilian market are actually only a fraction of what ATK does. The majority of their work is in aerospace and national defense. One of their companies builds the vast majority of solid fuel rocket engines in the U.S., from little ones that launch Sidewinder missiles to big ones used by NASA. ATK companies also build parts for the satellites that those big boosters launch. Sensors used in aircraft patrolling our borders are made by ATK’s defense oriented companies, and they have even developed a self-contained, remote controlled 25mm autocannon called PAWS that fits on a pallet and can be mounted anywhere from the side door of a cargo plane to the back of a Humvee. Yes, we want one too.

ATK’s largest responsibility regarding national defense is running the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence, Missouri. Back in WW2, the U.S. ran six small arms ammo-manufacturing plants, but Lake City is now the only one left. The government still owns the plant, but ATK has operated it since 2001. That makes ATK at Lake City the sole source for 99% of the 5.56 NATO, 7.62 NATO, and .50 BMG ammo used by every branch of the U.S. military. How much ammo do they make? Operating at maximum production capacity for the last few years, Lake City has managed to crank out an average of about 1.4 billion, yes BILLION, rounds a year, and still they barely meet the demands of fighting our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In May 2011, the US Army decided that they really liked the 100 million rounds of M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round ammo that ATK had built so far. ATK had helped develop the new round, which uses no lead in its copper and steel bullet construction. The Army was impressed with its superior stopping power, especially at extended ranges, and its improved barrier penetration. They signed a new $488 million contract for ATK at Lake City to crank out this latest generation of 5.56 ammunition, along with more badly needed 7.62 and .50 cal ammo for our troops.

There are some concerns about Uncle Sam putting all of its ammo production eggs in one basket at Lake City. Although ATK is working on a $242 million modernization project there, it will not actually result in an increased capacity to make more ammo than the plant currently produces. Producing 99% of our military ammo in one place has physical risks as well; although the plant is well guarded and safety rules strictly followed, a terror attack or industrial accident could potentially cripple America’s ability to wage war. The primers used in making the military ammo also contain a less obvious national security risk—of the 13 chemicals used to make the primer compound, 10 of them are imported from outside the country. For example, four of the chemicals can only be found in China, and two can only be found in Mexico. If either of those countries were unwilling, or unable, to export these chemicals to us in the future, we would need to come up with a new way to make primers. However, solving these issues is not up to the private company doing what the government tells them; it is up to our policymakers.

ATK is the company trusted by our military to make the billions of rounds of ammo needed by our troops around the world. ATK’s parent company, Honeywell, was one of the early adopters of the “Six Sigma” quality control process, in which 99.99966% of products manufactured are expected to be free of defects. Put another way, this means 3.4 defects per million products made. The ATK subsidiaries building products for the civilian market are held to the same standards, and as a result, their quality is recognized throughout the industry. When making your next high-quality ammo purchase, do not be surprised if the brand you choose turns out to be an ATK-owned company.

American Eagle .223 Priced Cheap Enough for Plinking

American Eagle Tactical .223 Remington ammo is manufactured by ATK/Federal Ammunition, the same company that makes all the ammo for the US military.  Each 20 round black box is glued shut all around to avoid spilling rounds during storage.  Featuring an M193 specification 55 grain full metal jacket boat tail bullet screaming out the muzzle at 3250 feet per second, this round’s accuracy is proven in barrels of any standard twist rate from 1:7 to 1:12.  Loaded to SAAMI specifications of not more than 55,000 psi chamber pressure, this ammo is safe to shoot in rifles marked either “.223 Rem” or “5.56 NATO” and is a natural choice for AR15s and Ruger Mini-14s.  At this price, why not leave the .22 conversions behind on your next range trip, and get some practice in with the real stuff?


Vietnam-era Military Flechettes by the Pound!

These flechettes were used in the Vietnam-era M546 APERS-T 105mm artillery shell, known to Vietnam vets as “The Beehive.”  This devastating round was designed after the Korean War as a way to stop the human wave assault tactics used by the Chinese in that war.  At a distance of 75 meters the Beehive shell detonates and sends 8,000 of these steel darts screaming downrange towards the enemy.  Each steel flechette is roughly an inch long and weighs 8 grains or so, and upon impact they bend into a hook shape, with the finned tail section often breaking off to start a second wound channel.  At close range the high velocity of the flechettes made the M546 extremely lethal; it was described as the world’s largest shotgun round.  Legend has it that after the Beehives were used to repulse an attack, the enemy dead were often found in the field of fire with their hands nailed down to the wooden stocks of their rifles.

