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Silver barreled, black handled Walther PPK with a focus on the safety mechanism, against a white background

Handgun Safeties

Since the invention of the first commercially usable autoloading handgun, the P08 Luger designed by Georg Luger, handgun safeties have been a common part of handgun design. The purpose of a safety mechanism on pistols is to prevent the handgun from firing when you don’t want it to.

Black Beretta 92FS, barrel pointed to the left, on a white background

Old Reliable: The Beretta 92

The Beretta 92 series has gone through a lot of changes in its service life with the U.S. military.  First introduced in the ’80s, it met with tremendous resistance from die hard aficionados of the 1911 it was replacing. The Beretta M9 was the pistol I qualified with, and it was also my very first carry gun when I got my Indiana LTC.

Black Ruger LC9, right side view, barrel pointed to the right, on a white background

Ruger LC9 Pistol

Ruger rolled out its new single stack double-action LC9 pistol. Billed as a companion to the LCP, the LC9 features a lightweight polymer frame with melt treatment for snag-free carry.

MOLLE Gear

It’s the new, popular, modular pack system. Every new “tactical” item has it. What am I talking about? MOLLE systems of course. MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) webbing is the US Army replacement for the older ALICE system, and it’s technological superiority has garnered it wide acceptance amongst military, police, and civilians. MOLLE systems are based off of the Pouch Attachment Ladder System, “PALS”. The PALS webbing features 1″ wide straps run horizontally and spaced 1″ apart, with 1.5″ gaps between attachment points.

Adaptation from the ALICE system to the MOLLE system began in 1994 when the US Army began having difficulties with the ALICE system in the sand and dust of the first Gulf War. The ALICE system, which had been around since the Vietnam War utilized small ALICE clips to attach modular components. The clips were easy to lose, they broke, and the wear and tear on them was accelerated by the sand and dust of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Development of the new pack system took place at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, MA. Development by the the Center for Military Biomechanics Research (CMBR) focused on extensive biometric studies examining the most efficient methods for heavy loads to be carried by the human body. Research showed that the taller commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) packs using internal frames reduced the energy soldiers used while carrying a standard 75lb load. In addition, the COTS packs promoted better posture and had an overall better load placement than the older ALICE system

The internal frame COTS pack was rejected as a replacement for the ALICE pack due, in part, to its excessive heat retention. A similar volume configuration was incorporated into the design of the Modular Lightweight Load Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) pack. Other biomechanically advantageous characteristics, such as a load-distributing waist belt, were also used in the MOLLE design.

MOLLE systems are based around a load-bearing vest known as an FLC (Fighting Load Carrier) and a pack with an external frame. The FLC was designed to replace the web belt and suspenders that made up the ALICE system’s Load Bearing Equipment (LBE). MOLLE has some distinct advantages over the older ALICE system in that it is worn instead of carried. MOLLE systems are almost completely made from fabric and contain no metal clips or hooks like the ALICE system did. Those hooks and clips would inevitably find a way to poke and dig into the skin of the soldier carrying an ALICE pack.

Quick release systems built into the pack allow the wearer to quickly drop the equipment if necessary. The vest features an H harness in the back that functions to prevent the buildup of body heat. Vests also have plate carriers for ceramic ballistic plates.

Load bearing belts integrated into the MOLLE vest help distribute the weight more evenly to the hips instead of having it all on the shoulders. They also serve as attachment points for more accessories such as drop-leg webbing and holsters. The advantage of the MOLLE system holsters is that they can be attached to a vest, belt, pack, or drop leg webbing. In fact, any MOLLE item can be attached to almost any other MOLLE item because of the modularity of the system. This is one of the distinct advantages of the MOLLE system. Components can be placed in thousands of unique configurations to adapt for any role, load, or body type.

Every pouch in the MOLLE system has D-rings for attaching slings for dragging or shoulder carry.

But for all its advantages, the MOLLE system encountered bumps along the way to full acceptance by the military.

Internal frames were studied for use on the MOLLE pack, but were put aside in favor of an external frame due to excess heat retention of the internal frame. Instead of the aluminum frame of the ALICE system, researchers decided instead on a custom-molded plastic frame. The plastic frame soon proved to have some serious pitfalls. Frames frequently cracked and broke from the strain of a combat environment.

