On March 29, AD 1911 the U.S. Army officially adopted the Colt 1911 pistol as its official sidearm. The 1911 was originally issued in an era where the Army still had cavalry and was not too far removed from the days when a single action Colt revolver with a 7 inch barrel had been their primary sidearm. When the Colt SAA was replaced in the late 1800s with a double action revolver in .38 Long Colt, there were many who felt that such a decision was the wrong one. During the Philippine-American War, the .38 Long Colt proved ineffective at “bad-breath” fight distances, prompting the Army to seek a replacement. John Moses Browning, who is likely the greatest gun designer ever scaled up his .38 ACP pistol to a .45 caliber cartridge of his design and submitted that pistol to the military trials.
The 1911 wasn’t really born in 1911, though. The pistol trials that it competed in started in 1906, where the Browning design competed against a .45 ACP Luger and the Savage .45 ACP. The Browning designed “1911” eventually won the trials and was selected as the Army’s new service pistol, officially adopted on March 29th, 1911. The 1911 served in World War I and various other conflicts, including notably in the hands of Medal of Honor recipient Herman Hanneken, who used a 1911 to kill a rebel leader during the US occupation of Haiti.
In 1924, the 1911 received some minor design changes; this resulted in the new designation of 1911A1. The 1911A1 pistols continued to serve the US military until the 1980s, when it was officially phased out in favor of the Beretta M9. But the design would not go quietly into the night remaining in service in the US military with Special Forces, Force Recon Marines, and other specialized units. The modern 1911 continues to serve to this day; the Sig Sauer 1911 Tactical Operations at right is an excellent example of what the 1911 has become. The sights are much better than the original sights, the features a rail for attaching lights and other accessories, and hammer bite has been eliminated. John Moses Browning’s great design continues to serve with LAPD SWAT, FBI regional SWAT teams, and even in the holsters of local law enforcement agencies that desire the ergonomics and shootability of the classic design. 100 years later, the 1911 is going strong, with no indication that it won’t still be around in another 100 years. I’m wearing one as I type this, and I wonder how many people are going to be wearing one while they read this post.
In August of 2008 experienced CNC machinist Phil Cashin acquired MasterPiece Arms from founder Gary Poole. With his extensive experience in precision metalworking, Phil set about to take the high quality firearms already produced by MasterPiece Arms and improve them even further by upgrading the manufacturing process.
Beginning with MPA’s existing line of MAC based Defender pistols, Phil expanded into the defensive carry pistol market when the Protector .380 was introduced. We sat down with Phil to talk about how MasterPiece has grown into the company that it is today, and to learn a bit about what goes into the design and production of high quality pistols like the Protector .380.
Cheaper Than Dirt: How did you get started in the firearms industry?
Phil Cashin: Well, I became involved in the firearms industry through an acquisition of MasterPiece Arms from the original owner, a gentleman by the name of Gary Poole back in August of 2008.
I had known Gary for years and he contacted me regarding some of his capital equipment, which is the business I used to be in. I used to buy and sell capital equipment earlier in my career and then I got out of selling equipment and got into manufacturing. That’s actually my background, precision machining and manufacturing.
Cheaper Than Dirt: MasterPiece Arms manufactured all of their firearms in the United States prior to your acquisition of the company, and that’s a tradition you’ve been proud to carry on.
Phil Cashin: Yes, MPA products have always been one hundred percent US made.
Cheaper Than Dirt: After your purchase of MPA, you updated the production facilities to an ISO 9002 certified facility, correct?
Phil Cashin: Well, when I purchased MPA I also owned, and still run, a very large, very sophisticated machining and metal work company that is located just outside of Athens Georgia.
When the acquisition took place there was a transition from the previous facility where MPA was located in Carlson. The manufacturing and assembly was moved over here to our location, so we basically just absorbed the manufacturing of the components. We brought online our quality system and some of our manufacturing techniques and continued with the design enhancements. Gary had developed a very good sound design into MPA’s products. Our equipment and manufacturing techniques are faster and newer and/or efficient and more capable. We just kind of added the best of both companies together.
Cheaper Than Dirt: So MasterPiece has always created very high quality firearms, all you did was bring them into the 21st century and upgraded everything?
Phil Cashin: Exactly, that’s right.
Cheaper Than Dirt: When you came on board they were already manufacturing the MPA 30 and the MPA 10 is that right?
