The Making of a Gun Designer: Charles St.George

Charles St. George at the range

Charles St. George at the range.

Bushmaster M17 bullpup

Bushmaster M17 bullpup

On the way to SHOT Show last year, I met Charles St.George. I didn’t know who he was, but somehow the Bushmaster M17 came up in conversation and turned out that he was the original designer. It was therefore no surprise that the rifle he displayed at the 2011 show looked like a very brawny M17. The Leader 50, while internally quite different from the M17 used the same basic extruded receiver design as the .223 bullpup. But the internals of the upcoming 50BMG rifle were based on a design of which I had not heard before, the Leader T2.

Charles St.George was born on Malta but moved to England with his parents at a young age. As a child, he had a Colt Peacemaker replica which even came with full-size dummy cases loaded with caps. The gun itself was precision die cast from zinc and Charles played with it until the toy literally fell apart. When his father’s regiment, the First Cheshire, got posted to Libya, Charles tried to replicate the zinc toy in steel. After a month of work with a hacksaw and a file, he had something only slightly resembling the intended form. “The experiment helped build arm muscles, at least!” he joked.

Upon returning to England, he decided to build a .303 semi auto rifle. Scotland Yard sent an Inspector from the Hampshire Constabulary to interview me at home before granting permission. Perhaps having a military father helped. The ammunition had to be kept at the Bisley Rifle Range and used cartridges logged in a register. The rifle he built used a simple tilting lock that locked the breech bolt into the receiver tube. A friend helped machine some of the parts, the rest were fashioned by hand. At the range it would not fire. In retrospect, Charles says that was lucky, for the rifle would have blown up. He knew nothing about metals, heat treatment or the designing of real guns.

As an adult, Charles immigrated to Australia started to tinker again. He built .223 semi auto rifle prototypes until he had a beautiful select-fire weapon with an aluminum receiver somewhat like the AR15 and a non reciprocating charging handle like the L1A1. Long stroke gas system used a piston pinned to a tube which housed the return spring and held to the bolt carrier by a wedge held in place by the cam track in the receiver, a triangular breech bolt and wooden handguards. The design eventually entered production around 1978 as the Leader T2. In use, this gun has particularly mild recoil, especially when compared to an AR15. Forgotten Weapons shows the T2 disassembly process on video.  They also feature photos of a pre-production sample with a wood stock made before the Zytel furniture was ready.

T2 has very mild recoil

T2 has very mild recoil.

Left-hand charging handle does not reciprocate on firing.

Left-hand charging handle does not reciprocate on firing

The Leader T2 production went smoothly because the gun was designed from the start to be extremely efficient. The receiver was based on a 16 gauge steel square tube. Dupont provided the expertise for the Zytel parts, which had not previously been used on an assault rifle. The triangular bolt design (subsequently used on the Serbu rifle, the R4 and Barrett 82A1/M107) simplified the barrel extension and the bolt broaching process. The barrel blanks from Parker Hale were rifled with a simple button rifling machine also designed by Charles. It rifled a barrel blank in about 20 seconds. While T2 resembles an AR180 superficially, it is even simpler inside. All major parts can be removed for cleaning in seconds and stay captive to simplify the take-down. It used common STANAG (M16) magazines.

T2 was shown to represenatives of Italy, Portugal and Oman. About 2000 were eventually exported to the US and a few to Africa. By the time the 1989 and 1994 bans in the US caused the cessation of the production of the T2, Charles St.George had already moved on. His next rifle is familiar to Americans as the Bushmaster M17. We will talk about that design next week.

Tactical Flashlights: Let There Be Light! Part One

Be sure of your target and what’s behind it.

This rule of gun safety applies at all times no matter the circumstances. We need to see our targets to be sure of them, and in darkness that means bringing our own light (night vision and laser designators notwithstanding, for you military guys). Attaching flashlights to firearms isn’t a new idea. Now declassified photos of British SAS operators in the early 1980s show them using Mp5 submachine guns with big police-style Maglite flashlights taped to improvised mounts. In 1993 Heckler & Koch released their Universal Service Pistol, which included a compact Universal Tactical Light fitting underneath the slide and producing 90 lumens of light. Fast forward to 2011, and a dizzying variety of dedicated weapon lights ranging from very affordable to pretty darn expensive are offered for sale by a number of manufacturers. The latest generation of lights are smaller and brighter than ever. Nearly every new pistol design produced in the past few years features a rail underneath the barrel intended for a light. Light rails are being added to new variants of classic guns like the 1911 and Beretta 92. From SWAT teams everywhere to elite military door-kickers in Iraq and Afghanistan, from the local Sherriff’s deputy to pistols in civilian nightstands across the country, having a weapon mounted tactical light is becoming the rule, not the exception.

SAS Maglite

Old School: These SAS guys had improvised weapons lights almost 30 years ago.

Some will say, “I’ve been shooting my whole life and I’ve never needed a tactical light before, why do you think I need one now?” Allow me to answer that question with another question. How much shooting have you done in darkness, where correctly identifying your target meant the difference between saving your life and killing an innocent person? LAPD SWAT is the busiest SWAT team in the world, responding to call outs and executing high risk warrants on a daily basis in one of America’s toughest big cities, and they have been using weapon-mounted tactical lights for decades. When they enter a residence to apprehend a dangerous barricaded suspect, instantly they need to be able to identify the bad guy, the bad guy’s thug friend lurking around the corner with a baseball bat, and the bad guy’s innocent wife and kids cowering in fear in the opposite corner of the bedroom. Regardless of lighting conditions in their operating area, their weapon mounted lights ensure that they can discern friend from foe quickly and effectively.

The predictable response is, “Ok, fine, so SWAT needs tactical lights, but I’m not kicking anyone else’s door down. Anyone who comes into my home uninvited deserves to get shot and my state’s castle law says so.” It’s a bad idea to blaze away in the dark at people you can’t identify, but you don’t have to take my word for it; take the word of Glenn Mizell. Having been burglarized a week before, Mr. Mizell woke up to the sound of his dog barking frantically in December 2007. He grabbed his home defense pistol and got out of bed, convinced the intruders had returned. Having calmed the dog, he was coming back to bed when he suddenly saw a figure rummaging around in his kitchen in the dark. Taking careful aim, he fired a single shot, which struck his wife Deborah squarely in the chest, killing her. She had not realized why he had left the bedroom, and had gotten up to make a snack. Mr. Mizell’s story quickly became fodder for gun control organizations, which spread the story around as a cautionary tale for wives who so foolishly let their husbands keep a gun in the house. Be sure of your target and what’s behind it folks.

Some flashlight companies like to advertise their tactical lights as a “less lethal” option capable of temporary blinding and disorienting an attacker. The opposing school of thought claims that flashlights are just a liability, giving your position away to the bad guys and presenting a bright circle for them to aim at. In my personal opinion, neither of these extreme perspectives is entirely correct. I sometimes do a drill at night which is easy to replicate (the hardest part is finding a place that will let you shoot in total darkness; this is where friends with large farms come in very handy). Duct tape a cheap 120 lumen tactical light to the head of a standard IDPA type target. Face away from the target, close your eyes, and have a friend activate the “constant on” switch. The light is shining on your back, but you are facing away from it with your eyes closed. Have your friend grab you by the shoulders and spin you 180 degrees until you are facing the target and your friend is safely behind you. Open your eyes and suddenly you are exposed to the brightness of the light. Bring up your firearm and shoot a controlled pair at the center of the target. If you are like me, the light from the flashlight will dazzle you, hurt your eyes, and be a major annoyance for a second, and you will then drill the center of the target with two well-placed rounds. On the other hand, the sights of my gun have never been drawn to the flashlight itself. I’ve never been tempted to shoot at the flashlight itself, but this is also a function of distance to the target—I do this drill at a distance of 5 to 7 feet from the target, which is a very typical indoors “close quarters” engagement range. If I were 25 yards away from a bad guy pointing a light at me, you bet I would be shooting at the light source.

The purpose of the tactical light is to help you be sure of your target. Up close, it may additionally buy you a split second of confusion on the other person’s part, while you make a critical split decision on whether it is wise to start shooting. Don’t view the tactical light as a substitute for lethal force or as a foolish gimmick that will certainly get you killed. Instead, view it as a useful tool that can assist you in certain situations, when used properly. You must choose your light carefully and know how to use it.

Light choices and techniques will be covered in Part II, coming soon!

Night fight drill

This simple drill will disprove common misconceptions about tactical lights

 

Kahr Arms PM45: Good Things Come in Small Packages

Kahr Arms is building an empire out of a single innovative pistol design. Their first pistol, the K9, featured six US patents covering the locking, firing, and extraction design elements, and the company now lists 70 different models all based on the same features. All of them are made in Massachusetts using state-of-the-art CNC machining technology. Kahr bought Auto Ordnance (the Tommy gun people) in 1999, and in 2010 bought up Magnum Research of Desert Eagle fame. The company’s purchasing power comes from their President and CEO, Justin Moon, who is the son of Sun Myung Moon. Yes, THAT Reverend Moon, who founded the Unification Church.

Justin Moon started shooting at age 14, got his first license to carry at age 18, and wasn’t real thrilled with the choices available in an ultra-compact 9mm pistol. He decided to design and build his own, and the rest is history. The Kahr I have in my hand right now is the PM45, the smallest .45acp I’ve ever seen. It is striker fired, like a Glock or M&P, using a cam system to finish cocking the partially pre-cocked striker. This gives it an incredibly smooth double action type trigger pull, but like the Para LDA trigger you can’t re-strike the primer a second time by simply pulling the trigger—once the striker hits the primer, the trigger system has to be reset by moving the slide. I’m a single action kind of guy myself. I like a crisp 1911 trigger or a Glock with a 3.5lb connector, but I have to admit that in an ultra-compact defensive gun with no external safety, a longer trigger pull is safer. If it’s a smooth, light double action pull like on this gun, I can still hit my target quickly and consistently out to 25 yards or so, which is what the P45 is for.

Moon’s little gun includes a few very clever design features designed to make it as slim and short as possible. Most interesting to me is the offset barrel design—looking at the gun with the slide open from behind, the feed ramp is actually positioned to the left inside the slide, with the trigger mechanism next to it on the right. How did they make that work? Kahrs have an excellent reputation for reliability so obviously the feed ramp still does its job despite the offset. This lowers the height of the barrel over the shooter’s hand, known as bore axis, and makes the P45’s recoil kick to the rear instead of flipping the muzzle up. The barrel ramp is polished beautifully right out of the box, and the barrel uses polygonal rifling that looks a lot like Glock rifling. These guns have a reputation for outstanding accuracy due to the polygonal rifling and the tight tolerances made possible by CNC machining every metal component.

The polymer frame is molded with sharp raised squares on the front and back strap. This reverse checkering design really grabs your hand aggressively—considering the small size, light weight, and powerful caliber of this gun I think wearing shooting gloves might be appropriate if I were to take a high-round-count class using the PM45, but in a stressful self-defense situation I’m sure I would appreciate the extra grip. The dual recoil springs are super stout, although I can’t find the spec anywhere I guesstimate that it takes between 22-25lbs of force to pull back the slide on this gun. Kahr recommends replacing these powerful springs after only 1000 rounds or risk having the polymer frame battered to death by the stainless steel slide.  There’s always a price to be paid when putting a major caliber in a tiny, polymer framed pistol, and Kahr has obviously decided to let their recoil springs be the part that takes the punishment. The sights are metal (are you paying attention, Glock?), big enough to be useful, and feature a white dot on the front sight and a white post on the rear sight for a “lollipop” sight picture.

The Kahr comes in a small, foam lined black plastic case with two 5-round magazines, owner’s manual and assorted paperwork, and of course a trigger lock.  Kahr pistols are not cheap. Priced in the $650 range, the little PM45 costs about as much as some good quality 1911s. Kahr makes no apologies, their website proudly and honestly states that they don’t cut corners to build their guns to a “price point,” they simply build the highest quality gun possible using the technology available. When you are trusting your life to a tiny, lightweight polymer pistol packed with .45acp hollowpoints, that’s a reassuring philosophy from the folks who built that gun.

khar_pm45_1 khar_pm45_2 khar_pm45_3 khar_pm45_4 khar_pm45_5 khar_pm45_6 khar_pm45_7

National Concealed Carry Reciprocity—Is the Fruit Getting Ripe?