Zippers also proved problematic. The first zippers used on the MOLLE system were too weak and burst if packs were overloaded.

The Army gradually made changes to the system, upgrading zippers, and transitioning to a stronger and more comfortable frame system utilizing the same plastic used to manufacture automobile bumpers.

Almost anything with PALS-style webbing is generally referred to as MOLLE, but there are differences. The US Marines currently use a system very similar to the US Army MOLLE system known as the ILBE (Improved Load Bearing Equipment) as they were dissatisfied with the improvements of the US Army in fixing the flaws in the MOLLE system. The ILBE still uses the PALS webbing and shares many of the same attributes as the MOLLE, including a load bearing vest and belt.

While developing the ILBE, the USMC implemented new load ratings for the system that are similar to the ratings specified US Army FM 21-18 manual.

Assault Load
The Assault Load is a very minimal load consisting of little more than the bare necessities required to sustain an assault, such as water, ammunition, and grenades. Maximum assault load weight is one at which a Marine can engage in combat while having a minimal effect on combat effectiveness.

Approach March Load
The Approach March load is designed to give a Marine enough equipment for a full day of combat with daily re-supply. This Maximum approach march load weight is one at which a Marine can engage in combat while being able to maintain at least 90% combat effectiveness.

Existence Load
The Existence Load is the maximum load a Marine will be loaded with while still able to conduct maneuvers. This load is only designed to be carried from a deployment to the assembly area.

The Marines also designed the ILBE to:

  • Include a quick-detach patrol pack
  • Carry at least 120 pounds
  • Limit maximum pack size to 6000 cubic inches
  • Carry 60mm mortar shells as well as 81mm mortar shells outside the main pack

There are a number of attachment systems used with the MOLLE and ILBE systems. First is the Natick Snap, which utilizes a plastic reinforced strap with a snap to secure it. The Malice clip is another system that uses a semi-permanent polymer clip which interweaves like the Natick. The semi-permanent clip can be removed using a screwdriver or other flat-tipped tool. In addition to these two systems, there are any number of “Weave and Tuck” systems that use interwoven straps which are then fastened to the backing of the pouch after attachment. Grimloc keepers are also available to make your MOLLE and ALICE gear compatible.

Since it exploded onto the market, manufacturers have designed and built a seemingly endless stream of MOLLE and PALS-compatible products. There is, quite literally, nearly anything you can think of in a MOLLE setup. From iPod/iPhone holders to flashlight holders, hydration packs to radio pouches, EMT pouches and even corsets have been designed with MOLLE-compatible PALS webbing.

Suffice to say – if you can think of it, there’s probably a way to attach it to your MOLLE gear.

Light up the night

I don’t know about you, but I can’t see in the dark. I have recently spent a lot of time shooting at indoor ranges which have allowed me to practice a significant amount of low light shooting. Coupled with a trip to Gunsite where we engaged targets in a shoot house in the dead of night, and I’ve discovered that I really, really enjoy being able to see my sights and the target. Night sights and lasers are great tools for being able to put accurate hits on target, but they don’t enable you to identify the target in a low light situation. At Gunsite, I came through the first door of a shoothouse and shot the very first target I saw – he was holding something black and square in his hand, and in the low light (even with a flashlight) I thought “gun” and fired immediately. I’d regret that decision later when I realized it was a pair of sunglasses.

That’s part of why illumination is so important in a defensive situation. If I had been using my flashlight properly and taken the necessary amount of time to ID the target, I wouldn’t have popped that no-shoot.  Lights like the Surefire Z2-S, or the less expensive Nitrolon G2 are an absolute must have for anyone serious about home defense.  If you have a handgun for your defensive firearm, practice manipulating your light and your firearm at the same time.

You can have a discussion about weapon mounted vs. handheld lights – for handgun use I prefer a handheld light equipped with a lanyard, as that gives me more flexibility with where the light comes from, and enables me to use the light more effectively as a diversionary weapon if need be.  There is also a long discussion to be had about whether or not you should just turn the light on and leave it on, or sneak around the house using partial illumination.  I tend to fall in to the “turn it on and leave it on” school of thought.  There are two reasons for this in a home defense scenario:

  1. Since I don’t have kids, my home defense plan consists of me hunkering down at an angle from my bedroom while yelling “I have a gun and I’m calling the police” at the top of my lungs.  Anything comes through the bedroom that isn’t a cop is probably getting shot.
  2. Even if you do have to move through the house, have you ever bounced a 200 lumen white light off a white wall at 2am?  Kiss your night vision goodbye.  Better to just turn it on and leave it on.  A self defense instructor once said to me “who cares if the badguys see your light coming?  It’s your house and you have a gun.”