Phil Cashin: The products that MPA was producing at the time of the acquisition was the Defender line, which included the 930 series, what we call the Mini-9. The original has the charging handle on the top of the upper receiver, more in line with the original MAC design. Gary developed the side charging version that puts the charging handle on the left side of the upper receiver, thereby allowing a Picatinny rail to be mounted to the top of the receiver, which lets the shooter attach any number of aiming devices such as holographic sights or a laser on top. But primarily, holographic sights are what seemed to work best with all of those weapons. The Defender is based on the original MAC design and, of course, that was manufactured initially as a full-auto weapon. The original sights on the weapon are not what most people would consider sophisticated.
Cheaper Than Dirt: MPA developed a similar MAC version that fires with a closed bolt.
Phil Cashin: I wouldn’t say we developed it, I would say we perfected it.
The problem with many of the other companies in the past that have manufactured MACs in a closed bolt design is the gun worked wonderfully in an open bolt. When the ATF required us to go to a closed bolt design, there had to be some engineering changes to any number of instrumental components throughout the entire gun to allow it to function more effectively with a different design than what it was originally designed for.
Cheaper Than Dirt: That was because, for those of our readers who may not be aware, the ATF declared that any open bolt gun, whether or not it actually functions as such, is in fact fully automatic impact machine gun.
Phil Cashin: What had happened was that they allowed the semi-automatic open bolts production of these weapons for a period of time until it became very apparent that anyone could, without even looking on the internet since it didn’t exist back then, with a file and about fifteen minutes spent modifying certain internal components you could convert the gun back to full auto.
Cheaper Than Dirt: You went in and made some other very specific changes to the pistol, for example creating a model that allows the use of Sten magazines so that you have got increased parts availability and magazine availability.
Phil Cashin: Well how the change took place on the nine millimeter version, which includes both the Mini-9. The Mini 9 being the 930 series and the full sized 9mm being the 30 series. It was produced with the Zytel mag, which is a polymer magazine and the reliability was okay.
One of the things that Gary did when he got these going with Masterpiece Arms was he changed the design to accept Sten mags because they were pre-ban and were of a very good quality and very reliable. It was a better, more reliable design, and the same thing goes for the Grease Gun magazines and the .45.
That same design still carries on today. Even in our current production models we use new and reproduced Grease Gun designed magazines. They are just an exact copy of the Grease Gun mag, but they are newly manufactured.
For the 9mm, due to how scarce Sten mags have become, and the volumes in which we were selling these guns, we worked with Tapco in Kennesaw Georgia and we developed a polymer version of the Sten magazine. It’s a polymer magazine that fits right into our weapon, and works extremely well. Of course it’s much lighter than the Sten mag and it’s a very attractive product. All of our weapons on the nine millimeter side are shipped with the Tapco version of the Sten magazine.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Now you have expanded into the Protector line. What prompted the expansion into concealable pistols from the tactical Defender line of pistols and rifles. Where did that jump come from?
The reason that we decided to start manufacturing the Protectors was the fact that we wanted to get into more of a mainstream product line into the firearms market as well as to bring an increased awareness of the Defender line. Not everybody who sees a MAC immediately thinks of Masterpiece Arms. They may think of MAC, RPB, SWD or some of the other more poorly designed weapons.
The design principle of a weapon being a fully machined, both the lower receiver and the upper slide out of solid 4140, is a more expensive technique in manufacturing the weapon, but it’s one that we are extraordinarily good at. The Protector line was our effort to continue to bring high quality weapons at a low cost into the defensive handgun market.
Cheaper Than Dirt: You have mentioned in the past that there are no cast or injection molded parts on this gun.
Phil Cashin: That’s correct, there is no forging, there are no castings, there are no metal injection molded parts (MIM) parts. Everything is, with the exception of obvious items like springs and a couple of other laser sheet metal parts like the shield on the trigger bar, everything is fully machined out of solid billet steel.
Cheaper Than Dirt: That’s a more expensive process, and yet we have various models of the Protector for sale for less than three hundred dollars, which is quite affordable compared to most of the pocket pistols.
Phil Cashin: Absolutely. It’s a fully machined premium design in a moderate price range. The pricing strategy that we used took an enormous amount of consideration, and I will get to that in a second.