We are selling these flechettes as a piece of historic militaria only, and we do not recommend that you try to weaponize them, but we know what you’re thinking.  Flechette ammo is illegal in some places, like Florida, so know your local laws before you stuff some of these in a 12 gauge shell.  They are sold by weight, and each pound contains about 950 of these hardened steel projectiles.

Steel-cased Ammo

At Gun Nuts Media, I have a post talking about Hornady Steel Match ammunition.  This ammo is available from Cheaper Than Dirt in 9mm,  .40 S&W, .45 ACP, .223 Remington, and .308 Winchester.  Now, the debate about steel-cased ammo has raged on the Internet for as long as I can remember, with opinions that vary from “never use steel ammo” to “I use it all the time” and everything in between.  I’ve known shooters who would use steel-cased ammo in certain guns but not others; I know people who say “never use it in Glocks”, and so on.  The issue is that if you shoot a lot, it’s kind of hard to argue with less than $9.00 a box for 9mm ammo from our friends in Russia.

Tula 115 grain 9mm ammo: $8.69 for a box of 50

So what do you say?  Do you run steel-cased ammo through your guns, pistols and rifles?  Or would you not touch the stuff with a 10-foot pole?  Add in to that the fact that many indoor ranges prohibit the use of steel-cased ammunition as it messes with their recycling contracts for brass, and the equation becomes even more complicated.  I think one of the big issues that I have with the “anti” steel-cased crowd is that to my knowledge no one has ever done a truly high round count with steel-cased stuff to see if it actually increases wear and tear on guns.  I’d like to see someone take a Glock 17 or other modern production firearm, and run 20,000 rounds of steel-cased ammo through it, and compare the wear and tear to a gun that’s had 20,000 rounds of brass-cased ammo.  Would it be different?  Hard to know unless we do the shooting.

For me, I’ll keep using steel-cased ammo.  Sure, I can only use it at outdoor ranges, but that’s fine with me.  Sound off in comments—are you for or against using ammo in a steel case?

Ultimate zombie combo

Last week, Ruger announced the launch of the new Ruger 77/357, which is a bolt action rifle chambered in .357 Magnum.  I got to thinking about this gun, and despite the fact that it only has a 5 round magazine, when paired with a revolver also chambered in .357 Magnum such as the Smith & Wesson 686 you have yourself an almost perfect “zombie combo”, or more accurately you’ve got a great rifle/pistol combination for the woods.

BVAC .357 Magnum 158 grain JHP

The Ruger 77/357 has all the desirable aspects of a great “bug out rifle” – it’s light, coming in at only 5.5 pounds, can readily accept modern optics (and would probably be a pretty sweet pairing with an Aimpoint), and it’s chambered in what is one of the most versatile handgun cartridges in existence.  .357 Magnum is available in pressures from mild cowboy action loads at 1000 FPS with all lead bullets all the way up to 200 grain bear-killing hardcast bullets at ungodly velocities.  However, for a good “general use” round it’s hard to beat a 158 grain JHP, like this one from BVAC.  The BVAC .357 Magnum 158 grain JHP is cruising at around 1200 FPS from a pistol, which means from a rifle you should see a velocity increase of around 100-200 FPS at the muzzle.  That’s plenty of bullet to deal with many of the 4 legged dangers you might encounter during a rural bug out situation, and of course the .357 is well proven as a fight stopping projectile for two-legged danger.

I honestly think that pairing a .357 bolt gun with a revolver makes more sense as a bug out gun combo for 99% of the popular than an AR15 pattern rifle and a hi-cap 9mm.  I like that you only have to carry one kind of ammo, the revolver isn’t dependent on magazines to keep it in action, and while the bolt gun does feed from magazines in an emergency it can be used as a single shot rifle if you lose the magazines.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have an AR and a Glock with 400 mags for each gun, but if you’re on a limited budget, it makes more sense to me to drop $650 on the new Ruger 77/357 and another $460 on a Ruger SP101 in .357 Magnum than it does to go out and spend the money on an AR and whatever other pistol you need.  .357 ammo is relatively cheap, with lead practice ammo running about the same as .40 S&W and less than 5.56 ammo.  A bolt gun in .357 and a good revolver in the same chambering will solve 99% of the situations I can imagine getting myself into during a short term survival emergency!