Humans have a deeply ingrained fear of the dark.  We don’t see very well in low light, and it’s a natural weakness for us whether we’re on the savanna hunting for game or at home at 2am when we hear the back window break.  Purchasing a good light and practicing with it means that you can make the other guy be afraid of the light instead you fearing what you can’t see.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380

Today I went and picked up a Bodyguard .380. I have been waffling back and forth on selecting a pocket .380 and when I discovered the price on the Bodyguard had recently dropped to compete with the Ruger LCP and the Kel-Tec P3AT, I figured since it fit my hand the best out of all of them; that is the one I would choose.

Ankle Holsters

We’re continuing our series on holsters with a short bit about ankle holsters today. When you need a holster for deep concealment, or when you will need to access your weapon from a sitting position, ankle holsters are a great solution. Properly configured they can provide access to both your right and left hands.

We’ve all seen it in the movies: the good guy loses his gun and right before he’s about to be dispatched by the bad guy, he comes up with a little backup gun from his boot and shoots the baddie. Ankle holsters have long been a popular location to keep a backup gun. Many police officers, where departments allow the practice, regularly carry backup guns in ankle holsters.

Wearing an ankle holster presents some unique challenges when selecting footwear and trousers. Pant legs will need to be slightly longer than you’re used to, and they will need to be cut wider than most. If you use pants with your normal inseam, the holster or entire gun can be exposed when sitting, crouching or kneeling. Select pants with an inseam one size longer than you normally wear.

A good ankle holster should securely wrap around your ankle and have an additional strap that will attach above your calf to prevent the holster from slipping down. Blackhawk! ankle holsters are good example of this. In the photo above you can see the way in which the calf support strap helps to keep the weight of the pistol from dragging the holster down.

A loaded Glock 26 weighs in at just over 24 ounces, or about a pound and a half. That’s a significant amount of weight to be swinging around on your leg, and it does take some getting used to. Ankle holsters aren’t for everybody, and some folks just find that having that additional weight strapped to their leg to be too uncomfortable or awkward. If you’re like me, you’ve got a box stuffed in the back of your closet full of holsters that just didn’t work out. Try out your holster for a week or two to see if it will work out, and if it just doesn’t suit you, send it back with Cheaper Than Dirt’s generous No-Hassle return policy.

One important decision you will have to make when selecting a holster is which leg you want to wear it on, and whether you want to have the pistol worn on the inside or outside of your ankle. Personally, I wear an ankle holster on the inside of my strong-side leg so that I can draw easily with my weak-side or slightly less easily with my strong-side.

Which brings me to my next point: practice! If you’ve read much of this blog, you know how much I emphasize frequent practice. Practice drawing from your ankle holster from a variety of positions using both your right and left hands. Remember, a backup gun is for when you’ve lost your primary weapon or are unable to use it for some reason. This could include the loss of the use of your strong-side arm or hand, so practice using your weak-side as well!

Like all concealment holsters, ankle holsters are a compromise between comfort and usability. And, like other holsters, you get what you pay for so buy the best one that you can afford.

How Rifle Twist Works

Just reading the title, you might think this would be a very short post. Everybody knows that rifle twist works by spinning the bullet so that it is stable as it flies through the air. Naturally, there’s a bit more to it than that.

The Bug-Out Rifle

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Prior to Y2K, during our spare time as gun magazine editors, two colleagues and I idly argued over what would constitute the ideal “Omega Man” gun, referring to the Boris Sagal-directed, post-apocalyptic science fiction movie The Omega Man, starring our beloved Charlton Heston.
I have obviously dated myself by referencing such an old movie. Today, the Omega Man gun would be described as the firearm for the Zombie Apocalypse.