Getting back to that the reason why we did it: We talked about the design getting our products into a more mainstream market. The manufacturing technique that we are using is one of our core competencies. Performing high tech, very high precision, CNC production machining where you can hold the tolerances down, when you can get cycle time down, you can significantly reduce your manufacturing costs.
On top of that, we do everything in house, with the exception of springs and magazines. All of the critical components we manufacture ourselves. We do our own heat treating, we rifle the barrels, we machine all the internal components of machining centers and CNC Swiss. For us, being able to control the manufacturing of you know all the critical components is very important.
One of the reasons why we try to do everything that we can ourselves because ultimately you are in the control of your own destiny. You are not having to rely on the manufacturing challenges of another supplier. Without a part to the gun, you can’t ship the products. If you’re missing the firing pin, a trigger, or a hammer, the product is not going out the door.
My predecessor Gary Poole had a pretty significant role in the development and manufacturing of the old Autauga pistol. That was a very small subcompact concealed carry .32 ACP pistol that very much resembles the Protector. We have made some design changes externally to make the gun more attractive.
There have also been an enormous number of changes internally to the weapon. The Autauga was a gun that Gary had developed for a company called Autauga Arms over in Alabama that is no longer in business. The lower receiver was a casting, the upper slide was a casting, all the internal parts was castings, and the gun did pretty well in .32 caliber, but because of the size of the weapon they were never able to even consider going to the 380 because of the increased strength of the round.
Phil Cashin: Yes, now they are the same.
Cheaper Than Dirt: It’s not like this pistol has just kind of arrived on the out of the blue. You’ve kinda had your finger on the pulse of the concealed carry market for some time. Recently we have seen an enormous increase in the number of .380 pistols that have been released onto the market along with the increased availability of concealed handgun licenses to lawful gun owners.
Phil Cashin: Oh absolutely and, I think, rightfully so. I use my own personal experience, which is another part of the reason why we designed this Protector. The ability to carry in a concealed manner and not advertise the fact that you are carrying, having the right by the Second Amendment to protect myself, and especially with way that the world is today, I have felt personally that it is necessary to carry a weapon the majority of the time. I had a lot of problems finding a weapon that I could carry comfortably because I didn’t want to carry a holster on my belt or in the back of my pants or on my side, because it was just uncomfortable. You know it just didn’t really provide the level of concealability that I was looking for.
In the summer weather, whatever the situation is, I am able to exercise my right to carry a weapon and not advertise the fact that I am doing so. Some of the polymer weapons are very nice products and they are quite reliable. They make good pistols. They are not as small as ours, but they still have a fair amount of concealability to them. Ours is just smaller and, the accuracy and performance is consistent with some of these other pistols that are quite a bit larger.
Ours is more of a premium design. I like to hold metal in my hand. It’s more of a traditional design. Making the decisions to get into that crowded .380 market, we didn’t want to create just another polymer .380.
Cheaper Than Dirt: It’s important to point out that, with the all metal design, you do have a little bit heavier gun. It’s a little bit more controllable with that extra weight there.
Phil Cashin: Absolutely. Do you want to shoot a .380 with a feather or do you want to have something a little bit more, delivering more substance, to absorb the recoil. There is an absolute relationship between weight and recoil. The heavier the gun, the less recoil. It reduces muzzle flip and with that little recoil you get to the point where it’s quite manageable.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Some of those other lightweight polymer .380s really do beat you up. I don’t think anybody wants to fire more than one or two magazines at the range, and as everybody knows, you have to practice with what you carry in order to be effective with it.
Phil Cashin: Absolutely yes, that’s absolutely correct. In that aspect, controllability and comfort in shooting really went into the design of the weapon. If you look at the profile, the grip design, the radius on the front of the grip where your finger sits below the trigger guard, the gun is really engaged in your hand when you grab the weapon.
Compared to some of the other versions that are out there that have a straight grip, or just don’t have that comfortable of a design, the Protector is very comfortable. Without going into some of the other specific names, some of the other ones that I have owned in the past, some of which I still do own, they always feel like they are going to jump out of your hand when you shoot them.
Cheaper Than Dirt: You have also made some recent changes and upgrades to the Protector to make it even more controllable, tell us a little bit about those.
Phil Cashin: Well, with any manufactured product, as time goes by and you get feedback from customers you improve on techniques. You find new and better ways of making a product more enjoyable to utilize You want to be able to submit improvements to the design, and that’s what we have done here recently with a couple of primary items, one being the grip extension, and the second being the new profiled trigger.