Great Seal of the State of Wisconsin

Great Seal of the State of Wisconsin

With the passage of Wisconsin’s concealed carry legislation this year, 49 states now have some sort of concealed carry law on their books.  Of those, 36 states have “shall issue” right-to-carry laws comparable to Wisconsin’s.  Only Illinois, which predictably also frowns upon open carry, stands completely alone in denying its citizens the right to bear their arms.

The 49 states that do feature some sort of concealed carry on their books have different regulatory schemes, different requirements to acquire a permit, and different rules about where guns may and may not be carried.  They also differ in one other important way—reciprocity.  Reciprocity is the legal process by which one state may recognize the laws of another, as they do with driver’s licenses for example.  Many states do in fact recognize permits from certain other states, but many others do not, or their recognition is limited to certain states.  Without recognition of an out of state concealed carry permit, a law abiding citizen must then obey the wide variety of state laws regarding firearm possession and transport for non permit holders.  This makes it legally risky for folks taking a simple family vacation from Missouri to Pennsylvania, for example, to bring a self protection firearm along with them.  There are websites online which can act as a guide for law-abiding gun owners to navigate this confusing situation, but the fact that they exist at all drives home the point that the hodgepodge of state laws are difficult to understand and follow.  And if you’re a trucker who sees several different states each week, the 2nd Amendment probably seems more like something you just read about online than a basic human right which could save your life someday.

U.S. House of Representatives members Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Heath Schuler (D-NC) have a solution.  In February 2011 they introduced HR 822, a national right-to-carry reciprocity bill that, if passed, would force every state to recognize the concealed carry rights of visitors with concealed carry permits from their home state.  That’s it.  No national ID card, no national database of concealed carry permit holders, just the radical yet simple notion that states should recognize each other’s concealed carry permits as they do a driver’s license.  Surprisingly, HR 822 has its basis in existing federal law.  Due to the Armored Car Reciprocity Act of 1993, every state, including Illinois, currently recognizes the permits carried by employees of Armored Car companies to carry firearms in their vehicles and on their persons.  How simple is that?

While this may seem like a simple change, getting the bill through Congress and signed by the President will be anything but.  Representative Stearns has filed a version of this right to carry reciprocity bill every year since 1995, which means that the bill has failed for sixteen straight years.  Like seeds planted in barren earth, each bill has withered and died.  But there are some indications that the bill’s chances are improving.  The landmark legal case of District of Columbia vs. Heller affirmed in 2008 that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right, not a collective right.  The Heller decision now backs up HR 822 from the standpoint of constitutional law, but more than that, it has helped turn the tide of legislation in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.

While the BATFE and the Justice Department are reeling from scandals involving the government’s involvement in trafficking firearms from the United States to Mexico and Honduras, there are indications that this Congress is refusing to go along with gun control proposals.  The House of Representatives has adopted a provision protecting gun possession on land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, and has shot down two anti-gun schemes by the BATFE and the Justice Department by removing funding from them.  By contrast, HR 822 now has 241 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, more than half the total number of members.   The bill is currently before the House sub-committee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.  If it can be successfully attached to an important piece of legislation coming through that committee, it is feasible that President Obama would sign it into law as part of a larger package, as he did with a bill allowing concealed carry in National Parks in May 2009.

With every state but one having concealed carry on the books, more than half of the House of Representatives co-sponsoring this bill, a recent Supreme Court decision affirming the 2nd Amendment, and a president who has previously signed pro-concealed carry legislation into law, is national concealed carry reciprocity an idea whose time has come?  Cliff Stearns and Heath Schuler think so.  They have been watering this tree with care and have watched it grow over time.  Is the fruit of their labors finally getting ripe?  Will the mishmash of conflicting laws be replaced by a simple edict that the states are to respect the rights of each others’ citizens?

Zombie Life in the Day of Team Cheaper Than Dirt, Part 3

David "Rampage" McCormick

David "Rampage" McCormick

Yesterday four of us managed to get ourselves cornered in an alleyway. Two of us laid down covering fire while the other two pulled a dumpster sideways, creating a choke point. We radioed for help to the remaining members of our team. We held off the crowd of dead heads for what felt like an eternity. Shortly afterwards, a truck pulled up at the end of the alleyway, and a towrope came flying through the air. We clipped the tow strap to the dumpster and jumped in. The truck tires squealed and we started sliding to safety, firing out of the side window of the smelly metal container. Next time I hope it’s a recycle bin instead.

 

 

 

 

Dr. Ravenblack

Dr. Ravenblack

Last night, Sharp-Eye showed me a rash she had developed overnight. I was in my make-shift lab all day, so I’m not sure what the group got into yesterday. Everyone seems to disclose just enough that is relevant to the situation at hand and hardly anything more. So, I’m quite pleased she feels she trusts me enough to tell me. Or maybe it’s just because I’m the only one with such extensive medical training. I dressed her wound and applied some Antiseptic from the first aid kit. To avert any suspicion, I encouraged the whole group to dress in long sleeves to avoid sun exposure. I lead them to believe that our first aid supplies are dwindling and that heat stroke is detrimental to our survival. In regards to the rash, I’m not too worried, though I did take a scrape of it to take back to my lab for dissection.

 

 

 

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

I’m not all by myself no more! I had to risk the sporting goods store because I was running low on filters for my Katydyn water purifier, and I wanted some other necessities, like clothes that don’t smell like burned zombie. And candy bars. I tried out the camera tripod spear and it works real good so I didn’t burn up all my ammo getting around. I’d already scavenged all the 9mm I could carry and I was shopping around for a new backpack when I heard the same machinegun as the other night, but this time real close. I got down on my belly and started yelling out as loud as I could that I’m Duke Jenkins, famous photographer and author, and I ain’t no zombie. I need to write a chapter in the book on how to not get shot when you run into people that are still, you know, people.

There’s a whole crew of these survivors and they seem alright to me. Not a good ol’ boy among ‘em, but if they made it this long they can’t be total idiots. And boy are they well armed, this feller that calls himself “Rampage” totes an M60 belt-fed machinegun around with him everywhere he goes, and it’s the same gun I heard the other night. Turns out they saw the fire from the gas station I torched too. None of ‘em has a radio or we might’ve found each other days ago, instead of me almost getting shot up in the men’s dressing room.

The Zombie Book, Chapter 4: Zombies, Machine Guns, and You

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

If you’re reading this, then you’re a survivor, because we all know zombies can’t read. And if reading this chapter saves your life, remember the name Earl “Duke” Jenkins, world famous photographer, journalist, and documenter, no wait, that ain’t right, documentarian? Is that even a word? Anyhow, I’m a world famous fact writer downer of this here zombie apocalypse, and ya’ll better remember the name of Duke Jenkins. So here’s some stories and advice from me to you about one of my very favorite topics: machine guns!

Even before the undead came (and monster truck shows ended) I knew all about machine guns. The littlest ones are called machine pistols, and I sure wish I had one. They’re just a pistol with a switch somewhere that takes it from pop-pop to yee -haw. The Germans and Italians made some HK and Beretta models that would shoot a 3-round burst, but the king daddy of machine pistols is the Austrian Glock 18, a true full auto that can dump its entire magazine with one pull of the trigger, if you’re desperate enough. Some machine gun dealers modified regular Glocks to go full auto in the past few years but I ain’t run across one yet. If I ever find one, my Viridian green laser  and 33 round magazines will go right on it. Anyhow, 9mm ammo is real easy to come by and works great at close range, and a machine pistol can be shot with one hand while you do something important, like locking a door behind you, with your other hand.

Submachine guns are like little rifles shooting pistol ammo. They weigh less than a rifle, and they have a stock so you can aim better than with a pistol. Now, I think the ultimate submachine gun for the zombie apocalypse would be the American 180, which looks like a tommy gun but in .22lr instead of .45acp. It feeds with a drum magazine on top that holds, get this, 275 rounds of .22lr ammo. Remember, at close range .22lr does just fine to stop them zombies right in their tracks. The American 180 was mostly used by prison guards, so if you’re holed up in a prison keep your eyes open for one. Around here, you can find HK Mp5 submachine guns in police stations or even the trunks of police cars if you get lucky. You do always search police cars for good scavenge, right? The Mp5s are accurate and controllable and don’t use up your 9mm ammo too fast. When you’re faced with an undead mob of shuffling zombies outside a gas station ‘cause you took too long in the toilet laughing at the funny papers, one of these is just the ticket to carve yourself a path to freedom. That was a close one, I had to drop a whole load of snack food and flee for my life. I hate running, damn zombies.

One more step up bigger and you got yourself the select fire assault rifle. Far and away the most common are M4 carbines and M16 rifles, in places where the military made their last stands you can find ‘em lying around everywhere. Try to pick up a clean one, they don’t work as good with gunk in the action. With a good red dot scope  aiming is fast and they are plenty accurate, so most of the time you’ll keep ‘em on semi auto, one shot one kill right? Except you can’t kill the undead, so heck I don’t know what to call it now. Anyhow, the .223 ammo they use goes through them soft zombie pumpkin heads real easy and if you take your time and wait for ‘em to line up, you can get a two-fer if you time it right. I do it all the time ‘cause I’m a real trick shot, sometimes if I get a two-fer I’ll reward myself with a candy bar right then and there. You gotta appreciate the little things in life, that’s what separates us from them.

The biggest machine guns of all are the belt-feds. I never got to shoot a belt-fed before the zombies came because the military was prejudiced against fat people and wouldn’t let me join up. One of the survivors I’ve been thrown in with totes an M60 and he showed me how to work it. You don’t want to have to load it in the dark or in a hurry, so he keeps it loaded all the time. I got to try it out once and it was more fun than a raccoon in a pillowcase. But it weighs 25 pounds, which is like carrying around four Mp5 submachine guns with you all the time, and the ammo for it is heavy too. The best thing about it when I tried it was that its 7.62 NATO ammo  hits so hard. Let me tell you, zombie heads and arms were flyin’ off everywhere and the rounds just kept going through even more zombies behind ‘em. I got so excited I forgot to look down the sights and I just watched where the rounds were hitting instead, and with all the noise and smoke and the long bursts I was laying down, well it was the best Fourth of July show since Travis Tritt at the state fair. You gotta pick up as many ammo links as you can after shooting it though, because if you run out of linked ammo the party’s over. Honestly, I love the M60 but its not worth the weight if you’re on foot. Go with something lighter and you’ll move faster and you won’t be tired and crabby all the time.

Well, its time for some shut eye so I’m done with this chapter. Till next time remember, you can’t have too much fresh water, fresh batteries for your lasers and flashlights, or fresh ammo. And never, ever give up! Keep on going and maybe one day you’ll meet me, Duke Jenkins, out there documenting this here infested wasteland. I always have a candy bar to share and I don’t charge for autographs.

Zombie Life in the Day of Team Cheaper Than Dirt, Part 2

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

Zombies woke me up again early this morning. It’s like they know I want to sleep in till noon sometimes and they just want to take that away from me too. I lost my temper and torched a bunch of ‘em at a gas station. It don’t usually stop ‘em and it smells terrible bad, but I enjoyed the show anyway. I should have been embarrassed, I screamed at ‘em the whole time like they could hear. “Its your fault there ain’t no more pro wrasslin! It’s your fault there ain’t no more NASCAR!” I sure made a scene, but nobody was there to notice.

I got a real fight coming up but I gotta do it. I stink real bad right now, I need some new clothes or I’m gonna start smelling like they do. And I can always use more ammo and food, so I have to head into town tomorrow and see if I can find me a sporting goods store and resupply. There’s bound to be more of those undead moaners around than I can easily deal with. If I have to shoot my way in, then shoot my way back out, I’ll have risked my life all day and still be out of ammo. And that don’t make no sense at all, but I’m going anyhow.

 

David "Rampage" McCormick

David "Rampage" McCormick

Working with these untrained civilians is proving to be quite an adjustment. They have no regard for military bearing, hierarchy or the chain of command. They insist on doing things their own way, and I find this unsettling. When it comes to neutralizing the zombie threat however, some have proven to be useful. We have set up safe areas around the city that are fenced off and electrified; these small areas have food sealed up in airtight containers along with basic medical supplies. Ammunition was running low until yesterday when we raided a local gun store. We managed to carry out several weapons, and I am anxious to try some of these new 00 buck shotgun shells on our dead head friends. At close range nothing beats a tactical shotgun. Laying waste to a large crowd of zombies in just the thing I need to let out a little frustration.