The idea of the Omega Man gun was simple enough: What would be the one firearm to have in the event of a total social breakdown? Don’t think of anything as common as an earthquake, hurricane, financial collapse or NFL lock-out. No, we’re talking about a major event here, like a super volcano, nuclear holocaust or viral epidemic—a game-changer. What would be the best firearm to have in that (hopefully) unlikely event?

Oh, sure. I know what you’re thinking: Gun writers don’t have anything better to do than imagine the end of the world? I assure you that, as I write this, I am not wearing my Reynolds Wrap fedora nor I am I huddled in an underground bunker. It was the dire predictions about Y2K that started the conversation. However, such hypothetical scenarios are endless fun to speculate about, especially since popular and literary culture is rife with post-apocalyptic books and movies.
Sure, there are guilty pleasure movies like Zombieland, but there are also highbrow meditations on the subject, such as Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel “The Road.” And, if you indulged in either, you probably gave some thought to the kind of gun you’d like to have in that situation. Why? In most books and movies of the sort, the protagonist’s problems could likely be remedied with the right gun. Have you ever noticed that a “psycho killer” movie never has an NRA member among the pool of potential victims?
At the time, not only could we not settle on a gun; we couldn’t even agree on a caliber. One selected the 5.56 x 45 mm NATO, as he was former military, while the other editor, an armchair military historian, opted for the 7.62 x 51 mm NATO. I went with the historian.
AT LAST
The reason we couldn’t agree, I think, was that no such gun existed. Each had some “flaw” or, more correctly, was designed for a role other than surviving the dystopian landscape of Armageddon.
However, all these years later, I think I just may have stumbled on the exact right firearm for the Omega Man/Zombie Apocalypse scenario.
It is the ArmaLite AR-10 Carbine, specifically the 10A4CBNF 1913, accessorized with a Grip Pod and an ELCAN SpecterDR 1.5-6x scope. Here’s why.
CALIBER
The gun would have to fire a military caliber, since ammunition would be limited in an Omega Man scenario and military calibers would be most plentiful. That means 5.56 x 45 mm or 7.62 x 51 mm.
Reputedly, the 5.56 wasn’t designed to kill, but to wound. In the conventional wars anticipated at the time of the round’s adoption, killing an enemy combatant was considered inferior to wounding him. Killing him put him out of the fight, but wounding him put him out along with the one or two comrades who had to help him from the battlefield.
Furthermore, studies determined that small unit firefights were most often won by sheer firepower. Putting a lot of lead in the air caused the opposition to “melt away.” Thus, producing a withering hail of bullets could be more important than the efficacy of the individual rounds, and it is easier to carry and fire a lot of 5.56 mm than it is 7.62 mm cartridges.
The problem, though, is none of that applies in the Omega Man scenario. Your opponent may not have comrades to carry him off the battlefield. They’ll be no Evac choppers, no ambulances, no aid stations or hospitals. How can you place a strain on resources that don’t exist? It would likely be every man for himself, so you don’t want to wound. You want to put your opponent down to stay.
Firepower? Do you really mean to waste ammunition when cartridges are now arguably the most valuable commodity in the world? Each bullet would be so precious that the idea of suppressive fire would be inconceivable. The sniper credo of “one shot, one kill” would be espoused by every survivor lucky enough to be armed.
And what about range? While the 5.56 can be accurate out to 600 yards, it usually requires specialized ammunition at that range and, even then, its terminal effect is questionable. Regular military ball will be hard enough to find in our scenario; forget about specialized rounds. However, 7.62 is good at close range and can more easily make longer shots, and do so with better terminal ballistics.
And since you’d be abandoning the city for safety and to locate food-supermarkets will have been among the first things looted-a rifle wouldn’t be only a combat tool. You’d probably have to hunt, too, and the 7.62 is a better caliber for deer, antelope, elk, etc.
You could find yourself anywhere from the mountains to the plains, from forests to deserts, targeting everything from opossums to armored vehicles, so you’d need a versatile round. Given those criteria, the 7.62 would be the way to go.
PLATFORM
As for the gun itself, in the last two decades, the A2 enhancements answered practically all questions about the AR as a design. If you have doubts about it in 7.62 mm, remember that that was the design’s original chambering. The AR-10 is not a beefed up AR-15; the AR-15 is a reduced-size AR-10.
Additionally, in the interim since Y2K, the AR has ventured into the hunting fields with much success, such that virtually every major manufacturer is offering AR platforms in big-game calibers, often painted in camo colors.