Specifically to talk about the grip extension having that additional basically seven hundred and fifty thousandths, three quarters of an inch, sticking out of the grip on the front of the weapon in the form of that extension gives the shooter basically more leverage to control recoil.
Cheaper Than Dirt: And just one more finger is sometimes all you need to have a more effective grip.
Tell us about the trigger design because I have seen, especially some female shooters shooting these little double action pistols, that it can be difficult with that really long trigger pull to actually be able to pull the trigger. What is the trigger change that you have made, how does it help reduce the trigger pull?
Phil Cashin: It just made the shooting experience more comfortable on the trigger finger. What we did is change some of the radiuses on the bottom of the trigger. We are able to extend the length of the trigger to eliminate the amount of gap between the bottom of the trigger and the trigger guard. It’s now measured in the thousandths. When the gun is being fired, what it does is keep the trigger finger on the trigger and off of the trigger guard.
Phil Cashin: That’s exactly right, yes.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Your design makes this a little bit more comfortable?
Phil Cashin: On these double action only pistols, the trigger is positioned on a hinge or on a pin at the top of the trigger. Basically it swings as a pendulum. When the trigger is moved back towards the rear of the receiver then the finger naturally is going to slide down towards the bottom. The path of least resistance is moving the finger towards the bottom of the trigger.
With the new design, what we have done is we have changed the radius on the bottom of the trigger and we actually were able to lengthen to the trigger to keep the finger on the trigger during the shooting sequence rather than sliding off or making some contact with the trigger guard.
With the return of the slide forward and then the return of the trigger forward, it basically eliminates that friction that would occur between the bottom of the trigger finger and the top of the trigger guard.
Cheaper Than Dirt: We have seen some reviews already come out about the .380 Protector, and one thing that I have seen people complain about is the magazine and dry firing the pistol. Your design is very unique. Tell us about the magazine design and how it interacts with the trigger spring.
Phil Cashin: The way the gun is designed, you have the trigger and you have a boss on the trigger. How the trigger interacts with the hammer is that you have a trigger bar, which basically is a CNC laser cut piece of spring steel, that really attaches the two to each other, and then you have a torsion spring that returns the trigger back forward at the end of the shooting cycle.
You then have a shield that goes on the top of the trigger bar and the torsion spring, and then basically sandwiches that end of the mechanism together below the grip.
On the underside, that trigger bar is right inside of the magwell. Because of the size of the weapon you have limited amount of space to accomplish you know the design principle of the weapon. When the magazine is in the weapon it somewhat acts as the retaining feature for the trigger bar and holds the trigger bar in place on the trigger and the hammer.
When someone is dry firing the weapon without the magazine in place, then the correction is quite simple. You take the flat head screw or the fastener out of the grip, you take the grip off and take the shield off and basically reattach the trigger bar onto the hammer and the trigger. It takes about thirty seconds to do it.
Cheaper Than Dirt: To be clear, it’s not that people cannot dry fire the pistol, and it’s not that if you do dry fire the pistol with the magazine removed that it will break, it’s simply that the parts won’t be in the correct configuration, at which point you have disassemble and reassemble in the correct order right?
Phil Cashin: That’s correct. What it really gets down to is the intended use of the weapon and functionality. Obviously if this had any negative effect whatsoever on the function of the weapon under its intended use, then the design would have been changed. Under normal shooting experiences you are always going to have the magazine in place when you are pulling the trigger. When you are firing the weapon you are going to have the magazine and the magwell, and there is typically going to be ammo in the magazine when you are going to be shooting the weapon.
If you look at an abnormal situation, let’s say for whatever reason the shooter removes the magazine from the weapon and there is still a round left in the chamber. That’s worst case scenario if for some reason that the shooter takes the magazine out prematurely or it’s the last shot or whatever the case may be, it will absolutely still fire.
After that there is a chance that the trigger bar will come off, but then at that point in time you know the intended function of the weapon is done. In 100% of all normal shooting techniques and usages of the weapon, that condition cannot and will not happen. It has never happened.
Cheaper Than Dirt: It’s important to point out that unlike some other firearms that intentionally are rendered inoperable with the magazine removed, the Protector can still fire with the magazine removed.
Phil Cashin: The Protector can still fire the last round. That’s right.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Which has rendered your lifesaving tool useless. Now the Protector is not really designed for combat reloads though?
