Degrees of a challenge

Marking the Boundaries of Your Personal Space

Every day that we interact with people, we enforce our personal boundaries. With strangers, these boundaries are usually quite distant (except on rush hour buses, elevators and TSA checkpoints), with acquaintances a little closer, and with family the boundaries are often nonexistent.

What Goes Up Must Come Down

moron

Don't Be A Moron, Be Safe!

What goes up must come down. At first, this may seem like a ridiculously obvious comment, made by Captain Obvious. However, there are far too many people in the world who are not familiar with the concept. I have undeniable proof of this.

Gun safety is not something to take lightly, at all, in any way. I mean it. Just because you live in the suburbs of a major city, or perhaps all the way out in “the countryside,” you are not somehow magically immune to some, or all, of the laws of physics. You really aren’t. I promise.

July 3, 2011, my wife, my dog, and I were on our way back home from watching a fireworks show with some friends. I already had the steering wheel turned to pull in to our driveway, when the back windshield shattered. It looked as if a bullet had gone through the window. I checked the interior of the car for bullet holes and saw nothing. There was very little glass inside or outside the car (thank you, window tint!), but I did find a small hole in the back dashboard, right under the hole in the glass. This indicated that the bullet had come from an angle perpendicular to the ground. I checked the trunk and saw the 9mm 115 grain FMJ just sitting there.

Unfortunately, this type of irresponsible behavior is more common than most people seem to realize. Many people have been seriously injured or killed because of such carelessness. A simple internet search for “celebratory gunfire” will give over 50,000 results. The most recent example, as of this writing, was from December 15, 2011, in Ohio. The Mythbusters performed tests on this subject (Episode 50: “Bullets Fired Up”). Based on the data they collected, they found that it is potentially dangerous behavior. They were able to confirm two separate instances of bullets striking humans upon returning to the ground.

Depending on where you are when you shoot a gun into the air, it may be totally legal, a misdemeanor, or a felony. In Texas, for example, the law regards random gunfire as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4 thousand dollar fine. If you hurt anyone or anything, the courts could charge you with a felony. In Arizona, random gunfire is automatically a felony. This is because of Shannon’s law, which legislators enacted in 2000. This was in response to the 1999 incident, where a stray bullet killed 14-year-old Shannon Smith. Probably not worth it, huh?

Regardless of the law, what you think is “cool,” or even if it is an “accident,” shooting guns into the air is reckless and breaks more than one of the “Firearms Safety Rules.” Shooting firearms is a lot of fun, when executed properly, it is one of the safest sports. Let’s try to keep it that way.

Society for Asking Stupid Questions

10 Questions About Guns

As the saying goes, “there are no stupid questions” and when you are learning how to shoot, it is better to ask than be sorry. And don’t worry, I get it. I’m afraid to look like a complete idiot as well. So here is a list of questions and answers to those questions that you may have been wanting to ask, but was just too embarrassed to ask.

Empowering Those Who are Already Heroes

It isn’t every day that you get to meet real life heroes. CTD Martin and I had the honor and pleasure of meeting several heroes at the Warrior Cane Project event near Dallas, TX. The project is an effort to empower disabled veterans by training them how to defend themselves with a cane.

Cane Fighting

Thomas S. Forman, Valhalla Security Consulting

There are several advantages to this approach. You can literally take a cane anywhere. Airports and other controlled entry locations can’t take a person’s cane away. They also cannot legally ask you why you need a cane. Obviously, a person’s medical conditions are their own business. I was a bit skeptical in the beginning that a person could do any real damage with a cane, but after seeing the types of sticks these folks used for training, I quickly began to understand. Typically, canes nowadays are hollow tubes of aluminum, which are light and comfortable for the user due to padding around the curved handle. The fighting canes however, are hand-carved hardwood sticks with lethal grooves carved into the sides. Designers included this shark tooth pattern of grooves to tear skin off the bone should someone be so inclined, and getting smacked with a fast-moving wooden rod isn’t something  I want to be on the business end of.