 

 

 

Dr. Ravenblack

Dr. Ravenblack

I never thought I would be a killer. I spent so many years studying on how to SAVE people’s lives. Not end them. Increasingly, I find it difficult to go with the team on scavenger outings. It is inevitable we all have to fight. Sometime when faced with the Reanimated, I feel hesitant to shoot. Survival instincts win out every time, though. I have become well versed in operating any weapon I am given. You have to, in this day and age. Dirty has trained me well on the tomahawk. I find it easy to sever the cortex of the reanimated fairly quickly and easily with the tomahawk. In my heart of hearts, I just know I could develop a cure. If I could just get to the lab…

Zombie Life in the Day of Team Cheaper Than Dirt, Part 1

Sharp-eye "SURVIVOR"Sophie

Sharp-eye "SURVIVOR"Sophie

It’s been a hectic week battling off the zombies. We’re pretty certain we’re winning. However, I’m not totally sure. I’ve been working to get the team all on the same page and feel like there is still yet more to do. The work never ends. It’s a drudge at times, but somebody’s got to do it.

We press on, keeping the zombies at bay. Who knows. We may need these skills later down the road. Could it be “Zombieageddon”?

I discovered some of my team’s journals. I know it’s rude to read what others have to say, but in this case, never knowing if they’ll return from the field or not, I thought, why not? I decided this would be a good time to share some of their entries. Maybe this will help put the pieces together so we’ll all know what to do next.

 

 

Day 1

Dr. Ravenblack

Dr. Ravenblack

I’ve finally figured out the formula in which to measure my viral aerosol sampling of the dump site I recorded last week.

 

I’ve also been working on extracting hydroxicine, benzotrilyamate, and toxalymene from local plants in order to create a form of toxicalplymosis. I believe I can replicate the virus of the reanimated.

My compound so far: q-(prydoxyethal)-, 7-doxyethal-7-xneroutioxidie, stp-8-ry ethnayal, [9(X)-hydroxymil]-HrS,3rH-, Poxin-2a-y8

 

David "Rampage" McCormick

David "Rampage" McCormick

Dispatching these slow moving dead heads has become routine, but I don’t want to lie and say that I don’t get a small amount of pleasure out of my new found career. A favorite tactic of mine is to use bait. My team and I used to use human bait, but willing volunteers are becoming scarce, the zombies have resorted to eating any living thing they can find. Cats, dogs, cattle, and horses, are all on the menu. We found a goat one day and tied it to a pole on the inside of a warehouse. We rigged the doors of the building to all close simultaneously and once a large enough crowd of dead heads heard the dinner bell, we hit the switch and rained down lead from an upper railing. I used my ArmaLite M15A4CB, a few Magpul mags, and a Burris red dot fast fire sight to make quick work of our guests. Good times. We even made a game of it, Specter thinks he’s ahead, but we only counted claymore traps as one kill each, so the overall score is up for debate. Fortunately, we used a steel pet carrier from a burned out pet store for the goat, so the zombies could not spoil our dinner. There’s nothing like chowing down on a little goat after a long day of killing zombies.

 

 

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

So this here journal is to help organize my book thoughts and such. The book will sell better after all this is over because I was orderly with my thoughts while the apocalypse was on. I picked me out a new camera on scavenge because all good books have pictures, and I used some parachute cord to strap my Ka-Bar knife to a tripod leg so I have an extendable spear. Its kind of a bulky deal so I can’t carry a long gun no more, but I’m stocked up on 33 round mags for my Glock anyway so its all good.

I heard a lot of shootin’ yesterday, someone was really letting fly with a machinegun and not too far away from me. I burned up a set of radio batteries last night but didn’t reach anyone. I tried every frequency I could so either they don’t got a radio, theirs works on different frequencies, or… they didn’t make it. I hope they harvested a bumper crop of zombies either way.

How to Kill a Zombie with a Television

David "Rampage" McCormick

David "Rampage" McCormick

In my previous life, I was a member of the Air Force Security Forces. My typical day consisted of checking identification at a gate in some far off corner of the globe. I saw some heavy action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have to take pills to sleep a full night. My tenure in the military was coming to an end, so I was looking forward to sleeping in, eating chips on the couch, and mowing my lawn on Sundays. A week before shipping home I heard something about a serious sickness that was going around in my hometown, but I wasn’t the type to get ill easily. After another six-month deployment, my plane landed and I drove my jeep through town to the front curb of my house. There was almost no traffic and several cars looked abandoned on the side of the road. The tall grass in my front yard looked like a Southeast Asian jungle. I grabbed my messenger bag out of the passenger seat and walked up the narrow concrete pathway leading to my front door. The un-kept grass was so tall I almost tripped over the pile of newspapers that had accumulated around my front porch. I looked down and saw several headlines alluding to a mysterious viral outbreak. I shrugged and unlocked my door as I took a huge step over the trash.

When I walked in I immediately noticed an overwhelming smell. It smelled like death. I had seen death a few times and I will never forget the smell it makes in the desert heat. I reached in my bag and pulled out my Beretta 92 and my Insight Technology HX120 flashlight, not sure what I would find. I cleared every room in the house, checking under beds, looking in bathtubs until all that remained was the kitchen. I moved quickly and quietly and for a moment, I forgot I was home, the rush of adrenaline you get just before a firefight had become all too familiar, and I could just as easily been clearing a random hovel in Kandahar. I reached the kitchen and immediately focused on the pantry. I put the flashlight in my mouth and reached for the doorknob with my left hand. I threw open the door and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Potatoes. I didn’t throw out the potatoes before I left. Ugh, it smelled like death and my stomach started having a mind of its own. I immediately leaned over the sink and dispatched everything I had eaten in the last couple of days. Six months in the pantry with no A/C; I really need to improve my domestic skills.

I set my weapon down and laid my forehead on the edge of the sink when an almost euphoric sense of well being came over me, it’s the kind of feeling you get after eating some bad chicken, and then getting rid of it. I let out a heavy sigh and reached for the shiny chrome faucet to wash down the half-digested grossness. When I looked up at the handle to turn on the water, I noticed something move in the faucet reflection. It was the shape of a man; his greenish silhouette was walking slowly in my direction, and that adrenaline rush hit me once more. My heart was pounding so hard I could feel my whole body rattle with every beat. I rolled foreword over the top of the counter to put some distance between us. I spun around as fast as I could and reached for my leg drop holster. That holster spent the last six months attached to my leg, and I had gotten used to it being there. To my horror, all I felt was an empty cargo pocket, and my sidearm was on the other side of the kitchen counter, right next to the intruder.

I quickly sized up my opponent. He was heavyset and wore a badly stained tank top. He was looking in my direction but not right at me. He had a blank expression and drool was pouring over both of his unshaved chins. It was right then that I recognized him, behind that blank stare I saw my neighbor Carl. He was a truck driver whom I had become acquainted with through several disputes about my overgrown foliage that was pouring onto his property. In response he often let his little rat dogs do their business on my front walkway. I began to do the math in my head. The virus I heard about, the newspaper headlines, and now poor Carl.

Just then Carl lurched forward over the counter with both hands, I had the strangest feeling that this fat dude wanted to take a bite out of me. I lunged to one side to dodge his hand and noticed my old 13-inch tube television sitting on my side of the counter. I grabbed it with both hands and slammed the glass end of the idiot box right on top of this clammy bloated head. He leaned back with the television still attached as I jumped over the counter to grab my gun. I put six rounds through the side of the TV effectively turning what was left of his brain into Swiss cheese. He slowly fell backwards into the pile of rotten potatoes and everything got quiet, all except for his left leg, which was twitching a bit. I put three more rounds into his leg, he finally stopped moving, and I began to calm down. I made a mental note, no need to worry about poodles pooping in my yard, and zombies don’t like being hit with televisions.

It’s Zombie Apocalypse Week at Cheaper Than Dirt!

It’s time to start eradicating zombies at Cheaper Than Dirt! We’ve been strategizing for weeks. We must end the apocalypse now! Won’t you join us?

Thomas “Dirty” Poole

Thomas Dirty Poole

Thomas "Dirty" Poole

Role: Engineer

When it comes to zombie survival, this primarily involves breaking obstacles so the team can keep moving and then setting up new obstacles to slow down the horde. This usually puts me pretty close to the zombies. When the opportunity presents itself, I try to get a smile out of the team with an explosion or two. I’m a survivor because I just don’t want to end up like one of them.

Weapons of Choice: shotgun—Mossberg 590A1 with bayonet; pistol—Glock 19; machete and tactical tomahawk

Shoots: Right-handed

Personality Type: I’m an explorer and a risk-taker. I also tend to “treasure hunt” a bit more than most others. I just don’t want to miss any really good supplies that could help keep us alive!

Best Zombie Kill: While covering a narrow doorway, I simply bayoneted the first zombie in the chest and held him at arms length. I did it because I was waiting for another few to stack up behind him in the doorway. I then fired a 1oz slug and dropped four at once. Rinse. Repeat. Ammo conservation is important with a shotgun!

 

Dr. Narcissa Ravenblack

Dr. Narcissa Ravenblack

Dr. Narcissa Ravenblack

Role: Scientist

I am an Epidemiologist who worked with a highly classified group of scientists developing a biological weapon, a project called Ninth Gamma. I secretly concocted an antivirus and have been taking it the entire time, which is how I was unaffected by the catastrophic event at the lab that released the toxins in the weapon.

All my notes, research, and vials of antivirus serum are secretly buried in cache storage behind the lab. I have failed to tell my current team of survivors that I have what I believe to be a vaccine to the virus. I am waiting for the right time to reveal my secret, so I can be hailed as the one doctor who saved mankind.

Personality Type: Megalomaniac, slowly descending into complete madness

First Zombie Encounter: When the lab exploded and released the virus. My entire team was infected.

Shoots: Right-handed

Favorite Zombie Kill: When I had to relieve the head of funding for Project Ninth Gamma of his condition with a jagged edge of a broken Petri dish.

Specialty: Excellent at fixing the team’s physical and psychological wounds

 

Earl “The Duke” Jenkins

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

Earl "The Duke" Jenkins

Role: Photographer and novelist, documenting the Zombie Apocalypse for future generations, with plans to make millions off of the book and movie rights afterwards.

Weapon of Choice: Glock 19 with green laser and 33-round mags

Shoots: Left-handed

Photographs: Right-handed

Modus Operandi: Tends to hold camera in one hand, Glock in the other, and photographs zombies until the last possible moment before popping them in their gory heads.

Secret Shame: Once artfully photographed the grisly death of a politician rather than try to save him.

Thing he Misses Most about the Old World: Playing “Left 4 Dead” online with friends… all of whom later became zombies.

Zombie Kill of the Week: Zombie got too close during a photo shoot. Duke stunned the zombie with his camera flash, then impaled him with a Ka-Bar knife he has strapped to a leg of his camera tripod. Then took a picture of the dead zombie with the camera (and zombie) still attached to the tripod.

Favorite Conspiracy Theory: Lady Gaga was the first zombie, years ago. Many suspected even then, but nobody knows for sure.

 

The MeatGrinder

The Meat Grinder

The MeatGrinder

Role: Deployed in Afghanistan conducting anti-zombie operations to include vehicle interdiction, helicopter assault force, and foot patrols in hopes of finding the cause of the world’s outbreak. Responsible for 20-man reconnaissance/ surveillance team.

We currently have teams deployed in the Horn of Africa, Europe and South East Asia conducting similar missions in hopes of gaining intelligence in counter-zombie asymmetrical warfare.

Highly motivated to find the root of the outbreak which will in turn lead to a possible cure. It is also fun to waste zombies.

First Zombie Encounter: 14 July 2011 (female, approx. 23 to 30 years old, unable to determine due to decomposition, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan)

Too Close for Comfort, Those taken by the Zombie Apocalypse: Too many to list, I stopped counting after the first 100 team mates.

Weapon of Choice: FNH SCAR 17 (.308) with EGLM 40mm grenade launcher attached. Leupold 1.1-8X scope.

Shoots: Lefty

Little Known Factoid: Never bitten by Zombie

Closest Call with a Zombie: Vehicle convoy was ambushed IVO Asadabad Afghanistan. Lost everybody in my vehicle but was extracted via SPIES system from HH60 Blackhawk. During extraction operations, male zombie became entangled in SPIES rigging approx. three feet from me. I was saved by the door gunner who opened fire on zombie with Dillon precision Mini Gun.