LENGTH
The choice of the carbine over the rifle speaks again to the need for versatility. Some days you might have to take a long shot at a deer across a neglected farm field. On others, you’ll have to enter houses, stores or warehouses, scrounging. While a rifle would be best for the former, the latter requires compactness and maneuverability. The carbine’s 16-inch barrel and collapsible stock would provide those attributes. Oh, there’d be a trade-off at extreme ranges, but it would be worth it. Typically, you can afford a miss at 600 yards a lot more than you can at 6 feet.
RAILS
A flat-top receiver that accepts whatever sighting system you might scrounge would be decidedly advantageous. Things like scope rings, tools, etc., would not be in reliable supply. You want a system that can mount the widest variety of sighting options possible with minimal tools, adjustment and hassle.
However, the initial impulse is to eschew accessory rails in the post-apocalyptic scenario. The idea that you’d use something dependent on batteries when no batteries may be available seems silly. However, in our scenario, batteries may be available you just can’t rely on that or on anything that requires them. Also, rails aren’t just for battery powered components, and not everything that uses batteries is dependent on them. Thus, accessory rails would be a good, no-harm feature.
SIGHTS
The sighting system is undoubtedly the most difficult piece of the puzzle. The strong inclination is to go with iron sights. They’re simple and strong. They last and last. The problem is, will your eyesight?
It is much easier to shoot with an optical scope, but they tend to be more fragile. Also what power do you select? Something that is suitable for counter-sniping or long-range hunting is too slow (due to the reduced field of view) for close-quarters combat. And one that is set-up for close quarters is generally too underpowered to be much help at greater distance. Besides, adjusting for one distance or another is laborious and can change the point of impact.
Lasers? Red-dot scopes? Lasers are notoriously difficult to see in broad daylight and, besides, both lasers and red-dots are dependent on batteries, so they’re out.
The answer comes from Canada in the form of the ELCAN SpecterDR scope distributed by Armament Technology Incorporated. DR stands for dual role. The scope was developed at the behest of U.S. SOCOM because soldiers in the Middle East were having to transition between engaging the enemy at considerable distance to entering structures and conducting room-to-room searches. Typically, they were having to carry a combination of scopes or one scope and a multiplier, and mounting what was needed for the next anticipated duty.
The SpecterDR puts an end to that. The stout, super-strong scope changes from low-power magnification to medium/high-power magnification with the mere throw of a lever without changing the point of impact. There is a 1-4x but, with a 7.62 x 51 mm, I’d opt for the 1.5-6x. There is no middle ground with the SpecterDR. It goes directly from one magnification to the other with nothing in between. Despite its sophistication, the scope is nearly indestructible and so simple to use that the operator can change magnification in two seconds without breaking cheek weld.
Although the operator can choose between illuminated crosshairs or an illuminated dot, the reticle is actually etched on the glass, so the scope is usable with or without batteries. Further, the scope’s adjustments are in the base, not the tube. Sight in, remove the scope, remount it in the same position on the rail and it stays sighted in. And atop the tube is a ghost ring and post, ready to repeal Murphy’s Law.
ACCESSORY
The one perfect accessory for the Omega Man gun is the Grip Pod. Even if you’re not familiar with this product, the U.S. military and countless law enforcement agencies are. It is a vertical foregrip that mounts (without tools) to the underside fore-end accessory rail, helping you quickly maneuver the gun in tight spaces. But, at the press of a button, two spring-loaded legs shoot out and lock into place, forming a highly effective bipod for long-range shooting. To collapse them, simply squeeze the legs together and shove them up into the grip, where they stow back in place with an audible click, all without batteries.
OTHER OPTIONS
I went with ArmaLite because it’s the first name that comes to mind when I think of 7.62 mm ARs. Actually, there are now a number of companies that make ARs in this chambering, including carbines. Also, there is nothing wrong with the Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM II with Extended Top Rail or the DS Arms SA58 Para Tactical Carbine with the optional Short Gas System Rail Interface Handguard. Both would serve as well as the AR and, since both use M14-type magazines, squirreling away extra mags would be easy.
Yep, a dozen or so magazines, several weatherproof battle packs of ammo, a cleaning kit and a bug-out bag, and contrary to the song maybe paranoia won’t destroy you.