Cane Fighting

A Warrior Holding His Donated Cain

The class took place in a pub in Dallas, TX. When we entered the pub, I wasn’t sure we were even in the right place. A large shadow appeared to my left and I no longer had any doubts. The instructor for the class, Thomas Forman, stands 6 feet 4 inches tall and would make most NFL linebackers look like sissies. He graciously introduced us to some of the warriors taking the class and we had a chance to chat before the class started. We met several people who were anxious to discuss a myriad of topics including the fading support for veterans benefits that is stemming from Washington. There are veterans out there having to pay money out of their own pockets to take care of wounds they sustained while fighting for our country. This situation is obviously unacceptable. Randy Stamm, an author and veteran with a laundry list of military accomplishments and decorations that I can’t fit into one blog post, explained some of the hardships that currently face veterans under the current administration. Randy spends one hundred percent of his time helping veterans get the benefits they earned while keeping our country safe. As a veteran myself, I was happy to meet him. I recommend reading his book, “A Soldier’s Dying Heart,” a documentary about the Gulf War.

By the time the class started, the room filled up with heroes like Thomas and Randy. They stood in a large circle where Thomas began to teach the basics of cane fighting. This style of fighting originated in Korea, and Thomas has a perfected version that veterans can use to help defend themselves against attackers. Criminals routinely target the disabled and elderly since they believe they are easy prey. The crooks typically don’t expect the disabled elderly person to be a former special operations soldier who is wielding a three-foot stick with sharp edges. As the class continued to learn, you could see that warrior mentality surface in the faces of the students. Empowering otherwise disabled veterans is what this program is all about.

Due to the success of the initial training sessions, the Marine Corps and the Army have requested Mr. Forman and Valhalla Security Consulting to teach Combat Cane sessions all over the United States, and train Wounded Warriors to become Combat Cane Instructors. These Wounded Warrior instructors can then maintain partial or full active duty service.

As with most programs, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Each hand carved cane costs $160.00. The program relies totally on donations, so help these troops become warriors again. You can donate here, and your contribution is 100% tax deductible as a donation to the Metroplex Military Charitable Trust, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

DONATE TODAY!

Cane Fighting Thomas hooking the neck Cane Fighting Cane Fighting Cane Fighting Cane Fighting

Off-Season Shooting Practice

At the close of each shooting competition season, I spend a little time reminiscing about the good times at 3-Gun matches around the country. Along with that comes a list of things to improve during the off-season. Some of the items on the list relate to guns and gear. While others on the list, are more personal in nature and will require range time to effect a change. I’ll take you though some of these items in hopes of improving not only my game, but yours too.

Practice and Preparation

Patrick Kelley at the MGM Iron Man Shoot

Patrick Kelley at the MGM Iron Man Shoot.

The 2011 season had me experimenting with different divisions, and thus changing equipment several times, and it cost me. Had I taken the time to fully prepare for each equipment change, I could have expected better results. First note to self: don’t do that again in 2012! Pick a division and set your gear up accordingly then practice with that gear—all year! I am not much for regimented practice, I never have been. For me that approach becomes work and I have a job. And if it ain’t fun, it ain’t done. To get practice in without practicing, I press into service my 3-Gun gear, playing most any shooting game within a couple of hours driving distance. That brings me in contact with the clays games of Skeet, 5 Stand, and Sporting Clays. What gun do I haul out of the safe to bust those clays with? My 3-Gun shotgun of course! A word of caution here, no matter what game you are playing outside of 3-Gun while using your 3-Gun gear please show due respect for the game you are playing by following the rules and etiquette of that game. In other words, don’t expect to be welcomed onto a skeet field with a “chip on your shoulder” because you are not using a shotgun fully appropriate for the game. YOU KNOW you are not using a skeet gun so please take the time to introduce yourself and explain that you are there to improve your flying clays skill using the gun and gear for the other game you play.

I am fortunate to have a monthly Steel Challenge match in my area. Again, I’ll show up and shoot with my 3-Gun belt and holster complete with shotshell caddies as I would any 3-Gun event. I don’t change loads or guns or equipment positions. If given the opportunity I’ll shoot an NRA Bulls-eye pistol match as a challenging practice alternative. If you try this, it is likely that your 3-Gun pistol is not quite set-up to win the event. You can bet your skills will be better for the experience. The same goes for NRA High Power rifle matches. Check with the guys running the match to see if you may shoot your 3-Gun rifle. Some events offer an “any rifle, any sight” division. Again, show up and get to know these fellow-shooting enthusiasts; you just might learn something.

Patrick Kelley Sighting In

Patrick Kelley sighting in.