 

 

David “Rampage” McCormick

David Rampage McCormick

David Rampage McCormick

Role: Former U.S. Air Force security forces who’s entire unit was wiped out by the zombie plague. Heavy weapons and entry team expert. Surviving to kill the maximum amount of zombie trash.

Weapon of Choice: M60/M4 or wooden bat with nails hammered in the fat end

First Zombie Kill: Hit him with the kitchen television

Shoots: Right-handed

First Zombie Encounter: Encountering my zombie neighbor in my kitchen

Personality: Team oriented soldier

Blood Type: O neg

 

Sharp-eye “SURVIVOR” Sophie

Sharp-eye SURVIVOR Sophie

Sharp-eye SURVIVOR Sophie

Role: Sharp Shooter

SURVIVOR is my middle name…I was stranded on some left coast island and managed to outwit and outlast the Zombies.

Weapons of Choice: Match set 1873 Bird’s Head SA Colt .45 (gotta have one for each hand); SA Model 92 .45 rifle; Browning 1885 .4570 High-wall

Shoots: Right-handed

Best Kill: Head shot at 800 yards, but can take ’em down at a mite over 1200 yards

Motto: Kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out

 

 

 

Specter

"Spec"

Specter

Personality Type: Rogue, loner

Shoots Pistol and Long Gun: Left-handed

Weapons Carried for Recon and Supply gathering: M24 – Rifle (carried in drag bag not on all occasions); M4 – Rifle; M9 – Pistol; Ka-Bar  Knife

Mounted and  Stationary: M60 – Machine Gun (one at each safehouse); M24 – Primary weapon

Closest Call with a Zombie: While taking a high position and providing high level cover for my old team the door leading into one of the safe houses was not securely locked down. By the time I heard them they were about five feet from me and closing in. I reached for my handgun but there was at least 25 to 35 on the roof top. Having my quick escape route I latched into my rappelling rope and bailed down the side of the building into my secondary safe area. This area is a fully enclosed location where the only way in is through the window. I stood at the window watching zombie after zombie attempt to fly.

 

Sgt. Eugene Tackleberry

Tackleberry

Tac

Role: Assault

When it comes to zombie hunting/survival, this primarily involves going out and away from our group in order to survey the area. I’m a survivor in order to provide for my family, as well as help anyone else who is still among the living.

Weapons of Choice: primary rifle — customized AR-15 SBR with 10.5” barrel in 5.56x45mm NATO; secondary rifle — customized LaRue Tactical OBR in 7.62x51mm NATO; pistol — Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm with Apex Tactical DCAEK; whatever else I can or have to use.

Shoots: Right-handed

First Zombie Encounter: While engaging in a little target practice one day, there was a flock of zombies that started coming out from behind the target berm. At first, I didn’t believe what I was seeing, but once I saw them take out the guy who was coming back from setting up targets, it became pretty clear what was happening. Luckily, I had just finished getting set up at the 1,000 yard bench with my secondary rifle (LaRue OBR), and was able to pick off each one of them with single head-shots. No misses!

Personality: Will kill as many as is necessary, or desired, until there is no longer a threat to my family and/or myself (all-around “gunny”).

Best Kill: One Monday morning, I woke up and looked out of the windows in the back of the house. I saw my neighbor aimlessly wandering around his backyard, looking rather pale. Upon further inspection, it was obvious that he was a zombie. Since he had previously let his dogs bark almost constantly for approximately two years, I retrieved my AR and shot him…with very little hesitation.

Blades! Your Zombie Backup Backup

Thomas “Dirty” Poole

Thomas “Dirty” Poole

None of us like those days when we run low on ammo. It just seems like no matter how careful we are to conserve it, we’ll use up the last just as a big swarm hits. So, when I’m running out of triple-aught (because over-penetration is the name of the game!), or they’re too close for me to reload, I reach for a big blade.

The main defensive blade I’ve used since the outbreak is the machete. With zombies around it’s really pretty much just used like a sword. Real swords are generally a bit heavier, but then again it’s not that often that you can scrounge a nice broadsword from an abandoned hardware store. So, we make-do with what we’ve got. I got lucky in finding this one. At 18 inches long, it’s about average length for most machetes. Where this one shines is that it’s a bit more thickly constructed than most. I really like the knuckle guard, too. See, when slashing with a machete, things have a tendency to drag down the blade and hit you in the hand. This knuckle guard keeps the infected (or what’s left of them) from getting to me. In general, I would prefer weight to length in a machete. For example, if I run across one of the Ka-Bar Grass Machetes I’ll definitely be keeping it. It’s not quite as long, but it’s thicker. It would still do fine for a slashing defense, but it would pull double duty at chopping through obstacles.

Speaking of chopping through obstacles, the next largest blade I keep on me is a Tomahawk. In a fight, I tend to use it kind of like a shield– keeping a zombie at bay until it’s his turn for the machete. I’m just not quite ninja enough to just go in swinging with both arms. The tomahawk works great by itself, though. It doesn’t have the reach of the machete, but it’s got plenty of heft to work over a pack of zombies in short order. That spike does exactly what it looks like it will do, too. I don’t throw it! I like to keep my tools with me instead of tossing them into mobs of infected. Now, the even better reason to have the ‘hawk around is for getting through objects like doors, boarded up windows, drywall, etc. Pretty much any light-skinned modern construction is easy work for the ‘hawk. This is important because there’s been plenty of times where our group would have been overrun if we hadn’t been able to make a hole in a building to get away. If you play your cards right, you can make a hole just big enough for everyone to get through quickly. Once you’re all on the other side of the hole, the team can take turns defending the choke point you’ve created until you can block it back up or the threat’s over.

The other bladed weapon I keep close at hand for defensive use is the M7 Bayonet on my Mossberg. I think of it more as a “zombie standoff device.” See, with a bayonet your goal is to jab at the bad guy in your trench until he stops trying to hurt your buddies. With zombies, it’s not quite as easy because in order for that to work I’d have to do all my jabbing from the zombies’ noses up. Good luck with that! What I can do with it, though, is use it to keep zombies at arms length. The trick is I have to use it that way in a choke point. If I’m in a parking lot and I stick one zombie, the rest will just go around him to get me. If I stick a zombie in a narrow doorway though, I can lean into him with the gun and keep him from coming in and he’ll block the door and keep all the others from coming in, too. It’s not fun, (you know, because there’s a hungry guy at the other end of my shotgun taking swipes at me), but when ammo is tight and the team needs a minute to figure out how to keep moving it can be handy.

None of us likes the infected being anywhere near us, but the edge of my machete lasts through more zombies than an M&P9 magazine will. And I can just keep sharpening the machete.

 

Handloading Basics: The Equipment

So you want to load your own ammunition but don’t know where to start? There are a few basic bits of equipment that you cannot do without.

The Components

There are a dizzying variety of bullets, casings, primers, and powders for sale out there, but you need some of each before you can assemble a working cartridge of ammunition. Books, magazines, and Web sites catering to the handloading community are available to help you choose appropriate components for the cartridges you want to assemble.

Quick-N-EZ Tumbler

Quick-N-EZ Tumbler

The Tumbler

Tumblers clean empty casings in bulk. Take a plastic bag full of muddy casings you plucked off the ground, and pour them into a vibratory tumbler filled halfway with corn cob media. Flip the switch and walk away; after a few hours the casings come out clean and polished, ready to be reloaded. What could be easier?

The Scale

You will need a scale to measure the amount of powder you are loading into the casings. Electronic scales are more expensive, faster, and easier to use. Generally, they can measure within an accuracy of one tenth of a grain, which is one hundredth of a gram. Mechanical scales cost less and offer the same accuracy, but are more difficult to calibrate and tedious to use.

The Dies

The dies are the carbide metal cylinders that sit in the press and actually interface with the cartridge components. Up to four dies are required to assemble each round of ammunition. The size die has a long spike running down the middle to punch the spent primer out the back of the casing. While this is happening, the top of the size die re-sizes the shape of the casing precisely, ensuring that its shape is correct. In a press using an automatic powder measure, the expander die activates the powder pour while slightly expanding the mouth of the cartridge to make it easier to seat the bullet, which is the job of the seat die. If needed, the last die is the crimp die, which squeezes the casing around the bullet to hold it in place.

Lee Single Stage Press

Lee Single Stage Press

The Press

This is where everything comes together, and there are many varieties of reloading presses from which to choose. Single stage presses only work on one die at a time, so cartridges are not created as quickly as with a progressive press, which activates up to four dies at once. Progressive presses cost more and sometimes are not as precise as their single stage counterparts. If you want to make a ton of .45acp ammo for pistol shooting, the progressive is a natural choice. If you want to make match-grade .308 Winchester rounds with extreme precision, the single stage design is what you are looking for.

The Helpers

There are also some optional extras that come in awfully handy. They do not cost much extra compared to what you already have invested in the necessities, and they sure make life at the reloading bench a lot easier.

The Bullet Puller

Adjustments to the dies are made on a trial-and-error basis, which means while you are adjusting how far you want the bullet seated in the casing, you are going to “get it wrong” several times before your adjustments are done. Why throw away those bullets and casings if you don’t have to? Put your cartridge into this big plastic hammer, give it a sharp smack on the floor, and out pops the bullet. Sometimes it is good to be able to disassemble a cartridge without just shooting it!

The Case Trimmer

The case trimmer is generally not needed for pistol calibers; but for rifle calibers, it becomes important. The higher chamber pressure of rifle cartridges causes their casings to stretch and expand on firing. After resizing in the size die, these cases are taller than their specifications call for, and usually not all by the same amount. The case trimmer trims the mouth of each casing to exactly the same length, making it possible to create consistent, accurate rifle ammunition.

Hornady Powder Trickler

The Chamfer and Deburring Tool

The case trimmer will leave burrs and sharp edges on the inside and outside of the casing mouth. These are sharp enough to cut your hands, and inconsistent enough to grab each bullet slightly differently as it gets seated. Save your hands and make your rounds more consistent with this little tool that neatly cleans up the case mouth.

The Powder Trickler

The amount of powder dispensed by a progressive reloading press or by a dipper can be pretty inconsistent, and inconsistency is the enemy of accuracy. To build accurate ammo, you can intentionally dispense a little bit less powder than you really want, then use this device to “trickle up” a little powder at a time until you reach the perfect amount of powder needed to go into that casing.

It is hard to believe, but these few bits of gear are all you need to set up a custom ammunition manufacturing center in your own residence. Tailor-made ammo that matches your gun and shooting needs perfectly is within your grasp.

Interview with Top Shot Competitor Brian Zins

We recently sat down with legendary pistol shooting competitor and first runner-up on season two of Top Shot Brian Zins to get a little insight on his experiences on the show and in the shooting community. We got the inside track on his new line of ammunition and some great tips on shooting red dot with the .45

Brian Zins on History Channel Top Shot Reloaded

Brian Zins on History Channel Top Shot Reloaded

CTD: What made you pick up shooting to begin with?

BZ: Actually, it kind of found me, well, competitive shooting found me. I joined the Marine Corps in 1988 and I was one of the few expert shooters out of my boot camp class; and when I went to MP school, I was the top gun out of my MP school with the .45

CTD: Did you only qualify with the .45?

BZ: I actually qualified with the 1911 first, and then at the end of the school, the Berettas were coming into play, so I had to go back and qualify with the Berettas afterwards.

CTD: Wow, so they made you redo it?

BZ: Actually it was kind of nice. Most people only got to shoot one gun while they were in MP school. We got there and we had already graduated, and they were like “look we’re going to keep you guys for another week, we want to get you out and get you qualified on the Beretta before you take off.”

CTD: Very cool.

BZ: Yea after I got to my first duty station, like 17 of us all checked in at one time, they were kind of overwhelmed, they told us to go to the rifle range and do your qualifications, while we figure out where we are going to put you guys. I went out to the rifle range for a week and my coach said, “Hey I like the way you shoot, you seem very natural. I said thanks, but I just learned in boot camp seven months ago. He asked me if I could shoot a pistol, I said, “honestly I think I shoot a pistol a little bit better.” He said, “Alright, I want you to shoot our division match with us in February.” I said, “Okay, whatever a division match is” because I hadn’t even been in the Marine Corps for a year yet. I went and shot a division match and didn’t place my first division match. I later became the marksmanship instructor for the battalion and the following year I went back and took a bronze medal. I then went to the Marine Corps championships and took a silver medal. Later I was picked up on the Marine Corps shooting team for the summer program. They liked what they saw, and the next thing I knew I had orders back to Quantico. I spent the next four years in Quantico doing nothing but shooting for the Marine Corps shooting team.

