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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.

J-Frame gear Part 2: Ammo

On Tuesday, we looked at the first essential part of carry gear for your J-frame or other compact revolver – holsters.  Today we’re going to look at the 2nd most important part of the equation, and that’s ammo.  It doesn’t do you a whole lot of good to remember to carry your J-frame if you’ve got it packed with ineffective ammo.  While any ammo is certainly better than no ammo, there are some loads that are optimized for the short barreled revolvers.

One of my personal favorite defensive loads for short barreled revolvers is the Hornady Critical Defense round.  In .357 Magnum, this load has reduced recoil compared to other .357 loads and offers guaranteed expansion by using a polymer tipped bullet.  This is one of very few .357 Magnum cartridges that I’ll carry and shoot in my compact revolvers.  My usual recommendation for carry ammo, even in guns that can handle .357 is to use .38 Special +P loads.  For short barreled revolvers, there are some great options in the .38 Special chambering.

The gold standard for .38 Special carry ammo is probably the 125 grain +P Remington Golden Saber load.  This round has been around for years, and it’s still going to be one of the best choices for personal defense in your compact revolver.  However, in recent years there have been some challenges to the Golden Saber.  The Cor-Bon DPX Solid Copper +P load offers controlled and reliable expansion as well as a high muzzle velocity out of a .38 Special revolver.  There are quite a few options out there for your defensive ammo in a .38 Special, so make sure you try a few out to find one that you’re comfortable shooting and can get reliable hits with.

One of the things that I try to do is make sure that my carry ammo is same grain as my practice ammo.  If I practice with 130 grain ammo, I’ll try to be as close to that weight as possible, which means my carry rounds are usually 125 grains.  If I practice with 158 grain ammo, then I’ll try to select a carry round in that weight.  The reason is that this keeps my point of impact consistent between guns.  Whether I’m shooting practice ammo at the range, +P ammo at a match, or using my gun to defend myself, I’ll have the same point of impact for all of my rounds.

On Thursday, we’ll take a look at the final two pieces of the compact revolver puzzle – sights and reloads.  While ammo selection is important, it’s just as important after you’ve picked your defensive rounds to be able to get those rounds in the gun when you need them and make sure they go where you want them to go.  That’ll be this Thursday, so make sure to check back in.

Helping to Choose A Concealed Carry Handgun For a New Shooter

If you’re a handgun owner and you have friends who are not, you may often find yourself looked to as an expert on the subject. A common question I find myself faced with by new shooters is: “I want to get a handgun for concealed carry and personal protection. What should I get?” It’s a very personal question, with no one right answer. There is a very good reason there is such a broad selection of handguns on the market, and that is that different people look for different qualities in a defensive firearm.

The first thing a new shooter should do is become familiar with pistols in general. One major mistake experienced shooters make is recommending their personal favorite firearm as the gun of choice for a new shooter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the range and seen a husband encouraging his wife to try out a lightweight .357 Magnum snub nosed revolver. Don’t get me wrong – small hammerless big bore revolvers are carried by thousands of women. Their light weight and small size makes them easy to conceal, and they still pack a wallop. But starting a new shooter off with such a firearm can be a mistake. When dealing with a new shooter, start small by renting something like a Ruger .22 pistol so that they can get used to practicing proper shooting technique. Firearms are intimidating, and starting a newbie off with a fire-belching magnum is a sure-fire way to intimidate them so much that they conclude that they are incapable of handling a firearm.

Once your new shooter is comfortable with a .22, step up and try out a soft shooting .380, 9mm, or .38 Special. Try a wide variety of handguns and let them find out what they like as well as what they don’t like. A shooter looking for their first carry pistol should find one that fits them well. Grip size, grip angle, overall weight and balance, muzzle length, and caliber all play into this complex equation. Be sure to consider the human factor: how intuitively can they manipulate the handguns controls? Is the safety easy to reach? What about the magazine or cylinder release? All of these things contribute to the overall suitability of a pistol to a particular shooter. There’s no set equation for figuring out what pistol fits best – you’ve got to take some for a test drive.