If I feel the need to improve some specific skill-set not covered by the games above, I will find my way to the practice range. I am lucky that my local range has a variety of high quality steel targets available for my use. My favorite among them is the plate rack. This ammo burning contraption consists of six 8-inch round steel plates set horizontally about 16 inches on center and 4 feet off the ground. Knock them down, and a simple pull of a string sets them back up, and ready for my next volley. Mine, manufactured by the fine folks at www.MGMTargets.com, is rated for rifle fire up to 308 Win. at 100 yards. Pistols, of course, would be employed a little closer. I always seem to be short on time and the plate rack goes a long way toward making my infrequent practice sessions efficient and productive. As a warm up I’ll run the plate left to right and right to left, outside-in, and vice versa. To improve my start times I may do a magazine or two of single shot draws with pistol or a Port-Arms start with rifle or shotgun. To be successful at the 3-Gun game I need to be fast and accurate, and I’ll need a goodly bit of both to keep dropping those 8-inch plates at speed. If I am prepping for a USPSA pistol match, some strong and weak hand drills are in order. While I do most of the shotgun reloading practice in dry-fire mode at home, doing a few live-fire “on the clock” with any one or all three guns is always on the docket. Performed thusly: one plate, reload, one plate, reload, and so on.

Patrick Kelley practicing with a pistol.

Patrick Kelley practicing with a pistol.

In the past I have been limited—due to range restrictions—to only shooting at paper and under a “speed limit” that prohibited “fast shooting”. Yes, it was a bother, but I still managed to get some good transferable 3-Gun skills within that environment. There is little use for speed if you are not accurate, so go with the flow and shoot groups. I mean little groups. This is a great skill builder and a test of gun and shooter. I start by sandbagging my pistol or rifle, seeing how small a group I can shoot. Once I have established the “mechanical accuracy” of the piece, I’ll shoot from different positions—standing off-hand, kneeling, sitting, prone—and see how close I can get to equaling that mechanical accuracy. Not only does this give me a baseline of what my equipment can do and from what position, it greatly assists me in breaking down a 3-Gun stage to my strengths. Try this and maybe the next time you see an array of pistol plates at 25 yards or a set of rifle poppers at 100 yards you’ll be confident that you can put them down quickly off-hand rather than looking for a wobbly prop to brace up against.

I’ll keep working my way through the list.

Until next time. ~Patrick

Plain or Fancy?

Plain Keltec Sub2000

Plain Keltec Sub2000

Sub2000 with quad rail and accessories

Sub2000 with quad rail and accessories

One of the most common discussions on gun forums is about the usefulness of accessories. Should shooters use a telescopic sight when irons are available? Are light, laser and wind speed indicators necessary on a home defense carbine. Are battery-operated red dots helpful or just another item to fail at the most inopportune moment?
The benefits of each piece of gear are clear: sights provide better practical accuracy, light provide positive target ID, lasers give alternate aiming options (especially when wearing a gas mask), and wind speed indicators help with calculating long-range windage. So what are the down sides?

 

For one, all of these accessories cost money. Good, durable accessories can be expensive. Fortunately, users can amortize their accessories over many years and the benefits of having a good scope can be well worth the few dollars per month in depreciation. Most accessories also add weight. A red dot here and a white light there, plus a side-saddle with ammo and a bayonet, and soon you are looking at pounds rather than ounces of extra weight. You are also looking at new corners that can snag during use. Maintenance is another issue: a plain-jane shotgun can sit in a closet for years and still work, but the laser battery might not last as long (though lithium batteries can last for years on the shelf). Regular rotation of batteries becomes a scheduled task.

 

Plain-Jane Winchester 1897

Plain-Jane Winchester 1897

Keltec KSG with light, laser and red dot.

Keltec KSG with light, laser and red dot.

The real cost of accessories is not the weight, the money or the maintenance requirements. It’s the training time. If you have a light/laser unit, can you turn it on and have it in the mode you want by feel, without having to think about it? The simple shotguns may be popular for reasons other than cost and a large bore — users generally operate it as point and click device with no elaborate sighting or mode selections. If you have a rifle with elevation-adjustable sights, do you make the changes for range or just aim off to allow for the expected deflection? If your gun has multiple possible modes, your sight has multiple settings, and you have the option to use light, laser, or both, how long before your decision-making slows down. In offensive use, operators can configure these options in advance, but what about the much more likely defensive situation?