J-frame carry gear part 3: lasers

In part 1 and part 2 of the j-frame carry gear, we looked at holsters and ammo for you compact carry revolver.  Today we’ll look at a piece of gear that, while optional, is something I believe every compact revolver should have on it – a laser sighting system. There are a lot of options out there for laser sights for you carry gun, but the clear winner is the Crimson Trace LaserGrip for J-Frames or the Ruger LCR.  I do believe that your carry gun should have night sights, but in an actual self-defense situation at low light, there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to see the front sight, or that you’ll be in a position to use that sight.  The laser grip from Crimson Trace takes that uncertainty out of the situation.  Even if you’re in an unorthodox firing position, you’re still able to make aimed hits on the target, simply by indexing the red dot from the laser on the threat and firing.  Again, it’s an optional item for your gun, and you’ll probably never need to actually use it – but then again, I don’t carry a firearm for self-defense because I’m an optimist.  Having a good holster and powerful defensive ammo doesn’t do you a whole lot of good if when the threat appears you’re not able to get reliable hits on the target.  Having a laser on your defensive firearm allows you to get those hits while keeping your eyes focused on the threat.  This eliminates having to shift between two focal planes (the sights and the threat) and allows you to better asses a defensive encounter in real-time.

I also believe your carry gun should have good night sights on them.  Recently, I came around on XS Sights for carry guns – while I don’t believe they’re the right fit for every gun, for a compact revolver they are a significant upgrade over the usual gutter/front post arrangement that you’ll find.  My personal j-frame wears a Trijicon front night sight and S&W adjustable rear sight.  The goal is to be able to see the sights in any lighting condition, and have the laser as a backup sighting system should the sights be unavailable for any reason.

The compact revolver, be it a S&W J-Frame or a Ruger LCR is a great carry option.  Yes, it takes practice and discipline to master the double action trigger pull, and they hold less rounds than some semi-automatics.  But they’re far more reliable than other pocket .380s on the market, and offer the option of considerably more puissance in a .357 Magnum chambering than a comparably sized or smaller .380.  With a good holster, good ammo, and most importantly good sights and a laser, the compact revolver is one of the best and most reliable carry guns out there.

Travel in Severe Winter Weather

A powerful winter storm is rapidly approaching the Eastern Seaboard. Heavy snow is forecast, and winds are predicted to bring whiteout conditions, making driving extremely hazardous this holiday season. In the Midwest snow has been falling for some time and continues to fall across much of Iowa and Illinois with another 4 inches or more expected.

But despite the weather, it’s almost Christmas Eve, and millions of travelers are heading over the river and through the woods to spend quality time with the family at Grandmother’s house. When severe winter weather sets in and you still must travel, you should always be prepared. Below is an excerpt from our article on Extreme Cold Survival that deals with traveling in severe winter weather.

Cold Weather and Traveling
The most common place you may find yourself stranded in the extreme cold is stuck in a vehicle stranded on the side of the road. Icy spots, snow drifts, mechanical difficulty, any of these can leave you alone and without help on the side of a cold and desolate highway. What can you do if you find yourself stuck in such a predicament? Obviously the first answer is to make sure that you are properly prepared.

When traveling through areas where the weather is extremely cold, you should always pack a cold weather survival kit in your vehicle. What you pack in your emergency kit will vary from person to person depending on your situation, but there are some things that should be in every kit. Each kit should contain some basic survival and emergency gear, in addition to a first aid kit and tire chains if appropriate. I keep my kit in a rubber tote, although duffel bags or other large bags work well too. Whatever supplies and tools you have should be secured. Unsecured equipment in an automobile accident can become deadly projectiles.

Your basic kit should contain blankets or sleeping bags, water, food, a flashlight, flares or emergency triangles, jumper cables, and an ice scraper or brush. Whenever you travel in severe winter weather, always take a mobile phone and a portable phone charger. If you still have room in your kit, I find that tire chains, a tow rope, a shovel, and bag of sand or granite (granite chips are usually available at your local gravestone manufacturer) are lifesavers for getting you un-stuck from deep snow or treacherous ice. Other items may include hand warmers or chemical heaters such as the ones often included with MRE kits.