Most pistol ranges have a variety of handguns that can be rented for a small fee. Don’t bother renting full size handguns – these are usually not suitable for concealed carry. Stick with compact and subcompact firearms. Try a variety of actions and calibers. Don’t place too much emphasis on finding a large caliber pistol. While a .357 Sig or .357 Magnum may be your choice as the best carry caliber, it may be a handful for a novice shooter. The ability to maintain consistent and accurate shot placement is far more important than the “stopping power” of any particular caliber. As instructor Greg Hamilton said, “Do you know how to double the effectiveness of any bullet? Put another round through your target.” Two .25 ACP rounds that land solid hits on the target are much more effective than two misses with a .357 Magnum.

Consider also the price and availability of your ammunition. Practice is key to maintaining proficiency with any firearm. Your new shooter may love their .380 subcompact, but with the current ammunition shortage, will they be able to find enough .380 at a reasonable price to practice with? Many pistol models are available in a variety of calibers. If your new shooter falls in love with that Sig 229 in .357 Sig, but you’re concerned with ammo availability, have them try a Sig 229 in .40 S&W instead.

The overall reliability of a handgun is also very important. Many handguns are picky about what type of ammunition they will digest. Ask your local range if you can try some standard pressure defensive rounds through their rental guns. Most ranges will gladly let you give it a test drive if you purchase the ammunition there (most will not let you run +P high pressure rounds). In addition to their ability to feed ammunition, some firearms are simply more reliable than others. Talk to an experienced shooter or range master about the reliability of the pistol your new shooter is considering for purchase. Pistols that are carried regularly are exposed to all manner of fouling media. Lint, dirt, and dust can collect on the pistol, and rust can be an issue in high humidity environments or during the summer. Some handguns are simply better suited for concealed carry. Look for polymer, stainless steel, or other frames that will resist moisture, dirt, and dust.

Once a new shooter has settled on what gun is right, the pocket book comes into play. Firearms are not cheap as a general rule, and it’s possible to find that the right pistol for your new shooter is out of their budget. If that is the case, talk to your local firearm dealer about layaway plans, or consider buying used. Many manufacturers like Sig Sauer offer factory certified used firearms that come with an excellent warranty and are priced at a significant discount. If a factory certified used firearm isn’t a possibility, have a gunsmith inspect the potential purchase. They can spot excessive wear and abuse and can tell how well a used handgun has been cared for.

Finally, once the new purchase has been made, practice! Practice is critical to being able to properly employ a firearm in a self defense situation, so continue to encourage a new shooter to accompany you to the range and practice with their new pistol. If they’ve chosen a handgun that suits them well, practice will be an enjoyable pastime that the two of you can spend together.

Freeze Dried Foods

When stockpiling food, savvy survivalists often advise buying basic ingredients in bulk. Fifty pound sacks of hard red wheat, rice, pinto beans and other grains and legumes are given as examples of staples that a preparedness minded individual should invest in. Regardless of what you are preparing for, whether it’s economic disaster, earthquake, pandemic, or the zombie apocalypse, having a well stocked larder is important. But don’t neglect to give some thought as to how you will prepare your meals in the midst of a disaster.

In any disaster, electricity is one of the first modern luxuries to be lost. Severe thunderstorms can knock out power for a few hours or days, while earthquakes and hurricanes can leave some areas without electrical utilities for months at a time. This means that most of your food prep appliances will be inoperable. Microwaves and electric ranges are useless in a disaster without a generator, wind, or solar energy to power them. Even natural gas appliances can be rendered useless if gas lines are ruptured and pressure is lost. Propane may be available for a short period of time, but your ability to refill your propane tanks may be curtailed. Any of these problems can make it more difficult to prepare food, especially if all you have is basic staples and unprocessed raw ingredients.

Ease of preparation is also important if you have other concerns, such as performing critical repairs to your house or quickly evacuating the area. In the case of an evacuation or “bug-out” food portability is also important. It’s not very easy to quickly load up a few dozen 5 gallon buckets of flour, pasta, and other bulk ingredients. MREs are one easily portable option that can be quickly prepared, but many people find them to be unpalatable. While they can be safely stored for 20 years or more, depending on the ambient temperature, MREs can actually lose nutritional value over time.