Should we take the time to learn how to shoot while wearing a gas mask? The time taken to learn that would cut into the basic marksmanship or movement practice. How about using a sight with a busy range finding reticle instead of a simple dot or cross hairs — would the distraction affect of all that extra information ought-weigh the benefit of long-range precision it facilitates?

 

Plain-Jackie AR15 (Doublestar "teen" model)

Plain-Jackie AR15 (Doublestar "teen" model)

Crusader AR with scope, red dot, sound suppressor, light and laser

Crusader AR with scope, red dot, sound suppressor, light and laser

The same question applies to training of new shooters: simple or complex? Do we want the laser to help diagnose issues with sight picture and trigger control, or would plain iron sights be better? Should we teach with scopes that permit observing hits and misses, or with a red dot that’s forgiving of cross-eye dominance, or stay with the old reliable notch and post? Is even using sights an unnecessary complication when a plain barrel and a trusty bayonet were good enough for the illustrious ancestors? What do you think — should we embrace the technical progress or concentrate on the basic katas using un-accessorized sticks?

Quantity has a Quality of its Own

Henry Golden Boy .22 lever action holds 16 rounds.

Henry Golden Boy .22 lever action holds 16 rounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10-round box magazine.

10-round box magazine

32-round box magazines

32-round box magazines

50-round rotary magazines

50-round rotary magazines

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

AR15 with a dedicated .22 upper

AR-15 with a dedicated .22 upper

Sig522 with a red dot sight.

Sig522 with a red dot sight.

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

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

AR15 with a .22 conversion kit

AR-15 with a CMMG .22 conversion kit

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

Keltec SU22, a very light carbine.

Keltec SU22, very light carbine.

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

Basic Range Etiquette

Whether you are a newbie, or a seasoned professional, it is always good to mind your manners when you go to the range. As a new shooter, you may know there are fundamentals of safety that everyone should follow while at the range, but did you know there are also social “rules” you should follow? If you are an old pro, maybe it is time to dust off this “I got this” attitude and remind yourself.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

Photo by Ed Yourdon

First, let’s run through the four golden rules of firearm safety:

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
  4. Know your target and what is beyond.

Regardless of where you are; a friend’s private range, the back 40, the ridiculously expensive skeet range, or your local dive, always follow these rules.

The number one rule: do not show up with a loaded gun. All ranges will have their own rules. Those rules should be posted in plain sight. I would be cautious of ranges that don’t. Read over the rules. Follow the rules. For example, plenty of ranges have ammo restrictions. Make sure you have the kosher ammo to shoot. Some ranges require lead-free or do not allow full metal jacket. To make sure, call ahead. Further most ranges discourage rapid fire. To err on the side of caution, do not rapid fire unless you have clear permission to do so. Rapid fire makes people nervous, and we don’t want to do that. All ranges will require you to put your safety glasses and hearing protection on before entering the firing lanes.

Familiarize yourself with range commands. The two important ones are “cease fire” and “hot.” Cease fire means to stop shooting. When you hear cease fire, immediately stop firing, clear your gun, and lay it down with the barrel pointing down range. Step away from the gun. Do not approach the lane or your gun until you have the all clear. It is a good habit to wait for others to approach the lane; don’t be the first. When the range is hot, it means everyone can start shooting again.

Photo by Zach Zupancic

Photo by Zach Zupancic

Ranges generally have separate pistol lanes and rifle lanes. Make sure you are shooting the right gun in the right lane. Generally, a rifle chambered for .22 Long Rifle is OK in the pistol lane, but ask at the front desk to make sure. The last range I went to had only one rifle caliber private lane. They have a 20-minute limit in that range. If you happen to run into the same situation, keep track of your time and quit when it is time. The person behind you can’t wait to shoot either, so be respectful of their time.

Listen to and respect the Range Officer (RO). They are the RO of that range for a reason; they are experienced, knowledgeable, and are there to keep everyone safe. If an RO wants to give you tips, let them and be appreciative. Their tips will help you improve your shooting technique. Listen to and respect the Range Officer (RO). They are the RO of that range for a reason; they are experienced, knowledgeable, and are there to keep everyone safe. If an RO wants to give you tips, let them and be appreciative. Their tips will help you improve your shooting technique. If you have a malfunction and cannot fix it yourself,  put your gun on safe, if possible open the action, put down your weapon with the barrel pointing down range and alert the RO.