If you find yourself stranded in your vehicle in the cold, the first thing to do is to stay calm. Signal your distress by raising your hood and tying something brightly colored to your radio antenna. Retrieve your cold weather survival kit, and anything else you need, from the trunk of your car or bed of your pickup truck and move it to the passenger compartment so that you don’t need to make multiple trips outside in the cold to get individual items from the kit.

Don’t leave the engine running. If you are stuck in a snow drift, or even just stopped on the side of an icy road, carbon monoxide from the exhaust can build up in the passenger compartment. If your engine is still functioning, run it for no more than 10 minutes an hour to heat up the interior. Make sure that a window is cracked an inch or so, and that the exhaust pipe is clear of any snow or other obstructions to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide build up.

Keep your cellphone or other battery-powered emergency devices as warm as possible by making sure that they are near your body in an inside pocket, not in an outside parka pocket or on the dashboard or console of the vehicle. Batteries lose their charge as much as 10 times faster when they are below 32F. By keeping your cellphone warm you will extend the battery life.

So, if you have to travel through this severe winter weather, pack the necessary equipment, take your time, and be careful. If conditions become too bad, just stop and wait out the storm: getting to Grandma’s house isn’t worth risking your safety. Above all else, have a safe and happy Christmas, and we’ll see you after the holidays!

Colt Army Model 1860 Revolver

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for sleek black powder revolvers. Old blued steel with an aged patina and smooth worn wooden grips just call out to me. They have history, and stories to tell. Samuel Colt’s 19th century, single-barrel 5- and 6-shot revolvers revolutionized warfare and ended the “Wild” in the Wild West. If any inanimate object could be said to have a soul, it is these beauties.

In the hands of frontier law men, his pistols served justice-dead or alive. In the hands of outlaws, Colt pistols made legends of bushwhackers and bad guys.

And after much use before, during and after the Civil War, it was said of Colt’s rotating cylinder invention and Samuel Colt, “Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal.”

Colt pistols, beginning with the Paterson of 1836, a collaborative effort between Samuel Colt and Texas Ranger Samuel Hamilton Walker, lead to the Colt Walker 1847 and the 1848 Colt Dragoon. And each revolver, in some small or great way, helped change the course of American history.

The Colt Army Model 1860, another blackpowder pistol, perhaps Colt’s most stylish handgun, replaced the Dragoon and became a commercial success, selling nearly a quarter of a million units, mostly to the U.S. Army through the mid-1870s. The Model 1860 was produced from 1860 to 1873.

The Colt Army is a cap and ball, .44 caliber front-loading revolver common to the Civil War. Whereas the LeMat Grapeshot Revolver was used by Confederate forces, the Colt Army Model 1860 was the handgun of choice for Union troops. The Colt Army is chambered in .44 caliber, but its siblings, the Colt Navy, Model 1851 and 1861-virtually the same gun-are chambered in .36 caliber. The Navy-Army titles were handy monikers used for marketing effect by Colt-nothing more.

The Colt Army was favored by Union infantry, cavalry, artillery and even some naval personnel. Using a rear sight notch on the gun’s hammer, most visible when the Colt Army Model 1860 was cocked and a front blade sight, skilled marksmen might expect accuracy out to 200 feet or more.

The Colt Army used lead ball or cone-shaped bullets measuring 0.454 inches in diameter. Colt Army revolvers used 30-plus grains of black powder, a lead bullet and a percussion cap, seated on the nipple, for each of its six chambers. A loading lever ram beneath the gun’s barrel was used to seat the ball. The loading process-as with other blackpowder front-end loaders-was lengthy and not easily performed on horseback at a full trot. Thus, most cavalry carried several loaded pistols into the fray.

The Colt Army weighs about 2 1/2 pounds, unloaded, fully 2 pounds lighter than the Colt Walker. It measures 14 inches overall with an 8-inch barrel (some had a 7 1/2-inch barrel). Depending on the powder charge, the 138-grain lead round has a muzzle velocity of approximately 750 feet per second.

In Civil War enactments and Hollywood films depicting that period, the Colt Army Model 1860 is the most common stage prop handgun. In the film The Outlaw Josey Wales, Wales carries a Colt Army in his waistband, and the Model 1860 was variously used by others characters in that film.