Such is not the case with freeze dried foods. Freeze dried foods are normal fully cooked foods that have gone through a cryodesiccation process whereby all of the moisture is completely removed. The process of freeze drying involves lowering the temperature in a partial vacuum and then applying a small amount of heat which causes the now frozen water to sublimate from ice directly to a vapor. The areas where tiny ice crystals once existed is left porous, an important property that allows water to be quickly reabsorbed when reintroduced to the product.

Many hunters, backpackers and hikers remember Pilot Crackers, at one time one of the only staples that could remain edible over a few days or weeks. Though Mountain House still packages this traditional snack, their menu includes much more gourmet meals such as lasagna with meat sauce and chicken teriyaki with rice When all of the moisture is removed from food it is made much lighter. Freeze dried foods can be easily transported due to their light weight. Understandably this makes them extremely popular with backpackers and campers alike.

Mountain House packages a number of freeze dried food products in convenient #10 cans and guarantees a minimum 25 year shelf life. Stored in cool dry conditions, they’ve tested products that were freeze dried more than 35 years ago and still tastes fresh when rehydrated. You’ll be hard pressed to find any MREs or rations that can can last that long. Even after opening the resealable plastic lid included with each can allows it to be used for up to a week without any loss in taste or nutrition. Unlike other methods of preservation, nutritional value is fully retained in freeze dried foods.

The only drawback to freeze dried foods is that they require water. Hot water is preferable, but given a long enough soak even tepid water will rehydrate a freeze dried meal. For backpackers, hunters, and hikers procuring hot water is not terribly difficult. Water supplies are usually carried along with food and gear with resupply locations planned in advance and filters brought along to ensure its cleanliness. In a survival situation you may not always have convenient access to water. If you plan to add freeze dried meals to your list of equipment stored for use in an emergency, make sure to store water along with it. Freeze dried foods don’t require much water, generally only a cup or two per serving, but having water and the means to heat it is necessary.

If you’re seeking foodstuffs with the longest lasting shelf life, most nutritional value, and best taste, you can’t do much better than freeze dried foods. Though they require a bit more preparation planning than canned foods or MREs, they make up for it with a shelf life in excess of 30 years and superior taste. Zombie apocalypse? No problem: if you’ve got freeze dried foods and a bit of water socked away for just such a situation you will dine in style.

Reloading, A Beginner’s Guide Part II

In the first installment of our series on reloading, we discussed the methods and procedures for cleaning, depriming, and reloading straight walled cases. In this article, we will discuss reloading bottle necked cartridges. Most necked down cartridges are rifle calibers, but there are a few notable exceptions, notably .357 Sig and Tokarev. The FN 5.7mm cartridge is bottle necked as well, but it is a proprietary round and is very difficult to properly (and safely) reload.


Lyman Classic Tumbler

As with straight walled brass, make sure that your bottle necked brass is clean and free from debris. With bottle necked rifle brass, it’s generally a good idea to run your brass through a polisher. This cleans off powder residue as well as any dirt or corrosion from the brass. Make sure that once you are done polishing and cleaning your brass that there is no polishing media left on the outside or inside of the brass. Polishing and cleaning the brass helps make resizing much easier. Dirt, grit, or corrosion on your brass can scratch or damage your steel dies. Carbide dies don’t have this problem, but having nicely lubed clean brass means that you don’t have to pull so hard on the press lever when resizing.

Reloading bottle necked cartridges is actually fairly easy compared to reloading straight walled brass, but you do have to take the additional step of utilizing case lube. The primary difference between reloading straight walled cases and bottle neck cases is the resizing process. Bottle neck dies perform a lot of work with a single pull of the press lever. When resizing brass, the die not only resizes the case and deprimes the brass, it also has an expander ball that is plunged down the neck of the case so that new bullets can be seated.