All of these rules are safety rules, but there are social norms to follow while at the range as well. You probably won’t be lucky enough to have the range all to yourself, there will be other people there. Meeting new people at the range is a great way to make friends; after all, you already know you have at least one thing in common! It is okay to be sociable at the range, but there a few ways to go about doing so. First, do not disturb someone’s concentration. Do not interrupt someone when they are shooting; don’t tap them on the shoulder and don’t yell at them. Wait to talk to them when they are resetting targets or causally reloading. You can always wait to chitchat with them in the lounge. Do not ever touch anyone else’s stuff. Again, this will make someone nervous. If you do strike up a friendly conversation and you want to compare guns or show your gun to someone, always clear the weapon and present it with the action open. Never, ever shoot someone else’s target.

One thing I have learned is that some people are hypersensitive to too many questions. They may not want to tell you how many guns they own, where they live, what they do for a living, and so on. I’m an open book; I love discussing my firearms, but others don’t. Respect their privacy.

Also, watch what you say. Don’t be a weird-o. Joking around about the Zombie Apocalypse is generally acceptable, but talking about militia and Waco, and constructing cans out of homemade materials is generally NOT okay.

Guns are fun to shoot and range time should be a good time, but don’t get overly excited. Don’t bounce around, horseplay, or freak out.   Stay calm, cool, and collected. Again, weird-o jittery behavior will make others feel nervous.

When you are done, clean up after yourself. Grab the broom and sweep up your brass, throw away empty ammo boxes and used targets.

Be safe, be respectful, and you should have a good time.

Did I leave anything out? If so, tell me about it. Does your range have any strange rules? Share them!

Pistol-Mounted Lasers in Combat

Compare this X5L light/laser on a standard M1911 to the movie prop on a longslide .45 pistol!

Crimson Trace red laser on Keltec P32

Crimson Trace red laser on Keltec P32

Ever since the film Terminator brought the pistol lasers out into the public eye, the debate has raged about their utility. With the miniaturization of the actual lasers and development of relatively efficient batteries with long shelf life, laser sighting became available for almost every modern pistol. The opinions on laser sighting range from “unnecessary,” “gives away your position,” “just learn to use iron sights to “wonderful,” “liberating” and “indispensable.” Let’s look at lasers in detail. (Viridian X5L | CTC for P32)

 

 

 

 

 

Viridian C5L on a Keltec PF9

Viridian C5L on a Keltec PF9

Crimson Trace laser on a Keltec PF9

Crimson Trace laser on a Keltec PF9. The holster purse is made by Gun Tote'n Mamas.

Red or Green? While the power of consumer lasers is limited by law to 5mW, green lasers are by far better visible than red, especially in daylight. Why doesn’t everyone use green? They are bulkier and require larger batteries for the same runtime, though that also allows the integration of a weapon light into the same unit.. A green laser is very practical as a rail-mounted unit for quite a bit harder to fit into a grip panel or make fit seamlessly with a subcompact pistol. Some pistols, such as Keltec PF9 accept both types. Others, like Keltec P32 or Ruger LCP, are much too small for anything but a red laser. While 5mW is the limit for eye safe weapon lasers, some are available in colors ranging from red to blue and in power from 300mW to 2W, hundreds of times stronger than the standard consumer models. They come as parts kits provided with assembly instructions and used manly for emergency signaling. While some people have improvised gun mounts for them, those lasers lack windage or elevation adjustments and may be less recoil-proof. These lasers are not eye safe when tightly focused. Their beams may be defocused to provide coherent light illumination matching shotgun pattern spread.

 

 

 

 

X5L light/laser on a Keltec SU16E carbine

X5L light/laser on a Keltec SU16E carbine

Viridian GLK laser on an inert trainer show how subtle the laser actually is

Viridian GLK laser on an inert trainer show how subtle the laser actually is

Doesn’t the laser give away my position? In a fog or a smoked-up room, it can. However, there’s a reason why almost all advertising photos of lasers have the beam drawn in. For the photo on the left, in order to get any visible trace at all, I had to put a smoke grenade behind the shooter. Normally, the laser is invisible except for a small red or green dot at the emitter. At an indoor range, where the light level is low and the air is full of particles, lasers look like colorful wires stretching to the target, especially after you fire a few shots. At which point the muzzle flash and the report of the gun already made you a good deal more conspicuous than the laser beam ever could.