Phil Cashin: That is correct. The basic thing behind the mag design is, this is not a combat pistol. If a person is carrying a weapon and they feel it is necessary to carry extra magazines, it’s important to remember that ours is a backup gun. It’s a close quarters gun. It’s not a gun that the policeman is going to take into a fire fight or a soldier is going to use in combat. It’s a gun that you are going to use when you are in very close quarters and you know typically you are going to fire one full magazine of ammo. One design that seems to be prevalent on a lot of these .380 is the mag release mechanism. It is a very simple and very inexpensive way of designing it, and one that we actually did consider, but the downside that it presents is the problem of premature mag release.
Cheaper Than Dirt: If I am carrying one of those polymer ones in my pocket, one thing that can happen is that when it is pressed against your body the magazine catch can be depressed. When you go to pull the gun, the magazine just pops out.
Phil Cashin: Yes, and if you really think about that, that is going to happen in that scenario in all weapons nearly ninety nine percent of the time. However, when you get into its intended use in protecting your life in a close quarters situation, the last thing in the world you want to have to worry about is whether or not the magazine is going to be in the weapon when you pull it out.
There are two situations where the magazine can cause a problem. One, like you say that, if you sit on the weapon. The other situation can occur when you are grabbing the weapon to pull it out of your pocket holster or, depending on your state laws, if you are just pulling the weapon out of your pocket and you are doing so in a quick manner because of the situation that you are in. Even if you are just practicing for that potential situation that could occur, your thumb, if you are a right handed shooter, is going to be right where the mag catch is located. On a button type system when you grab the weapon and you are squeezing the weapon to get a good grip on it, and you have adrenaline going through your body and your thumb is right at the location of the mag release button, if you push the button in then you have got either a no shot or, at best, a one shot pistol.
Cheaper Than Dirt: With your design then you are officially basically reducing the number of points of failure.
Phil Cashin: Yes, because ours is not a push button type, it’s a rear slide type. You basically have to slide the mag catch button backwards towards the rear of the receiver. What that does is it pull the notch free so that the magazine could come out. You cannot push down on our mag release button to get the magazine to come out. You actually have to have to take your finger and slide it back.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Did you include a slide lock on the Protector?
Phil Cashin: No there is no slide lock.
Cheaper Than Dirt: And that’s just because of space requirements I assume?
Phil Cashin: For this type of weapon we just didn’t see that it was necessary to have a slide lock or a last round hold-open design.
Cheaper Than Dirt: There is really only one control on the weapon then, and that’s the trigger.
Phil Cashin: That’s correct.
Cheaper Than Dirt: What other new products here we look forward to seeing from Masterpiece Arms?
Phil Cashin: We have our Defender line, and one of the things that we just came out with recently is the Mini 9 Tactical Carbine, which is based on what is probably our most popular Defender, the Mini 9. It has a limited quadrail and it has a low profile fully machined buttstock and comes with a holographic sight and a vertical foregrip. It’s like a tactical package and we introduced that right here at the beginning of the year in the SHOT show.
With the Protector series we are in the process of developing a 9mm version of the .380 Protector.
Cheaper Than Dirt: A big brother to that little 380?
Phil Cashin: That’s correct; yeah it will be slightly larger in size but still have the same in design methods, principles and the look of our Protector series.
Cheaper Than Dirt: We didn’t really talk about it that much, but you also have the Protector available in .32 ACP
Phil Cashin: That’s correct, yeas.
That’s a very small percentage of our sales, and probably not rightfully so. For a female shooter, unless she is quite experienced, the .32 is a more easily controlled round. It has less recoil, and with the new ammunition technology that is out there the .32 can do some damage. I want to be able get one.
Cheaper Than Dirt: As they say, the gun you have is always better than the gun you don’t?
Phil Cashin: That’s absolutely correct.
Cheaper Than Dirt: I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about Masterpiece and some of your new products and explaining a little bit about the Protector line.
Phil Cashin: It’s my pleasure. The basic theme of what we do at Masterpiece is really just the accuracy and the reliability that goes into the manufacturing techniques and the engineering of the products. It really has enhanced the enjoyment of shooting the weapon, especially in our Defender line, and of course there is the reliability of the Protectors.
Cheaper Than Dirt: You have really proven that you know you don’t have to pay you know a whole lot of money to get a really high quality, fully machined, reliable pistol.