Hornaday One-Shot Case Lube

When lubing your rifle brass, it is critically important to spray your case lube all around the outside as well as down the case mouth. This lubes the inside of the case for the expander ball. To properly lube the cases, set them all in a loading block with the mouth of the case up. Spray the cases on one side and from above at an angle so that the lubricant not only goes on the outside but also sprays down inside the neck. Turn the loading block so that all 360 degrees of the cases get lubed. Don’t be afraid of over lubricating the cases. You CAN spray too much (though it’s difficult), but it’s far better to use too much lube than not enough lube. Failure to use enough case lube will result in your case becoming stuck in the die. Getting a case stuck in a die is a nightmare scenario, so don’t do it! If you think you’ve got enough lube, go ahead and give the cases one more spray, just for good measure.

Once your brass is cleaned and lubed and you’ve got your resizing die properly adjusted and locked down as we discussed in our previous article, place your brass on the shell holder and lower the ram. You’ll begin to feel resistance as the expander ball is plunged through the neck of the case. One of the reasons that reloading necked brass is a bit easier than straight walled brass is that the dies for your necked down brass perform more operations with a single pull of the lever. The resizing die decaps the primer, resizes the brass, and expands the case neck to receive a new bullet, all in a single stroke.

Now that your brass has been resized, clean off the lubricant and inspect the brass for any cracks, creases, or bright spots near the head. A bright ring around the head at the base of the cartridge indicates stressed brass that will result in a case head separation. You may notice little dimples on your brass: this is not a big deal, and it occurs from using too much case lube. Large dimples occur when you have managed to use far too much lubricant. Brass with large dimples should be discarded.

In my experience, it is not usually necessary to measure and trim pistol brass after resizing. The same cannot be said about rifle cases. Use a dial caliper to ensure that all of your brass is the same correct length. You can also load the resized brass into your firearm to make sure it will chamber. Use a case trimmer to trim off any excess length.

Priming your rifle brass is the same procedure as priming your pistol brass. First, make sure that your primer pocket is cleaned out. Make sure that you have the correct size primer – large pistol and rifle primers can appear to be the same size, but they are not! Using the correct size tools and primers, prime all of your brass and make sure that the primers are seated to the proper depth. Primers that are set too high can be slam-fired in semiautomatic rifles.


Hornaday Seating Die

When loading your powder, make sure that you have the right kind of powder. Using pistol powders in a rifle case can result in over-pressure and detonation, potentially destroying your rifle and injuring or killing you. It is very difficult (though not impossible) to double charge a rifle case if you are using the correct powders. Still, pay close attention. When developing a load, always double check your loads against a current reloading manual. Start at 50% of the manual’s recommended load and work up from there. Once you have a load developed, make sure to periodically check your powder measure against a scale to ensure that it remains consistent and accurate.

The final process in reloading rifle ammunition is seating and crimping the bullet. Since rifle cases are not flared, it can be more difficult to seat a flat based bullet. Boat tail bullets are much easier to seat. If you are loading flat based bullets, it helps to have a bevel cut in the case mouth using a chamfer or deburring tool. While crimping is not necessarily required for rifle rounds, it definitely helps when you are loading large caliber or magnum rounds. Crimping is definitely necessary if you are loading for a tube magazine fed rifle, as it will keep the bullets from being set back. Some bullet seating dies also crimp at the same time. Seat the first bullet, then measure your overall case length. Once you are certain the length is in spec, lock down your bullet seating die and proceed to seat bullets in the rest of your cartridges.

As always, observe proper safety procedures when reloading ammunition. Make sure that you have a clean and organized work area that is free from distractions. Never try to watch TV or listen to the radio while reloading – you’re working with potentially dangerous explosives that require 100% of your attention. Always wear proper eye protection when reloading. Remember that lead and primers are toxic and wash your hands every time after reloading.

Reloading – A Beginner’s Guide – Part 1

Ammunition prices continued to rise and show no sign of falling anytime soon. Even prices for primers, brass and bullets have gone up significantly. So, what’s a shooter to do? For myself and others, reloading is one solution.

Reloading involves recycling spent brass and prepping it to reload with new primers, powder, and bullets. But where do you begin?