CTD: Wow, that is a very impressive resume, for sure! What you feel makes you a great shooter? You mentioned earlier that you are kind of a natural at it, do you think it is just in the blood?

BZ: I think a lot of it just had to do with hand eye coordination. I grew up playing baseball as a pitcher and a third baseman; I also learned how to juggle at a very young age. I think that had a lot to do with it, the hand eye coordination when shooting is a lot more critical than it is with a rifle. The ability to hold a handgun out with one hand, and shoot a three inch tin ring at fifty yards, all while not jerking the trigger while you do it, I mean, there is definitely some learned skill. I am however naturally, not very shaky, So I guess I am a little blessed.

CTD: Tell us a little bit about your experiences in the Marine Corps, did the lessons you learned there affect your shooting today?

BZ: Absolutely, I had the fortunate advantage of being trained by some of the finest coaches out there. When it comes to marksmanship, gentlemen like Andy Moody, who was the NCOIC of the team back then. He is really the guy I credit with teaching me everything I know about shooting a pistol. I was young, he had been around shooting for a while, and he kind of used me as a test base for a lot of his theories. We have actually changed the way people shoot a little bit. I shoot red dots, and the old school of thought was to look at the dot just as you look at your front sight, well not anymore. You should look at the target, it is a one point aiming system so the theory there is to look at the target, but your dot in the middle of what you are shooting at, and squeeze the trigger without screwing it up.

CTD: It is amazing how many things can go wrong with just that little squeeze of the trigger.

BZ: And that is the other thing, we are getting people to understand a little bit better, the importance of trigger control. You are not supposed to just align the sight and squeeze the trigger, you are supposed to align the sight as you are squeezing the trigger. If you align the sights and then squeeze the trigger, the sights are going to move. So you need to put that pressure on the trigger before the sights are perfectly aligned, or you are going to screw it up, I don’t care who you are.

Brian Zins Signature .45

Brian Zins Signature .45

CTD: Even a natural would have to practice that quite a bit I would imagine.

BZ: The only way you could align the sights and put pressure on the trigger afterwards, without the sights moving, would be to put the gun in a vice.

CTD: Let us take a step back real quick if you don’t mind. What prompted you to join the Marine Corps?

BZ: I had actually started going to college after high school, and studied law enforcement, and I was making great grades. I had the feeling though that I needed to move, I needed to go, and my parents had done enough for me so I told them that I didn’t want them to be burdened with paying for my college education.

CTD: So it was mainly to take the weight off your parents’ shoulders in paying for school.

BZ: Yes, I wanted to take the burden off them but also, I come from a long line of military in my family. When we came to the country, the earliest known ancestor in my family in the United States was a Hessian mercenary here fighting against us.

CTD: Wow!

BZ: Yea, he actually was captured at the Battle of Ticonderoga in New York, and after the war he was released and he became a pig farmer or something in Ohio.

CTD: What a cool story! Do you find yourself missing the military, now that you are retired?

BZ: There are definitely aspects that you do miss after you 20 years. I would not say I miss the military as much as missing the Marine Corps. There is a kinship and a brotherhood in the Marine Corps that I don’t think the other services quite understand. You miss the marines. I would say that it is not about missing the Marine Corps as much as it is missing marines.

CTD: Well that is a good way to put it.

BZ: When I got out of the Marine Corps I went to work for a civilian organization for about 18 months. The Sense of urgency and work ethic in the civilian world, I mean, It is so different.

CTD: So you are very much from the “Lets get it done now” school of thought.

BZ: Exactly, it’s like with my ammo business, when we put in an order for brass, I usually expect it to be there when you said it was going to be.

CTD: Now that we are on the subject of your ammo, let’s talk about that for a minute. How did it get started?

BZ: Well my gunsmith-slash-doctor, said he wanted to start making ammunition. He told me he wanted to go into business with me, and it would be my line of ammunition. He said he would help with the funding, and getting everything up and running. He has the shop and the space to do it. So we have all our stuff, all our components, and we are making ammo. Right now, we are only doing match grade .45, 185 grain jacketed hollow point. We have a custom blend of gunpowder as well.

Gunny Zins Ammo

Gunny Zins Ammo

CTD: Do you see yourself branching out into other calibers later?

BZ: Yes, we have one machine right now, and we are looking at building some more. Ultimately, our goal is ten machines. We plan to produce all handgun caliber ammo. We do not plan to get into the rifle ammunition right now however. I can shoot a rifle, but I would rather shoot a handgun. That is my forte, and it’s what I am known for. We went with .45 caliber because that is the biggest round in the bull’s eye shooting world. After nationals, we are looking at changing things up a little bit. We are going to start producing 9mm and .40 calibers.

CTD: Very cool…

BZ: Yea we are trying to get some ammo into the action world, because some of those guys have contacted me already, and it is hard to find good, reasonably priced ammo for shooting action. Bull’s eye shooters can hand load each round, but when you look at the amount of ammo that it takes to train and shoot a match with action pistols.

CTD: There is no way you can load that many rounds.

BZ: Right right, you would have to give up one of a couple things; you could work, eat, load, shoot, and give up sleep, or something else would have to give.

CTD: Right, there really aren’t enough hours in the day. Tell us a little bit about your experiences on Top Shot. Did you have a good time?

BZ: You know what, Top Shot was great, I had a really good time, met a lot of great people, and made a lot of good friends that I still keep in touch with. Got to run into them at the annual NRA meeting, and it was nice to see them again. As far as the Top Shot goes, it was fun. It was different thought, sort of like being in a sequestered jury, no contact with the outside world.

CTD: That must have been somewhat disconcerting, but being a Marine it was probably like being deployed again.

BZ: Yea it was funny, you could tell the Marines in the house, and we were just like whatever. It was a lot of hurry up and wait.

CTD: Going in, did you think you were going to get as far as you did?

BZ: I would like to say when I left to be on the show I knew I would make the final four, unless It got to the point where the others players decided that hey, this guy is really good, we have got to get rid of him. We got together anyway and decided that we did not want to send a good shooter home because they are a threat. We wanted the better shooters to make it to the end, and that’s how we played the game. We honestly think the best two shooters in the house should make it to the final challenge.

Brian Zins

Brian Zins

CTD: Other than the finale, what would you consider to be the toughest challenge on the show?

BZ: Not including the 45/70 shot, you know where you lay down and shoot 200 yards with an antique. Poor Athena, she got thrown in front of the bus, you know. She weighs less than that gun does. She has to go up and take the first shot, she was of no use to us to be able to gauge for impact. She isn’t really a rifle shooter, let alone a big civil war era rifle.

CTD: Was it neat to be able to shoot so many different kinds of weapons?

BZ: Yes, that was one of the coolest aspects, not just to be able to shoot all the different types of weapons, but the different challenges themselves. The producers and the think tanks that come up with these contests have to be slightly demented!

CTD: They would have to be! All the things they put you guys through are crazy.

BZ: Exactly, like that unstable platform shoot.

CTD: That looks so hard, I can’t imagine doing that.

BZ: Yea that FN FAL was the first gun I shot out there—that stupid thing; that was a nightmare. I was doing so good in that challenge up to that point.

CTD: How did you prepare yourself for the show?

BZ: That’s the funny thing I didn’t really prepare, I didn’t do much of anything. The only thing I did do was go out, buy some throwing knives, and practice with them a bit.

CTD: As a former pitcher and juggler I imagine you got up to speed pretty quickly since they are so similar.

Brian Zins takes his 10th National Pistol Champion title at Camp Perry, Ohio

Brian Zins takes his 10th National Pistol Champion title at Camp Perry, Ohio

BZ: They are; but a bladed weapon is different than throwing anything else. To throw an axe or a tomahawk is so different than throwing a baseball or a football or whatever. The whole arm and body motion is completely different. I think throwing the knives in the back yard was probably the best thing I could have done. The last thing I did at home before I left, was to shoot tomatoes off the fence posts with the .45, and during the first challenge, we ended up shooting billiard balls off fence posts.

CTD: Guess you did your homework there! Were you prepared for the social aspects of the show? Living in close quarters can be uncomfortable.

BZ: Nah, being in the Marine Corps, and doing anti-piracy stuff on ships, close quarters and seeing the same people day in and day out isn’t really a problem for me. When you are out to sea for six or seven days, it was just like being in the house, you see the same casting people, producers and camera people day in and day out.

CTD: What was your favorite challenge?

BZ: I think my favorite challenge, because of the challenging nature of it, was probably throwing the tomahawk. That was something we didn’t get a whole lot of practice on. There were about seven of us and we had an hour to practice with five tomahawks. We had to cycle in and out at different yard lines and do this and that. We were all learning since none of us really knew what we were doing.

CTD: Was it daunting to compete against a line up of such good competitors?

BZ: No, not really; in the bull’s eye world, where I compete, I’ve been in world cup competitions in Germany and Croatia just to name a few. The most daunting part was, not knowing what their abilities were. I knew they were all there for a reason, but it was difficult not knowing what these people were really bringing to the table.

CTD: If you could do it all over again, would you do it?

BZ: I would have to say yes. It was so much fun when I got back. My friends and family would get together for watch parties. I had so many family members that I got to see. Every Tuesday was like a family reunion on both sides of the family.

CTD: I have to ask, did you leave them in suspense the whole time?

BZ: Oh I did, oh yea. The funniest person to watch was my mother, she was like, “You don’t have to tell anybody else, just tell me.” I said I can’t tell you because everyone else is watching your reaction. If you’re calm they are going to know either he’s going home or he’s safe.

At the 2011 ProAm

Live from the field (and by “field” I mean “my hotel room”) today I wanted to talk a little bit about the match that I’m in Florida to shoot.  It’s the ProAm, and if you do a Youtube search for it you’ll find some pretty amazing video; the match has risen to becoming one of the most popular action shooting matches in the country in the past few years.  The match is set up a little differently than most USPSA matches in terms of the divisions though.  There are two classes, Pro and Amateur, both of which support Limited and Open division.  The “Pro” division is actually fairly small, consisting primarily of people that have finished in the top 10 of any Limited/Production/Open USPSA Nationals.  These are the “real” GMs of USPSA, and this year’s Pro Squad is no exception.  The Amateur class basically consists of “everyone else” with shooters from D all the way up to GM competing for trophies, prizes, and glory.  The Pro squad is shooting for cash – each stage is worth $500, and the overall winner also takes home a cash purse, so for the big dogs there is serious money on the line.  The Amateur class however gets to visit the prize table, which is quite frankly pretty impressive.

As far as gear goes, the two divisions mentioned above are very straight-forward.  Limited is any gun that’s legal for USPSA Limited/L10/Single Stack/Production/IDPA ESP/SSP/CDP.  The catch is that you can only have 10 rounds in the magazine; so all shooters are handicapped to Production/L10 magazine levels.  This handicap carries over to Open as well, forcing guys used to running 31 round big sticks to do as many mag changes as Production shooters.

And believe me, there will be magazine changes.  One look at the stages shows that getting all the steel within the par times will be difficult for the Pro shooters, and will present a heck of a challenge for us mere mortals as well.  For the match, I’m doing everything I can to enhance my steel whacking odds – my Timberwolf has an enlarged magwell so I don’t foul any critical reloads, the black-on-black sights will show up quite nicely against white steel, and the competition trigger will hopefully keep me from mashing too bad.

For the match, I’m squadded up with my buddy from Season 1 of Top Shot Brad Engmann, so we’ll have the opportunity to get some direct comparison video between a GM and me on video.  It should be fun, and I can’t wait to hit the range tomorrow!

Cheaper Than Dirt! Chats it up with ISSC Owner Mike Weisser

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Mike Weisser, owner of ISSC, the exclusive importer and distributor of the M22 range pistol and MK22 rifle. We discussed where the company comes from and the thoughts behind the ingenious designs they put into their firearms.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Tell me a little bit about how ISSC Austria got started and how they grew into the company they are today.