Phil Cashin: Our ability to get our manufacturing costs down, to manufacture everything internally, has allowed us to focus on that particular price range. It’s a good price point, and one that we feel comfortable with. We feel we have a slight advantage over a polymer design when it comes to the price, quality, and reliability we can offer.
Cheaper Than Dirt: You know, sometimes people see a gun that’s priced fairly low, and they see that price and think to themselves “That can’t be a high quality firearm.”
How do you deal with that, what do we tell customers when they ask us how MasterPiece Arms can afford to produce a quality arm at such a low price?
Phil Cashin: That’s a great observation. Really how overcome that stigma is just to continue to produce a quality product. By doing that we continue to bolster the good reputation of the weapon. People are going to find problems no matter what, whether it is in that trigger bar issue, or something else. We really have spent an enormous amount of time evaluating the weapon to create practical defensive handgun. If there was anything that had a negative effect on the function of weapon in a defensive situation, we would have changed it.
Outside of that it is just a matter of getting the weapons into the hands of the dealers, distributors, the gun blogs that are out there, and the various gun writers.
Cheaper Than Dirt: We have got our own model of the Protector in .380 and we are going to reviewing it soon as well as posting some videos on it.
Listen, I think that’s about all I have got for you, and I want to thank you again for your time and the insights you’ve given us into MasterPiece Arms and your development of this wonderful little pocket pistol.
Phil Cashin: It’s been a pleasure.
California native Kyle Frasure was the youngest contestant on Season 2 of the History Channel’s reality TV show Top Shot. Kyle grew up in an environment in Southern California that, to be blunt, wasn’t necessarily conducive to acquiring an extensive background in firearms. Despite this, he’s become quite an accomplished shotgun shooter.
Kyle was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and talk to us about his background in international skeet and his experience on Top Shot Season 2.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Let’s start by discussing your background with firearms. Growing up in Southern California, did you have many opportunities to learn to shoot and become familiar with the various shooting disciplines?
Kyle: I grew up in Orange County my whole life. It’s not exactly the warmest climate for the shooting sports. We don’t even have an outdoor shooting range in Orange County. I started out just being fascinated with firearms. My mom would take me to Disney Land and the first thing I’d want to buy would be a little cap gun. She began to realize that this could go a bad way or it could go a good way if I channeled it in that direction. Every time I got good grades on my report card she would take me to an indoor shooting range and get me a pistol lesson or a little rifle lesson with a .22 so that I could learn the safety and respect that sport deserves.
It was a lot of fun for me and made it more of an incentive to do well in school. When I was in 6th grade they got me a .22 caliber bolt action Marlin rifle, a little junior model, for Christmas. That kind of sparked things off. We’d go out every weekend and just kinda plink. At Prado where the 1984 Olympics were held I saw them shooting skeet one day. I was just shocked, it was unreal and I just had to try it.
I bought a gun that day, a 20 gauge Beretta 391, and I got a coach the next week and had my first lesson. Literally from then on it just took off. I was hooked on shotgun shooting. That’s where it started. Then, I went on the sporting clays circuit when I was 12 or 13 years old. I started going around competing in little local matches, little fun shoots you know. It kind of grew from there and I went to Regionals and Nationals and eventually US Open competitions.
Cheaper Than Dirt: You’ve made quite the name for yourself as a shotgun shooter, but have you gained any experience shooting any other competitive shooting disciplines such as USPSA?
Kyle: I haven’t done any rifle. I guess about 5 or 6 years ago I traded one of my competition shotguns for a 1911 and started doing some IPSC stuff. I really had no idea what I was doing though. I’m fortunate enough to be very close to a big organization that does IPSC shoots.
Maggie Reese is actually a member out there in Norco. They were so accepting and willing to help somebody who really had a desire to learn. I went out there a couple of times and had a lot of fun. I could never really say that I was competing or that I was nearly competitive.
Cheaper Than Dirt: You’re an accomplished shotgun shooter, and you obviously have a well rounded background, but I’m curious what prompted you to go through the trouble of putting together an audition video and filling out the lengthy application for the chance to be a contestant on Top Shot?
Kyle: You know, I don’t know. I watched the first season, and I really fell in love with the show. I watched it religiously, DVRed the whole thing and re-watched episodes. At the time I thought that I was really growing to know these characters. Since then I’ve realized I knew absolutely nothing about them from watching the show, but that was kinda cool.