J-Frame carry gear Part 1

Last Tuesday, we talked about some of the accessories you’ll need if you choose to carry a pocket sized .380 ACP pistol. But what if you’re one of the old school guys that carries one of the jillions of S&W J-Frames out there? I still carry a Model 60 when I need to conceal my firearm, and have never felt under armed with 5 shots of .38 Special +P in the chambers. There is plenty of gear that you are going to need though if you do make the decision to tie on a wheelgun as your defensive firearm. The first decision of course being “what kind of holster should I get?” On the blog yesterday we had a great look at inside the waistband holsters, which are probably the best option for concealed carry for a compact revolver. Another option of course are pocket holsters; however these will only work if you have large pockets and choose to carry one of the superlight aluminum framed guns or the polymer framed Ruger LCR.

The J-Frame and Ruger LCR are best carried in an inside the waistband holster like this Bianchi Holster pictured.  The small size and weight of the gun can be concealed even on the hottest of summer days under an untucked t-shirt, and unlike the equivalently sized .380 ACP pistols, the DA revolver offers the option of .38 Special rounds or hot .357 Magnum rounds for personal defense.  Admittedly, a small revolver isn’t the best choice for everyone, as the DA trigger is difficult to master.  They require practice and training to be used to their full potential, but once you do reach that level you’ll find that your little J-frame is an incredibly accurate and powerful defensive firearm.

Next Tuesday, we’ll continuing looking at essential J-Frame gear, with the focus being on methods for getting your little gun back in the fight after you’ve depleted your five rounds.  This is one of the most critical skills to work on if you carry a roundgun, so make sure you check back next week for more!

Inside the Waistband Holster

One of the frequent questions we get here at Cheaper Than Dirt! comes from customers seeking ways to carry their pistols. There are quite literally dozens of ways to securely carry a firearm, but today we’re going to address one of the most common: the Inside the Waistband Holster.

Inside the waistband holsters (often referred to as an IWB holster) are holsters that, as the name implies, keep the pistiol tucked inside your pants or shorts, between your waistband and your body. They usually have some sort of belt clip that keeps the holster attached to your belt or waistband in order to prevent the holster from slipping down.

IWB holster users generally fall into two categories: Love ’em or Hate ’em. Not many people are ambivalent about them. Of those who despise IWB holsters, the comfort factor tends to play a big role. These users just can’t abide having the holster digging into their side for the better part of a day. Comfort is a huge factor when choosing a holster. If it’s uncomfortable, most people will stop using it or stop carrying their firearm all together. Obviously, a firearm is useless if you don’t have it with you. Fans of the IWB holster tend to laud the concealability of firearms carried in this manner. They also love the fact that, being so closely carried to the body, it is more difficult for any potential bad guy to disarm you.

There are three main types of IWB holsters: Leather, Kydex or Plastic, and Nylon. Leather and nylon tend to be the most comfortable of the three, but they have the disadvantage of collapsing after the pistol is drawn, making reholstering more difficult. Kydex and plastic holsters are rigid and hold their shape even when the gun is drawn, but can become uncomfortable during extended use due to the firm unyielding material. Depending on your body type, IWB holsters can be even more uncomfortable due to the the way it is held so close to your body and the pressure of your waistband and belt.

Leather holsters are often the most comfortable of IWB holsters. Holsters such as Bianchi’s Professional Inside-the-Pants holster are immensely popular with undercover law enforcement, private investigators, and civilians who conceal on a regular bases. It does an excellent job of concealment by carrying the pistol low with the butt of the gun barely peeking above the waistline. If you choose to wear a leather IWB holster, be aware that extended use during the heat and humidity of summer can cause the holster to retain moisture from sweat, possibly damaging the pistol. Because of the proximity of the firearm to your body, you will want to clean and oil your handgun more often, usually once a week or more, in order to clean out salts, lint, rust, and to re-oil.

Despite their drawbacks, IWB holsters are one of the easiest ways to carry concealed. Many are even known as “tuckable” holsters and have features that allow you to carry your pistol in the IWB holster and tuck in your shirt at the same time. It features a leather panel that has a belt clip attached to it that allows the wearer to tuck their shirt in between the panel and the main body of the holster, as illustrated by the photo at left. As you can see from the photo, the belt clip is still visible, but the firearm itself is neatly concealed.