Mike Weisser: The founder of the company is Austrian Wolfram Kriegleder. He is a graduate of the Austrian technical college which awards degrees in gun engineering and design. It is the only such degree anywhere in the world. It has been there for a long time. Austria of course is a country, along with Germany, that makes very high-quality firearms in both handguns and long guns. Many of the people who are designers or engineers for the Austrian, German and Swiss gun companies went to this college. He originally started as a designer and engineer with WALTHER, a German company that imports into this country through Smith & Wesson. He designed a very popular pistol for them called the P22. After designing that gun for WALTHER and actually having some disagreements with the management of WALTHER over the design, which I’ll get into in a minute, he decided in 2008 to found his own company so that he could design the pistol that he really wanted to design. One thing led to another and he and I met at a trade show in 2008. The gun market is such that if you are not in the United States, you aren’t anywhere. I agreed to import and set up a sister company over here which is also called ISSC and to import and service the American market for his products. So ISSC was founded by Wolfram in Austria 2008, and I founded a separate company over here with the same name in 2009.

ISSC MK22

ISSC MK22

Cheaper Than Dirt: So does the United States-based company take the parts and symbols and assemble the gun here?

Mike Weisser: No, the gun is wholly manufactured and completely assembled in Austria, then shipped to us.

Cheaper Than Dirt: I see, so this meets import regulations.

Mike Weisser: Correct. All our guns are made in a factory in Austria which is outside the village of Ried, in western Austria about 40 to 50 kilometers from the German or what we used to call the Bavarian border.

Presbyopia: The Impact of Aging on Vision

We can all remember the first time we were squinting at the range, trying unsuccessfully to get a clear view of both the sights and targets.

Sight comparisons

Sight comparisons. Image credit: EveryDayNoDaysOff.com

As we age, our eyes progressively lose the ability to focus over the full range of vision from far to near. This happens to everyone, regardless of regular distance vision correction, and takes place gradually over time. The cause is presbyopia, a condition in which the eye’s crystalline lens becomes increasingly inflexible.

Presbyopia of the Eye

Presbyopia of the Eye

The eye’s cornea directs light onto the lens, and the lens focuses the light onto the retina. In an eye with perfect distance vision, the relaxed lens will focus a distant object on the retina. When we are young, the lens can change shape (increase curvature) to focus on objects at closer distances. The closer the object, the greater the curvature required. The ability to do this is known as “accommodation.” Accommodation is measured in diopters (D). As we age and the eye’s lens becomes increasingly inflexible, its accommodation declines.

Eye Accommodation Comparison

Eye Accommodation Comparison

Most people first notice a difficulty in adjusting between distances around the age of 45, and by the time they are 65, they will have lost virtually all of their accommodation.

Presbyopia and Nearsightedness

Presbyopia and Nearsightedness

Presbyopia and Nearsightedness

The nearsighted eye is not so perfectly formed. The result is that even with the lens in the eye relaxed, distant objects are focused somewhere short of the retina. A nearsighted person can usually focus on close objects, but distant objects are fuzzy. With distance vision corrected by glasses, the lens in a youthful nearsighted eye can still increase curvature to focus to closer distances. As a nearsighted person begins to experience presbyopia, however, they will find that they need assistance to focus to closer distances as well.

 

Presbyopia and Farsightedness

Presbyopia and Farsightedness

Presbyopia and Farsightedness

Those who are farsighted have the opposite problem as those who are nearsighted. The focus point for distant objects is somewhere beyond the back of their eye. When the lens in the eye is relaxed, distant objects will be fuzzy, and closer objects will be even fuzzier. The lens in a youthful farsighted eye can increase curvature to focus to distance, and can increase even more to focus on still closer objects. As a farsighted person begins to experience presbyopia, however, they will find that they need assistance to focus on close objects, and, at some point, they will need assistance even to focus on distant objects.

 

Presbyopia and Astigmatism

Presbyopia and Astigmatism

Presbyopia and Astigmatism

Astigmatism results when the cornea is not perfectly spherical in shape. The result is a “lopsided,” somewhat cylindrical sphere that does not focus all of the light rays entering the eye onto a single point on the retina. This means that objects at all distances will appear somewhat blurred. Astigmatism can often occur in conjunction with nearsightedness or farsightedness, but people with perfect distance vision can also have astigmatism. Most people with astigmatism will need assistance that corrects for “cylinder” all the time, and will need both distance and close vision correction when they begin to experience presbyopia.

 

Technology and Tips

As a shooter, the inability to focus because of presbyopia is frustrating, and many chalk it up to “losing their edge” or “not having what it takes anymore.” Fortunately, we live in the 21st century and science has delivered technology to help shooters overcome the effects of presbyopia on the range.

In the past, shooters have relied heavily on multifocal lenses to provide the extra curvature that the lens in their eyes is no longer providing. Unfortunately, common multifocals, such as bifocals, trifocals or progressive lenses, only provide a few set focal points, one for near vision, one for far, and sometimes a third for in between. These multifocals typically cause side effects, including: nausea or headaches from the areas of distortion and blurriness, or neck pain from aiming one’s vision through a limited field of view.

Many other shooters resign to suffer the inconvenience of constantly switching between multiple pairs of glasses throughout the day. Fortunately, in today’s age of modern medicine, there are various ways to overcome presbyopia, such as special adjustable glasses, night vision, scopes and other optical sighting devices.

In addition to the new technology listed above, here are some other tips for coping with presbyopia while shooting with iron sights:

  • Keep Your Eyes Moist. It helps to keep your eyes moistened when you are outside in the wind. A couple of drops of Visine early in the day and again after lunch will help your eyes stay moist and keep your vision clear.
  • Contrast the Color of Your Sight and Target. Many shooters blacken their front sight post for more contrast against the manila-colored target. We typically find the traditional carbide lamp to be a better choice with its flat black finish. The spray-on products are too glossy for our tastes.
  • Prioritize the Clarity of Your Front Post. If you must choose between crystal clear focus on the front sight or target, the front sight focus is always more important. Deviation of sight alignment is far more costly than an imperfect picture of the bull’s-eye. Consequently, even the best sighting aids may allow the distant bull’s-eye to be a little fuzzy, while simultaneously keeping the front post clear. When shooting from 600 and 1,000 yards, the bull’s-eye focus has degraded enough to use what most refer to as a frame hold.

About the Author

Caitlin Abele is a shooter who works with Superfocus, the makers of an adjustable focus lens for presbyopia that is popular amongst shooters. She is also a member of Steve’s Angels, the moderators of the Superfocus Staying on Target community for shooters overcoming age-related vision changes. The Staying on Target community and OnTarget blog provides information and commentary on shooting, aging and vision and is located online at http://shoot.superfocus.com.

Top Shot Competitor and Navy Rescue Swimmer Jamie Franks

Jamie Franks grew up in a rural area outside or Raleigh North Carolina with a family of hunters and shooters. He spent his childhood exploring, hunting, and roaming the backwoods of the Southeast United States and, even as a child, aspired to a career in the military. Seeking to further his skills with firearms, Jamie sought out training, initially as an Operations Specialist within the Navy, and later applied to and was accepted into the Navy SEAL’s BUD/S program where he unfortunately washed out due to medical reasons. Now he continues to work as an Operations Specialist and Navy Rescue Swimmer attached to an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team.

Jamie is not a fan of reality TV in general, but the History Channel’s reality TV series caught his eye and he began looking into the application process. One thing led to another, and soon he found that he had been selected as one of the 16 contestants for Season 2.

While on the show, Jamie’s shooting abilities quickly became apparent, and he made it through 3 elimination challenges until he was finally taken out during the shotgun elimination challenge with Chris Reed in this week’s episode.

Jamie joined us on this week’s Cheaper Than Dirt podcast and we had the chance to discuss his experience in the Navy and talk in detail about what happened during his run for the $100,000 grand prize on Top Shot.

Listen to the podcast live using the player below, download the entire .mp3 file here, or you can read the entire transcript below.

Cheaper Than Dirt Jamie, welcome to the Cheaper Than Dirt podcast.

Jamie Franks Well thank you, thanks for having me.

Cheaper Than Dirt You have had quite a notable experience on Top Shot. It’s been quite a rough road that you’ve fought hard down to get to this point on Top Shot.

Jamie Franks Yeah, I would say so. That’s one way to put it.

Cheaper Than Dirt You went to a total of 4 elimination challenges, is that right?

Jamie Franks That is correct, I went to 4 and brought home 3 of them.

Cheaper Than Dirt That last one just wasn’t going to happen though.

Jamie Franks No, by that point in the competition I think that I was really starting to feel the strain and starting to wear thin. The way the luck played out, I don’t think that any of us would have ever guessed that any of us were going to walk into a shotgun challenge. I might have voted a little differently going into that elimination challenge, instead of deciding to face off against Chris Reed with a shotgun.

Nonetheless, I feel like I could have shot a little bit better because I do have a background in trap and skeet. But yeah, that last elimination challenge really was a difficult challenge.

Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s back up a bit, we’ll come back to that, but let’s get a little bit of background on how you got started in firearms. You grew up with a family out in a rural area where you had the opportunity to shoot, hunt, and generally just run around in the woods. Tell us a bit about that background.

Jamie Franks Yeah, I grew up pretty much in the middle of nowhere near a small town in North Carolina, a suburb of Raleigh, that was about 30 miles southeast of Raleigh. I grew up on my family’s tobacco farm.

From a real early age, my dad would let me shoot all of his guns and stuff, once I was old enough to kinda handle them. When I was about 6 years old I got my first BB gun and, where we lived, I was just free to roam the area and go off into the woods by myself and shoot stuff with my BB gun. A couple of years later I got my first .410 shotgun and then a .22 rifles, and then up and up from there.

Living where I used to live at that time, I used to tell people that you could stand on the roof of my dad’s house and shoot a high powered rifle in any direction and not have to worry about hitting anything. There was nothing out there except forest and tobacco fields.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did you have any experience in competition shooting? I think we heard somebody mention that you had shot trap or skeet at some time prior to your military experience.

Jamie Franks Yeah, I have, not prior to my military experience, just since I’ve been in the Navy, here in San Diego there used to be an amateur trap and skeet league here in San Diego and I would shoot in that competitively. That wasn’t any part of any official circuit. It was just an amateur local sorta thing, but that was the only formal competition shooting that I’d ever done, if you even want to call that formal, prior to going on Top Shot.

Cheaper Than Dirt Well, a little competition goes a long way I think, especially when it comes to having that ability to get down and focus on a show like Top Shot.

Jamie Franks I’m a competitive person anyway, no matter what it is. I look at just about everything in life like it’s a competition, so that didn’t take much adjusting on Top Shot.

Cheaper Than Dirt Right. Now, what prompted your decision to join the Navy? you obviously had a background in firearms and an interest in that, but there are a lot of other branches of the military, such as the Marines and the Army, that might have seemed better suited for someone who was adept with small arms.

Jamie Franks I grew up, I was a kid of the ’80s, I’m 31 years old, and I grew up watching all of the great ’80s action movies and action heroes. Literally from as far back as I can remember, all I ever wanted to do was to be in the military. Once I was actually starting to get to the age where I had to start thinking about what I was actually going to do in the military, growing up and playing war or playing army as a kid, I always wanted to be Special Forces, I always wanted to be a sniper. I wanted to be like they were in the movies.

Once I was actually a teenager and actually had to start considering my options, the high school I went to had a Navy Junior ROTC and I was the commanding officer of my JROTC detachment in high school. That kinda started steering me towards the Navy, and once I started to find out more about Special Forces and stuff like that, the Navy SEALS were in my opinion the best of the best and the elite of the elite. That’s what I wanted to do.

When I was 17, 18, and 19 years old, there was nobody in the world who could have told me that I couldn’t do it or that I wasn’t going to make it or anything. That right then and there, I made the decision that if I was going to be a Navy SEAL I had to be in the NAVY, so I joined the Navy.

Cheaper Than Dirt In 1998 you did just that and started along your career path, a 13 year career path in the Navy if I’m not mistaken-

Jamie Franks That is correct.

Cheaper Than Dirt This has been a point of contention online in the forums, and on the TV show among some of the other competitors: we saw Ashley and some of the other guys get upset at your apparent reluctance to disclose what your actual job duty actually was. What did you do in the Navy, and what do you do right now in the Navy?


Jamie Franks while on deployment to Afghanistan

Jamie Franks What was seen as reluctance, at least on my part, I would like to say it was a misunderstanding. I’ve seen a million guys in the Navy that never shut up about how “On one deployment I did this, and on my last ship I did this,” and I just didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to be that guy who was aggravating everybody with my sea stories every 5 seconds.