Can a laser be zeroed the same as iron sights? Yes, but with a difference. If a laser is mounted below the boreline, the near zero can be made the same as with the irons, but the far zero will be different (closer). For this reason, some people zero their lasers further, for example at 50 yards. The pistol will shoot slightly high up close but be closer to the aiming point further out. With a side-mounted laser, the parallax is usually not worth correcting. With the laser parallel to the bore but off to the side, the offset remains small and predictable. With pistol, a difference of an inch is seldom critical.

Fireing from supine position

Firing from supine position

First-time shooter uses a laser to verify steadiness of aim

First-time shooter uses a laser to verify steadiness of aim

So what kind of problems do lasers actually solve? Poor eyesight is one. Using iron sights becomes more difficult with age. It becomes impossible if the defender’s eyeglasses are knocked off early in a fight. Firing on the move is another: careful lining up of iron sights is very difficult when trying to move away from a moving attacker or his line of fire. In all those cases, keeping the aiming point on the actual target can be very helpful. Aiming from awkward or compromised positions, such as from behind a ballistic shield or from supine.

Precision shooting is another. The effect is most pronounced with pocket pistols, at least my groups shrink to half or third of the original size when fired using a laser rather than iron sights. The same effect is evident with larger handguns as the range increases. I would be hard-pressed to hit a paper plate past 50 yards with any pistols mainly because the sight alignment error magnifies with range. With a properly zeroed laser, sighting errors are taken out of the equation and the accuracy depends more on the trigger control and on the inherent accuracy of the pistol and ammunition. Much the same accuracy improvements can be obtained by using optical sights.

Lasers are also extremely helpful for training. Keeping a laser on during procedural gun handling helps reinforce muzzle awareness. Instructors can watch the laser dots from their trainees’ pistols to evaluate sight alignment consistency and trigger control. Finally, Laserlyte makes a laser training “cartridge” that makes dry-fire a great deal more useful by flashing a brief light-burst onto the target. The Walther P22 in the photo is my standard tool for training new shooters: it is sound-suppressed and equipped with a Viridian Green Laser to aid in learning trigger control. The light weight and small grip mean that even small kids can operate it without difficulty.

Viridian belt holster for S&W M&P9c with C5L light/laser

Viridian belt holster for S&W M&P9c with C5L light/laser

Sideguard belt holster for S&W M&P9c with C5L light/laser

Sideguard belt holster for S&W M&P9c with C5L light/laser

What are the down sides to laser use? The cost is the most immediate. Recoil proof adjustable lasers run from about $75 to $400. Well worth the money, in my opinion, but upgrading a safe full of pistols can get expensive. Maintenance is another: batteries should be changed regularly when laser is in storage and also after heavy training use. Laser emitter lens has to be kept clean and free of powder residue.

You may also have to get a new holster for your carry gun. Grip and slide mounted lasers can usually use the same holster, but rail mounted designs usually do not. Fortunately, most holster makers offer models designed around specific gun/laser combinations. Popular combinations have many carry options available. Since the rail-mounted  lasers fit in the recess between the dust cover and the trigger guard, the concealability of the pistol doesn’t change much. (Viridian TacLoc | Sideguard)

In actual use, lasers require training, same as any other sighting system. The small laser dot, especially with red lasers, may require some practice to pick up quickly. In highly reflective environments, such as around car windows or glass doors, reflected and refracted light can be confusing. Most shooters use a combination of iron sights and lasers, knowing from experience which works in what situation. A laser may be just another tool for rapid and accurate sighting — but it is a very versatile and useful tool.

What do you think about lasers on handguns? Have you found them useful in a way I have not mentioned? Has training turned up some unforeseen consideration worth mentioning?

 

If the Shoe Fits…You Dance Better

The rifle is too big!