Ammo Stash

Sig 1911 TacOps and BVAC .45 ACP

A few days ago, Tam (if you’re not reading her blog, you should be) put together a list of the various calibers she keeps on hand to shoot through the various guns in her collection. It’s a pretty extensive list, as it should be for a collector of obscure firearms. My own list is a little more mundane, but it also fits my collection of guns which are all primarily uses for competition and heavy shooting. That means that instead of a lot of different calibers, I have a lot of rounds of just a few calibers. On hand right now are the following calibers:

Handloading .223 for the AR

Military style rifles are not usually known for having match grade accuracy, but the AR-15 can be easily upgraded with just a few parts to be more than capable of shooting sub MOA groups out to distances exceeding 600 yards. Swap out the trigger for a Timney and replace the barrel with a heavy stainless steel varmint or match barrel and you’ll be surprised by the significant increase in accuracy. But the biggest improvement may not come from the rifle at all, but from the ammunition you use.

I got started shooting cheap military surplus 5.56mm NATO rounds in my AR, along with cheap Winchester white box and Remington .223 FMJ plinking rounds. These cartridges were usually 55 or 62 grain and had decent accuracy. I still use them for plinking and just having fun at the range. But when you want to get serious about target shooting, you need better ammo. The biggest differences between mass produced ammunition and match grade ammunition is the quality of the components and the attention to detail to ensure every round is exactly the same.

Getting Started
You can buy match grade ammunition from a number of manufacturers. Remington and Hornady both manufacture excellent match grade ammunition. Varmint ammo from Remington and Hornady is just as accurate as the match grade ammunition, but is loaded with lighter bullets weighing between 40 and 55 grains. This factory ammunition is easily capable of shooting half-MOA groups is an excellent place to start establishing a baseline for your own handloads. Shoot a variety of loads and bullet weights to find out which performs best in your rifle and start loading your own based off of this data.

When selecting the proper bullet, keep your barrel twist in mind. We’ve written in the past on the importance of barrel twist rate with regards to bullet weight or, more accurately, bullet length. For any given caliber of ammunition, the heaver the bullet is the longer it will generally be. Longer bullets require a faster twist rate to get them spinning at a high enough speed for effective stabilization in flight. If there is a specific load you just have to run, consider rebarreling your rifle with a barrel with a more appropriate twist rate.

The first barrels produced by Colt for the AR-15 had a slow 1:14 twist rate, which was adequate for 55 grain bullets under normal circumstances. However when air density increased due to lower temperatures, the 55 grain became unstable.  This prompted the Army to switch to a faster 1:12 rate barrel, and later an even faster 1:7 rate barrel to accommodate heavier 62 grain M855 bullets. Most modern rifles have a 1:9 twist rate, which has been found to be a healthy compromise that is able to stabilize bullets weighing from 50 grains on up to some 69 grain bullets.

Varminters often use very light weight bullets such as the 45 grain Sierra Hornet. Such bullets are exceptionally accurate in order to hit small targets, lightly constructed to provide explosive expansion while minimizing ricochets, and lightweight to obtain high velocities with flat trajectories. The extremely flat shooting varmint round is perfect for taking small game at unknown distances. Competitive shooters on the other hand tend to favor longer and heavier bullets with an aerodynamic boat tail design. These long bullets have a superior ballistic coefficient which allows them to maintain a high velocity for a longer distance, thus making them less prone to wind drift at extended ranges.

One concern when loading heavier longer bullets for your AR is the overall cartridge length. Heavier bullets are longer, and there is a limit to how far back they can be seated. Standard AR-15 magazines can hold cartridges up to 2.275 inches long. If you are loading rounds with heavy 79 grain or heavier bullets, such as 90 grain Sierra MatchKings favored by long range target shooters, the overall cartridge length will likely exceed 2.275 inches, requiring you to load and fire these handloads one at a time. If you are preparing a load that is over-length, it is important to make sure that your barrel is designed to handle it. A barrel with a 1:7 twist is generally not sufficient to stabilize bullets weighing over 77 grains (however some shooters claim to be able to stabilize 90 grain bullets in a 1:7 barrel), but more importantly, in longer handloaded cartridges the bullet could be swaged up against the lands of the rifling and cause overpressure in the case. Barrels for the longest of these loads will usually be custom made with a 1:6 or 1:6.5 twist rate and have a longer leade (the unrifled portion of the bore just past the chamber) to fit the longer bullet.

Depending on the weight of the bullet you are pushing, you will need different powders. Faster burning powders are more effective for propelling relatively light weight bullets. Slower burning powders in general should be used with heavier bullets. For our purposes here, powders such as Reloader 7, Reloader 10X, Accurate 2015, IMR4198 or Hodgdon H322 are excellent choices for accurate varmint loads topped with light 40 grain to 55 grain bullets.  Reloader 15, H4895, IMR4064 or Varget are all good choices used for accurate match loads that propel heavier bullets weighing 60 grains and more.