For the longest time I never knew that there was any contention about what I did in the military. I honestly didn’t think it mattered, and I really didn’t think anybody cared. I could be seen wearing United States Navy Rescue Swimmer T-shirts all through the competition.

I joined the Navy in 1998, and like I said, I joined with the intention of trying to be a SEAL. Back then, only certain job fields could apply for SEAL training, so I had to look at all of these jobs and pick which one I wanted because, hey, it didn’t matter anyway because I was going to be a Navy SEAL.

My uncle was an Operations Specialist in the Navy, and he made being an Operations Specialist sound like the best thing since beer in a can. So, I joined to be an Operations Specialist, went through Navy boot camp in 1998, went through OSA school and became an Operations Specialist, went to my first ship and immediately on my first ship began trying to get my hands dirty and into anything I could that had a gun involved.

I got involved with the ship security team, we call it SAT and BAF teams, Security Alert Teams Backup Alert Force. I started doing VBSS which is Visit, Board, Search and Seizure. That’s like boarding merchant ships, searching them for contraband, stuff like that. Immediately I started applying for BUD/S training over and over again until I finally got accepted.

I was detached from my ship and actually got to go work with the SEALS here at SEAL Team 3 here in San Diego for about 6 months when I was getting ready to go to BUD/S. I went to BUD/S and made it a few weeks through training. I started failing my timed runs in training and we couldn’t figure out why my times were getting worse instead of better, so I went to medical and found out that I had stress fractures in my leg and got dropped from training and went back to the fleet.

My second ship, they saw in my orders that I was coming from SEAL training. I guess they needed a rescue swimmer because they said “Hey, you’re probably in pretty good shape. You can probably swim pretty good. Do you want to be a Rescue Swimmer?”

I said “Heck yes!”

So, they sent me to Rescue Swimmer School enroute to my second ship. I got there to Rescue Swimmer School and I was blowing it away and I really loved everything about it. I really kinda felt like that was my niche or my calling.

But, in the Navy, it’s not like the Coast Guard. If you’re a Rescue Swimmer in the Coast Guard, that is 100% of your job. In the Navy, it’s more like a collateral duty. I’m still an Operations Specialist, but I’m also a Rescue Swimmer.

Cheaper Than Dirt So that might have lead to some of the confusion where someone might say, I believe it was George who said “Well, what is it? What are you? Are you EOD or are you a Rescue Swimmer?”

So, you have a primary job and a secondary job.

Jamie Franks Right. Currently I work with an EOD unit, and I’ve deployed twice with an EOD unit, but I am not an EOD guy. I do support for an EOD unit as an Operations Specialist. But, that’s exactly the point, exactly what you just said. There is no one word or one phrase or one sentence that I could tell somebody who is not familiar with the Navy, what I do in the Navy.

If I were to tell you “I’m Military Police,” you would understand what that was. If I were tell you “I’m a diver,” the average person would know what that was. But, if I tell the average person “I’m an Operations Specialist and a Rescue Swimmer, and I work with EOD, it doesn’t make sense if you’re not in the Navy.

Cheaper Than Dirt Apparently that led to the confusion that was on the show.

Now, while you’re in the Navy, how did you discover Top Shot, and at what point did you go ahead and make the decision that “Hey, let me see if I can take some leave, I want to apply to be on the show.” Walk us through that process, how did you got through that?

Jamie Franks That’s actually a cool story in my opinion. I was just a Top Shot fan, just like the other millions of people who watched Top Shot because it was on TV. I like guns, and it was a show about guns with real shooters, shooting real guns, which is something you hardly ever see on TV. Everything is so Hollywood, so I was immediately drawn to Top Shot just as a fan.

I was watching Season 1, and Season 1 was great. I don’t mean to take anything away from the Season 1 competitors, but I’m sitting there on my couch watching Top Shot and I’m like “What’s the big deal? I can do this. I can do that challenge better than that guy, I can shoot that better than this guy.”

I’m involved with a program called Project Appleseed, and I was at a Project Appleseed function and a bunch of us had been watching Top Shot and talking about it and couple of my friends told me “Hey, you’re a good shot, you should try out.” Then on one of the online forums I saw a guy basically recruiting for Top Shot and he said “Hey, if you’d be interested, send me an email,” so I sent the guy an email with just a quick little paragraph, honestly never expecting to hear anything back from it. then I get an email back and they wanted a little more information.

Then as it goes on it was just a little more, and a little more, and it started getting to the point where I’m signing non-disclosure agreements, I’m sending in videos, I’m sending in essay questions and doing background checks, and I’m like “OK, this must be pretty serious. They can’t be doing this with everybody.” It was at that point that I clued in my command. Once I got a bit further along in the process and found out what the filming dates were, the filming dates backed right up to my deployment to Afghanistan.

It was at that point that I needed to let my command know, so I said “Hey, I’ve got kind of a problem. It’s kind of a cool problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless. I don’t know if you’ve seen the show Top Shot on the History Channel, but I’m starting to get the feeling that they’re seriously interested in me. If I were to get selected for the show, the dates are going to back right up to the deployment. Would you guys be willing to support that?”

They gave me the OK to keep pursuing it and just keep them in the loop. If I got selected, we’d cross that bridge when we got to it, and I didn’t I would carry on like normal. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve always known I was a pretty good marksman, but I would never have considered myself anything extraordinary. As I got past the next phase and the next phase of the Top Shot selection, I was always amazed. I was as amazed as anybody else would have been to find out that I was making it through all of these, as they say in football tryouts, I was making it through all of the cuts.

It got down to it that I was in the final 50 and they were going to bring me out for the final tryouts, so then I had to sit down again with my command and say “Now it’s getting pretty serious. They’ve narrowed it down to 50, and they’re going to select 16 out of these 50, so I’ve got a pretty decent shot at this. What’s it going to be?”

My command ran it up the flagpole, and it was that same time that I was selected as my command’s EOD Mobile Unit 3 Senior Sailor of the Year for 2010. So, they said “Yeah, we know you’re our Sailor of the Year. We know you’re square guy, you’re a good shooter, so go with it. See what happens. If you get selected, we’re going to support you,” and that’s the way it worked out.

I was in complete disbelief the night I got the phone call after we had come back from finals tryouts that they had selected me as one of the 16 for the cast.

Cheaper Than Dirt It sounds like quite the journey, and quite an arduous process that you’ve got to go through. You’ve been quoted as saying that you “hate reality TV.” Did you find yourself unprepared for the social dynamic aspect of the show?

Jamie Franks Yeah, I absolutely do hate reality TV. I don’t really watch any other reality shows. In my opinion, Top Shot was kind of a borderline reality show, but it is, it’s a reality show. It’s kinda like Survivor with guns I guess or Big Brother with guns or whatever.

I don’t watch any of those other shows, but I went to public school. I grew up with thick skin, I have an older sister. I’ve been through the Navy, been through all kinds of stuff in the Navy. I assumed that had completely prepared me for the social dynamic. I’m usually a pretty social person, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself a social butterfly. I’m the kind of guy that has one or two good friends and I’m just kinda friendly with everybody else. I just assumed going into it that I wouldn’t need a game plan, that I wouldn’t need a strategy, that the social aspect of the show would be no big deal compared to the stresses and situations I’ve been in in the military.

I have to tell you, I was wrong. I should have spent a little bit more time preparing myself for that aspect of the show.

Cheaper Than Dirt What about weapons-wise. A lot of people like Daryl went out and practiced with all of these exotic weapons: throwing knives, shooting a bow and arrow, throwing a tomahawk. Did you practice with anything like that or did you do any type of preparation to familiarize yourself with foreign weapons for the show?

Jamie Franks I’m in Southern California, and aside from driving 2 or 3 hours out into the middle of the desert, it would be really difficult for me to practice with any of those odd weapons. I pretty much had to stick to the weapons that I had immediate access to and immediate places to shoot them, which was basically rifles, pistols, and shotguns.

Through the course of my life, and through my experience in the military, I’ve been fortunate enough. Like I said, I was stationed at a SEAL team for a while, I work with an EOD team right now, I did VBSS stuff on a ship, so I’ve had the chance to shoot and hold and become familiar with a wide range of weapons. I’m just one of these people that just believes that if your shooting fundamentals are good, and you really know what you’re doing, it really doesn’t matter what kind of weapon is in my hand. That’s the way I thought about it.

When we went to the final tryouts we had to shoot, we had to do a shooting trial and, assuming that all the rest of these people had spent the last few months at the range every single day, number one, I can’t afford to go to the range every day. I can’t afford to buy that much ammo. I just kinda went into it like I was either a good enough shot, or I’m not. They’re either going to select me, or they’re not. I really didn’t have the time or the money to put into recreating the first season’s Top Shot challenges in my backyard or doing anything crazy. So, I just kinda kept my goings to the range about the same as it would have been anyway.

Actually, towards the end there, right before we went to the show, I had to make myself stop going to the range, because I was becoming so critical of myself. Every time I would take a shot and not hit a bullseye I would just beat myself up about it. The last couple of weeks before we went, I just had to make myself not go to the range at all.

Cheaper Than Dirt You pretty much just walked into this entire situation cold. No real plan, not a whole lot of time to practice, not really knowing what to expect except maybe what you’ve seen on Season 1.

Jamie Franks Right. I walked into the situation thinking “If I’m not good enough, a couple of weeks of extra practice isn’t going to help me.”

Cheaper Than Dirt And you did remarkably well given that. You know, after the team selection process, we saw pretty early on that certain people got along OK and certain people didn’t. We saw on the Blue Team that Jay tended to rub certain people the wrong way. We didn’t see quite that same dynamic on the Red Team, but at the same time, you didn’t seem to be quite “in the group” as much as other Red Team members. Would you say that was just the nature of your personality, just being a little bit more of a quiet guy?

Jamie Franks I think so. You know, *laughs* anyone who knows me well, I don’t think “quiet” would be one of the words they would use to describe me as. But in a situation where I’m with people I don’t know, it’s kind of my nature to just kinda hang back and see what everbody’s about and just jump in where I can.

No way could I even now after I’ve been on Top Shot, I couldn’t jump back into a house with 15 other strangers and just immediately jump in and start being social and start being part of the group and start making close friends.

In fact, the night before we started the show we had a meeting with the Top Shot producers and directors and one of the guys made the comment that people on the first season made the comment that “Oh, I can’t vote for him, he’s my friend,” and he was like “I don’t know about you guys, but I take 5 years before I call somebody my friend.”

That’s really how I am. It takes me a long time to make good friends. I really went in there thinking that I didn’t want to play the political game at all. I wanted to go to Top Shot and think that my shooting and my personality, and just being up front and honest with everybody would be enough. In retrospect, maybe I should have played the game a little sooner and a little more and been a little bit more political from the start and tried to make some closer ties from the start. Who’s to say that would have changed anything?

Cheaper Than Dirt Your raw natural talent definitely held out for you quite a bit, but of course getting sent to challenge after challenge, and every time having to pack up… You know, it’s hard enough to go out there and deal with the cameras and deal with the stress of knowing that your every move could be televised on national TV, and that you want to look good on the range and prove that you really do deserve to be on the show. But on top of that, having to go through the stress of packing up every time in anticipation of possibly being sent home… It’s got to get into your mind, to creep into your mindset when you’re out there trying to do your best and shoot.

How much concentration, how difficult is it to get into the proper frame of mind to perform on the range, every time, on command?

Jamie Franks I think that exact thing was my problem in the first couple of challenges. Obviously there were nerves, and I think I was putting so much pressure on myself to be perfect, to perform perfect, to hit that bullseye every time, that I ended up shooting myself in the foot and falling flat on my face. It really took me going to that first elimination challenge with Athena to really kinda pull my head out, shake it off, and relax in front of the cameras in front of these 15 other marksmen critiquing my every move and trying to find a weakness and trying to find a reason to keep themselves around and find somebody else to send up for nomination.

It did get to the point a little bit where the competition was starting not to be fun any more because it was, no matter how well I shoot, it’s not going to matter at a certain point.

Cheaper Than Dirt This most recent episode, I almost laughed along with you as we were watching you at the nomination range, it was a situation where you almost just have to laugh. You’re at the point where, “OK, yeah, they’re going to send me again.” What else are you going to do?

Jamie Franks Right. Exactly, and people have asked me if I could go back and do things over again, what would I do? If I could go back again knowing what I know now, knowing that I would get sent to every elimination challenge anyway, I probably would have shot better than I did because I could just completely relax and consequently shot better because there wouldn’t be any pressure.