This AR15A2 rifle is too big for the 4'10" shooter

Instructor's hand next to the learner's hand

Instructor's hand next to the learner's hand

Most gun enthusiasts are men. Many of them would like their spouses and children to learn firearms. Teaching the family to shoot is sometimes a more difficult task than expected, not for lack of interest but because many mainstream defensive arms are simply too big and heavy for the new shooters. Certainly, some teenagers are taller than their parents, and some women are stronger than their husbands, but they are the exceptions. A 5’2″ female trying to master an AR15A2 or another full-sized firearm would find it as difficult as you’d find dancing in shoes three sizes too big. It can be done, but introduces a needless complication into the process. The same is true when a new shooter is instructed with a hard-kicking hunting bolt action.

A small woman can certainly handle a long, heavy rifle the same way that a soldier handles a Barrett M82, by firing from a bipod or a supported position. Firing off-hand becomes a chore, as the forward balance combines with excessive length of pull (distance from the buttplate to the trigger) to make aiming and recoil control difficult. A shooter with small hands can fire a double-stack autoloader or a revolver with a long trigger reach using a two-handed grip. The same person would be hard-pressed to get a good one-handed grip on the weapon in a rapid response situation.

Traditionally, the most expensive custom firearms were fitted to individual shooters. Few of us can afford that, but fortunately the modularity of modern rifles allows extensive customization without great expense. The three rifles shown below are but a few of the many suitable for smaller shooter: they are provided as case studies. Many other caliber and type options exists, but these three are relatively inexpensive, reliable and effective. All three of these have been found comfortable by shooters who weigh under 60 pounds. Much lighter options are available in .22LR, but who would want to saddle his spouse or teenage child with a marginal stopper in case of an emergency.

Short, light rifles: Doublestar AR15, Auto Ordnance M1 Carbine, Kel-tec SU16E

Short, light rifles: Doublestar AR15, Auto Ordnance M1 Carbine, Kel-tec SU16E

The first rifle is a custom build by Doublestar. It uses a short fixed stock (a collapsible stock would have also worked), a lightweight barrel, small circumference handgrip and forend. Folding rear sight allows for a clear sight picture with an optic, while fixed front provided full-time emergency sighting should an optional optic fail. The main advantage of this option is the commonality of parts and training with other AR15s, by far the most common defensive rifle in the US. On the right, a slightly difference rifle from the same maker is shown in the hands of an eleven year old boy: light weight and oversized controls made the rifle very easy for him to control.

The middle rifle is the classic M1 carbine. Simple is design and operation, it was the originally designed specifically for the support personnel. That it trickled down to the front lines of World War Two and Korea just proves the worth of the design for short range self-protection. For those who prefer the versatility of an optic to the traditional look, both Auto Ordnance and Ultimak make replacement handguards with rails. While debate rages about the suitability of the .30 Carbine ball cartridge for stopping aggressive foes, soft point and hollow point ammunition such as the Federal 110-grain load have excellent performance.

Eleven year old rifleman with a Doublestar AR15

Eleven-year-old rifleman with a Doublestar AR15

Below is the Keltec SU16. The length of pull on the standard SU16 is quite long, but swapping the fixed stock for the “E” pistol grip and telestock kit takes only a minute. SU16 is a reliable piston design with a polymer receiver. The standard forend is very light and unfolds into a bipod. The Red Lion Precision forend shown in the photo adds no extra weight, provides better ventilation and allows mounting of additional accessories. The Magpul AFG grip can be used as design or in conjunction with the magwell hold — the center of balance on this rifle is at that exact point. Low-mounted Aimpoint Micro H1 and Viridian C5L light/laser allow rapid identification and engagement of of targets.

While the light weight of these guns increases the recoil slightly, much better fit allows to control that recoil much better. The only real performance sacrifices are in the long-range accuracy and the capability for sustained fire. The thin .223 barrels are good for about 100 rounds before heat becomes an issue. Neither consideration is of much importance in defensive or sport shooting for which these carbines would likely be used. While meant for the smaller shooters, these guns are fun for the grown men too. Even the short fixed stock can be easily used by very tall shooters — they just fire from a less bladed stance and get to use their binocular vision better.

Just like shoes, guns have to fit. It is no fun to shoot a weapon that is too big, too heavy or otherwise unsuitable for the budding marksman. It is no wonder that new shooters often recoil at the prospect of more range time with guns they cannot physically control. If giving a gun as a gift, get the recipient’s input on the type and configuration, even is that means forgoing the Birthday or Christmas surprise for the recipient. The smiles — and the improved results — of a shooters whose gun fits perfectly will be well worth your effort.