If you choose to use an IWB holster, there are a few things you can do to make it work better for you. First, select pants slightly larger than your normal size. This provides the extra room for your firearm, and decreases stretching and wear and tear on the garment. Make sure your shirt, vest, or jacket you use to conceal the firearm is cut a little long. The bottom of your cover garment should hang at least 6 inches below your belt.

Whether you go with leather, nylon, or kydex, an IWB holster will provide you with an efficient way to carry concealed. IWB holsters may not be for everybody, but that’s just the nature of holsters in general. Ask any old gunny, and they’ll tell you that somewhere they’ve got a box of old holsters that they ended up not liking for some reason or another. Me? I’ve carried in a kydex IWB holster for the better part of a decade. Obviously IWB works for me. It just might work for you too.

Late Season Deer Hunting

As deer season progresses, deer become scarce quickly. It seems that as soon as the rut ends, they all just up and disappear.

Obviously, they’re still there, but where and how do you locate deer that seem to have gone nocturnal? It’s not easy, but late season deer can be hunted with success, you just have to adapt your hunting strategy.

Many hunters fill their tags within the first few days of deer season. What’s more, fierce winter weather deters many hunters who don’t want to endure the elements in the late season. For the late season deer hunter, this is good, as it means that you won’t have to worry about large numbers other hunters being around. Deer are often pressured early in the season when there are large numbers of hunters eager to get their deer during the rut. In the past I’ve had great success hunting deer as late as January when they’ve had time to relax from the pressure of early season hunting.

During the rut, many hunters set up in the early morning in blinds and tree stands where they will be able to rattle or call up a buck. But the rut is a crazy time for deer, between intense hunting pressure and the powerful hormone drive to mate. When deer go nocturnal, relenting to the pressure of the onslaught of hunters, they are less active in the early morning. The midday and afternoon however can be more productive.

Too many hunters hunt the rut exclusively, thinking that deer behavior during that time is “normal”. It is not – deer are so caught up in their hormone driven activities, they throw caution to the wind. It is only as the rut fades that deer return to normal.

No matter how much or how little hunting pressure there is, deer still need to eat. After the rut, bucks turn their attention to food. All of the sparring and mating of the rut leaves most bucks run-down and searching for food. Likewise, does that have been bred during the rut increase the amount of food they consume. Though they remain bedded down during the day, by the afternoon they become hungry and are forced to head back to forage at nearby food sources.

Identify food and water sources. Deer will bed down nearby to established food and water sources. When the pressure is on, they won’t want to travel far for fear of being exposed. Fresh hoof prints and droppings are signs of activity that will allow you to easily identify where the deer are feeding, and which trails they are using.

Once you’ve identified a food or water source, find the deer trails that lead back to their bedding areas. Bedding areas are carefully planned by deer: they are extremely good at choosing bedding locations with multiple escape routes. It is extremely difficult to stalk a deer that is bedded down. A bedded down deer that scents you will explode out of the bedding location and all you will see is the white flash of tail as it bounds away at breakneck speed. Even if you do get the drop on a bedded down deer, it is still difficult to get a good shot at a vital area.

To hunt bedded deer, set up near the identified food source, or along an active trail to and from the food source. Pay close attention to the wind direction to avoid alerting the deer to your scent.

Finally, it’s not unusual to have a second, or even third rut. Though not nearly as active as the first fall rut, secondary ruts can still bring out the bucks and does who have not been bred in the first rut. Does will reach estrus every 28 days, so if you’ve pinpointed the first rut, knowing when the second rut will come is a simple calculation.

In a secondary rut, rattling will not be quite as productive as grunting and calling, but you can still rattle up the odd buck or two. It’s not unheard of to find two or even three of four bucks chasing a doe during the second rut, completely oblivious to anything going on around them. Giving a few soft grunts or a short rattle can bring the deer your direction and present you with a shot.

If you don’t mind facing harsh weather and deer who are back to their usual cautious ways, then the late season is for you. Scouting ahead to identify where the deer are and where their trails are is key, but once you’ve identified them, you can rest easy in the fact that the deer will come.