I thought that at some point that everybody would wake up and go “Hey, this dude is a solid shooter, we need to stop sending him to the elimination.” What I didn’t realize at the time was that once I had been marked as “that guy” after the first couple of challenges, there wasn’t any way I was going to win them back.

Cheaper Than Dirt There have been some suggestions that perhaps you were sandbagging, trying to get sent to elimination challenges so that you could pick up a couple of extra gift cards.

Jamie Franks No, that is not accurate at all. The gift cards are nice, but I would have definitely traded in the gift cards in order to be one of the guys sitting on the bench watching the elimination challenge.

Cheaper Than Dirt The producers changed things up this season. Last season, when the two teams combined, and everybody put on the green jerseys, we saw the nomination range go away. When that didn’t happen, how did that change your strategy?

Jamie Franks When we first found out that we made it to the green shirts, I was ecstatic. Now, my shooting is going to speak for itself. My skill is going to speak for itself. It doesn’t matter what everybody else’s opinion is. I’m going to have a score, and that’s going to be it.

Then, when we found out that it wasn’t the worst person going home, it was the best person just got immunity and we still had to do nominations, honestly the first couple of times I was completely deflated. Every time we kept going back to the next practice or the next challenge I was hoping they would tell us that “Hey, that last nomination was the last one.” But, for me, that never happened.

It’s funny that you should mention how they did it in the first season, because unless my math is incorrect, at the point that I left the show in the individual phase of the competition, I think I had the best shooting record of any of the shooters who were left. I placed 2nd in the .50 cal challenge, I placed 1st in the unstable platform challenge, and then I tied for second in the challenge we saw last night falling from the crane. I had two 2nd place finishes and a 1st place finish, and none of the other shooters there had a better record with that.

If they did the elimination like they did in the first season, I’d still be in the competition and I think I’d have gone a lot farther than where I landed.

Cheaper Than Dirt Do you think that your shooting skills might have spoken too loudly for you, that maybe some of the guys looked at your performance on the .50 cal, and you know you really upset their plans by getting immunity on the unstable platform challenge. How did that make you feel?

Jamie Franks That unstable platform challenge was my perfect storm of a Top Shot challenge. Everything that I happened to be good at fell right in my lap for that challenge. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me. If any challenge in both seasons of Top Shot were meant for me, it was that one. Those are the kinds of weapons I am familiar with. Those are the kinds of weapons I’m good with. That kind of challenge is right up my alley, and I went in there and smoked it.

Do I think that my shooting ability started to speak too loud and started to intimidate people? I really don’t think so. Joe’s an honest guy, and last night on the show you saw him, even after everything, he still didn’t consider me one of the best shots in the house. I think it was a case of, if you look hard enough to find something wrong, you’re going to find something wrong every time.

Cheaper Than Dirt And, when you’ve got everybody going for $100,000, you’re on the show and obviously think you’re there for a reason. If you didn’t think you had a chance, why be there? Obviously you’re going to see all of the flaws in all of the other shooters and identify ways in which you’re going to beat them.

Jamie Franks Right. Exactly.

Cheaper Than Dirt You mentioned earlier about the friendships on the show and how you didn’t think it was possible to make such good friends in such a short period of time. Yet, everybody we’ve talked to who came off the show has said the same thing. They came out of that experience with powerful and long lasting friendships. Your experience on the show obviously was a little bit different, but even Ashley said that he considered you a good friend, despite the on air incidents that we saw. Was your experience the same? Are these guys all your good friends now?

Jamie Franks Yeah, absolutely. Pretty much all of us have kept in touch. There are a few people from the cast that don’t speak up as often as others, but there is a core group of us who communicate pretty often. Jay, Ashley, and Maggie are the ones I’ve communicated the most. Probably Jay the most and then Ashley because he and I were both over in Afghanistan immediately after the show finished taping so he and I were talking to each other over there.

The weekend before last I actually met up with Maggie and shot my very first ever 3-gun match with her. Everything you saw on TV, everything that happened, whatever may have happened behind the scenes, absolutely every single person on the show I look forward to the day when I see them again and we can sit down and have a beer together. I have absolutely no hard feelings for anybody on the show.

A lot of people have said “How can you stand George and why didn’t you give him a piece of mind?” and a lot has been said about what has been left on the cutting room floor, and what was one of the things left on the cutting room floor was that me and George actually got along well most of the time.

Cheaper Than Dirt What did we miss out on? What one scene or what couple of scenes did we miss out on that you really wish would have made it to the air?

Jamie Franks I can’t think of any one big thing. I just think overall the producers or the editors or whoever missed out on capturing the camaraderie that actually was there. Every single night there were big card games going on and jokes going on. Jokes being played, and conversations that would still keep me in stitches now thinking back on it. It’s that kind of stuff that got kinda skipped over in favor of focusing in a little bit more on the drama.

It was just that kind of stuff overall. The guys who would interview us, more than once, more than twice, they made comments about how we were about to make them all puke because we were all getting along so well. That was really the reality of the reality show was that 99.9% of the time we all got along really well and it was a really positive environment in the house with everyone joking around and telling stories and playing games. I’m sorry that didn’t get shown more.

Cheaper Than Dirt Did the producers or crew members do anything on purpose to try and provoke drama?

Jamie Franks No. Some people think that certain things were scripted or that certain things were provoked by the producers, and I can honestly say that no, that didn’t happen. There were maybe a couple of times where they would ask you a loaded question, that maybe they wanted a certain response with maybe a certain slant to it, but at the end of the day it was up to you whether you played into that or not. I never did.

But no, nothing was scripted and I would say that they didn’t provoke any events. There was enough that happened on its own that they didn’t have to.

Cheaper Than Dirt You know, it is a stressful situation just being in the house away from everybody. Was it worth it? I mean, I know you mentioned that if you did it again you’d do it differently, but given everything you’ve learned, everything you know now, would you actually go out and do it again?

Jamie Franks If I could go out and do this experience over again, yes I would. Would I at this point go out of my way to apply for Dancing With The Stars, no I would not. The application process is ridiculously long and arduous. It keeps you guessing about whether or not you’ve made it with all the uncertainty and all of the hoops you have to jump through. It was absolutely worth it, knowing that I was one of the fortunate ones who made it.

So, yes. This specific instance, I would go back and do it again. Would I do it again now, probably not. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I think it’s best to leave it at that. We had a great cast. The casting people did a great job picking us all out and throwing us in there. I don’t know how it could be any better if I went out and tried to do this again.

But, if Top Shot in the future wanted to do a Top Shot All Stars or Top Shot Heroes and Villains, I would absolutely be up for that.

Cheaper Than Dirt Would you be a Hero or a Villain?

Jamie Franks Oh man… I don’t know. If you ask me, I’d say I’m always going to be a hero, but I don’t know. I guess that would be up to the good people at the History Channel to decide that.

Cheaper Than Dirt You mentioned getting back together with some of the other cast members like Maggie and Chris Tilley. A couple of guys, based on their experience, have decided to start picking up some other disciplines and some other sports. Have you taken that step and started to shoot a little 3-Gun or some USPSA or something like that?

Jamie Franks Yes, doing 3-gun is something that I’ve always wanted to do even before I ever got onto Top Shot, or ever knew there was a show called Top Shot. The one thing, and hopefully there’s someone from the 3-Gun community listening, the information is just not out there. For a long time I would just search on the internet for 3-gun competitions that were near me here in California and I could never find the information. I just assumed that 3-gun was predominantly an East Coast thing or a South Eastern thing, because I know they do a lot of 3-gun events in Texas and Arizona. I just assumed there were none near me, so I stopped pursuing it.

Then I met Maggie on the show, who is one of the biggest 3-gun champions in the country, and I mentioned that “Yeah, it just sucks that there are no 3-gun near me in California,” and I thought she was going to slap me when I said that. Fortunately I met her and she has steered me in the right direction to find some 3-gun matches in Southern California, and like I said I just shot my first one 2 weeks ago. I’ve definitely been bitten by the bug and I definitely can not wait to shoot 3-gun some more.

Cheaper Than Dirt It’s been an explosive sport coming up. We recently picked up sponsorship of 3-Gun Nation and we’ve got Patrick Kelley, another well known 3-gun shooter on Team Cheaper Than Dirt! and Team Benelli now. The opportunities for 3-gun are definitely out there, and we’re trying to help our customers and other shooters like yourself get involved in the sports.

Jamie Franks My biggest recommendation would be to get the information out there on the internet about the matches. That would be great because I could never find it. I could never find anything where I didn’t have to drive across the country to see if I liked it.

Cheaper Than Dirt You know, for those of our listeners and readers online, go to 3-GunNation.com. They’ve got all the major matches listed there, and we’ve got even more listed on our website.

Jamie Franks Yup, that was actually the first resource that Maggie steered me towards was 3-GunNation.com.

Cheaper Than Dirt It’s a great resource. You know, Top Shot has done a lot to bring sports like 3-gun into the forefront of our national consciousness, to bring it back into the mainstream. You mentioned earlier that you’ve been doing some work with the Appleseed Project, and you know we’ve done some work in the past with Project Appleseed, and that’s a great method to bring in new shooters. Tell our listeners and our readers a bit about Project Appleseed.

Jamie Franks Appleseed, first and foremost if I were to tell someone about Project Appleseed, is non-partisan, it’s not Democrat, it’s not Republican, it’s not officially affiliated with the NRA. We keep politics out of it. The goal is to teach every American responsible gun ownership, rifle marksmanship, and we tie it in with American History and the events of April 19th 1775 and the battles of Lexington and Concord and tie it in with the political climate of the United States at that time, as it relates to today, and as it relates to the importance of being a responsible gun owner.

We take anybody from any walk of life. If you’ve got a rifle, bring it out. Most of the courses are a 2 day Saturday and Sunday program, but you can either come out for just Saturday or Sunday. We’ll teach you how to shoot your rifle and I’ve never seen anybody not get better. I’ve seen people on the range from 8 year old kids to 80 year old men, and 80 year old women. They bring their wives out. I’ve seen entire families on the shooting range.

I think the last time I was an instructor at an Appleseed event, we had a family of 8 all on the firing line right beside each other. It’s a great environment, it’s a great learning environment, and you’ve never met so many people who are so anxious to share their knowledge and share the history of the United States, and teach you how to shoot.

Cheaper Than Dirt That website is AppleseedInfo.org for any of our readers or listeners who want to go online and check that out.

You know, it’s a great project. We’ve had some down here in our area and, just speaking from personal experience I’m not that great of a shot, but going out there and trying to earn that marksmanship patch I saw this smiling 8-year old little girl came up with her own marksmanship patch, but I just couldn’t do it that day.

Jamie Franks Yeah, it’s amazing. Like I said, it’s for everybody. I’d been shooting for most of my life before I ever heard about Appleseed, and I really believe that no matter who you are, and no matter how good you think you are, you can’t attend a course like Appleseed and not learn something and not get a little bit better.

Cheaper Than Dirt It’s a great course. I’ve been shooting all my life and never shot a course like that and went out there and thought that I would just walk out there and earn the marksmanship patch, but there is a lot to learn. There is a lot that they can teach you out there.

Jamie Franks There is a lot to learn. A lot of people never realize how much of the mechanics they are doing wrong. The Rifleman patch as you referenced, earning that Rifleman patch is like dangling the carrot in front of the mule. You see that 12 year old girl get her Rifleman patch and that kinda lights a fire a fire under you and then you want it. People come back over and over and get better and better and eventually earn their Rifleman patch.

Cheaper Than Dirt It is a great way to spend a day with the family and learn firearm safety as you mentioned.

Listen, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. It’s been very enlightening, and it’s been great to clear up some of the drama. A lot of people see what happens on Top Shot and they see the drama and don’t realize that, as firearm enthusiasts and as sportsmen, we’re really a friendly bunch. I think that’s one thing that Season 1 really showed that I kinda miss on Season 2.

Jamie Franks Yup. Agreed.

Cheaper Than Dirt Alright, well I know you’ve got some more upcoming interviews, it sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate. Caleb Giddings on Gun Nuts Radio has an interview scheduled later. We’ll be listening to that. Caleb is one of our resident Gun Nuts here at Cheaper Than Dirt! so we encourage all of our listeners to check out that interview as well.

Jamie Franks, it’s been a pleasure talking with you and I appreciate your time.

Jamie Franks Alright, well thank you. Thanks for having me.