When developing a load, always start at 90% of the manual recommended max load and work your way up, checking for signs of overpressure as you gradually increase the powder charge. If you don’t have enough powder of one type or another, get more: never mix powders! Mixing powders can result in unpredictable burn rates and could cause a case rupture or detonation.

When choosing a primer for your match loads, stay away from hard military style primers. Most match triggers will not generate primer strikes hard enough to reliably shoot hard primers. Instead, stick with high quality standard small rifle primers such as CCI 400 or Winchester WSR primers for most loads, and Federal Gold Medal 205M for heavier match loads using slower powders.

Brass for match grade or varmint loads should always be cleaned and polished. This not only makes it chamber better, but it removes any carbon or debris from the case resulting in better more consistent powder burn. When resizing, don’t rely on just a neck resize. For the most accurate loads your brass should be fully resized to ensure a consistent case capacity. Fully resized cases also fit the chamber better. What brand of brass you use isn’t particularly important, but some shooters prefer Winchester or .223 Remington brass due to the consistent case weight and wall thickness.

When trying to wring every bit of accuracy from a handload, the devil is in the details. Turning the neck of your brass will help to ensure that your case mouth is perfectly round and concentric with the case body, giving you a consistent crimp and seal all the way around your bullet and positioning it perfectly concentric with the bore. RCBS makes a case neck turner and .223 pilot to help you turn the perfect case neck. Necks that are out-of-round can have gas escape around the bullet prior to the bullet entering the bore and result in an uneven bullet release. A perfectly even bullet release helps to ensure that it swages onto the rifling evenly.

Handloading Procedure
One of the primary reasons for handloading is that it gives you the ability to ensure absolute consistency among all of the rounds. Handloads that are quickly and carelessly assembled may be great for plinking and making a bunch of noise, but they are useless for precision shooting. Additionally, carelessly assembling your rounds can be dangerous! Double charged or poorly measured loads can destroy your expensive rifle and kill or seriously injure you. When sitting down to reload, get rid of all possible distractions. Never watch TV or have a conversation while reloading. Dividing your attention between the task at hand and something else can result in a mistake that could prove deadly. Remember that the more attention you give to the quality and consistency of your loads, the more accurate they will be.

See our article on reloading necked rifle ammunition for more details on the reloading process.

Example Loads

Bullet Bullet Weight Powder Primer Overall Length Charge (grains) Velocity (FPS)
Hornady V-Max 35 gr Accurate 5744 CCI 400 2.13 21.1 3602
Speer SP 40 gr Reloder 7 CCI 400 2.06 20.5 3011
Speer SP 40 gr Reloder 10X CCI 400 2.06 24.5 3481
Nosler BT 40 gr Accurate 2015 CCI 400 2.260 25.4 3671
Speer SP 45 gr Reloder 7 CCI 400 2.155 20 3059
Speer SP 45 gr Reloder 10X CCI 400 2.155 24 3292
Nosler BT 50 gr Reloder 10X WSR 2.2 24.2 3389
Nosler BT 50 gr Reloder 15 WSR 2.2 28 3356
Speer HP 52 gr Reloder 7 CCI 400 2.2 20.5 2931
Speer HP 52 gr Reloder 10X CCI 400 2.2 22.5 3179
Nosler BT 55 gr Accurate 2015 CCI 400 2.230 24.0 3215
Speer SP 55 gr Reloder 10X CCI 400 2.175 23 3159
Hornady V-Max 55 gr Varget WSR 2.240 27.0 3344
Speer FMJ 62 gr Reloder 15 CCI 400 2.255 25.0 2832
Sierra HPBT 69 gr Reloder 15 Fed 205M 2.26 25.5 2956
Hornady A-Max 75 gr H4895 Fed 205M 2.273 24.5 2861
Swift Scirocco 75 gr Varget Fed 205M 2.270 23.0 2714
Sierra HPBT 77 gr Reloder 15 Fed 205M 2.26 24.1 2783
Sierra MatchKing 90 gr H4895 Fed 205M 2.550 21.7 2600
Sierra MatchKing 90 gr IMR-4064 Fed 205M 2.550 22.4 2600

All load data presented here should be used with caution. Consult a reloading manual and always begin with a reduced load to ensure that they are safe in your particular rifle before proceeding to full power loads. Cheaper Than Dirt! has no control over the quality of the components that you choose, the condition of your rifle, or the actual loadings you use, and therefore assumes no responsibility for your use of data presented here.