I saw the last episode where they said “If you know of any shooters, or if you are a shooter yourself, amateur or otherwise, send in this application.”
My girlfriend is actually the one who said “You ought to try this,” and then upon looking into it I found it was this long 7 page application with all of these little mini-essays, and then you have to do the video. I realized that it was going to be a lot of work in order to just have a 1 in 7,000 shot at being on the show, but I did it anyway.
I’ve got a buddy who does wedding videos, and he was able to help me out and kinda get a video out in one day. It was kinda just a shot in the dark really.
Cheaper Than Dirt: But you had a leg up with a bit of professional production.
Kyle: Kinda, yeah. It’s a cool video, and he did a really good job. But actually, the producers and the casting people called me based on the application itself and said “Hey, we’re really interested, but we’d really like to see a video.”
So I told them “Well, I already sent one in. Do I need to send another one?”
They replied “Oh? We haven’t seen it yet,” so it was really different having a 23-year old kid sending in an application from California, especially in this area of California. I guess I bring something different to the shooting sports, something they were really looking forward towards exploring that option.
Cheaper Than Dirt: When you went to the audition then, you already knew Maggie Reese from USPSA?
Kyle: I did not. I knew a lot of the people out there that shot with her, but she does so many national level shoots that when I went out there, the few times that I did at first, she was out doing other things. Jojo Vidanes was actually the guy who really showed me the ropes. He’s a great guy.
So, at the audition, I didn’t know Maggie but I did know a few of the shotgun guys from Texas, but I didn’t know any other people really.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Where you surprised to get the call back from the producers asking you to be on the show?
Kyle: Really, I knew that the people who I was competing against to get on the show were going to be the young guys. I obviously wasn’t going to go and beat out a guy who was an Air Force sniper. We weren’t even going for the same spot. It really just boiled down to 5 guys, the young shooters who they needed for the show.
I had a feeling, the interview went so well with the producers, there was a good chance, but you’re obviously waiting on pins and needles the whole week. It was kinda funny, I was going out one night, it was like 8 o’clock and I got the call. It was such a relief, but then you start thinking “What the hell did I just get myself into?”
Cheaper Than Dirt: It’s a big decision to go into, knowing that you’ll be isolated for weeks at a time with no contact with the outside world, no radio, no TV, no cell phones, nothing.
Kyle: We didn’t know any of that up front. They really keep that information close to the vest. We get the call that we’re going to do it, and then they say “We’ll send you more information.” We didn’t know when we were leaving, how long we’d be gone, or what kind of contact we would have with the outside world. I didn’t know if I’d have internet access so I could pay bills or anything.
You get given information piece-mill, but I guess that’s just how it works. We found out we were going to be gone for 6 weeks, and this was right before the holidays. We’d have no phone, no internet, no radio, no letters, no contact with anybody. At that point your mind starts troubleshooting the actual logistics of living your life away from your actual life.
It was exciting and exhilarating and… Kind of frightening at the same time.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Tell us about preparing for the show. You saw Season 1 and had a rough idea about what types of challenges you would be faced with. Did you do any type of practice or preparation with other weapons to get ready for the show?
Kyle:Yeah, I have throwing knives which I just keep around for fun. But yes, I did, I don’t do a lot of high power rifle because we just don’t have the facilities to do 1,000 yard shots around here, but I picked up a .308 and a .30-30 cowboy gun, just to familiarize myself with the weapon platforms more than anything.
I obviously wasn’t going to master cowboy shooting or long distance rifle shooting in the week that I had to practice. Frankly, I couldn’t afford to go out and shoot as much as I wanted to practice either. It was a lot of picking up things I hadn’t normally shot before. I picked up the throwing knives again and shot some double action revolvers that I really never do because it’s so outside of my purview.
I did a little bit of preparation, but you just don’t know what’s going to happen. I have a bow and I shot that a little bit, but I knew that in that week of time that I wasn’t going to become an expert in any of these things. Really it was just getting comfortable with them again.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Moving onto the show itself, the producers really kinda just threw ya’ll into a kind of “trial by fire” with the first challenge. No warning, nobody was really expecting to shoot that day, and then BAM! You’re told that you’re shooting your first challenge.
Kyle: It was a crazy feeling. We were in a van for 3 days. It was raining and cold, and every second of sunshine was taken up by us trying to film something before the first rain came in. Then we’d get back in these blacked out vans and just wait for hours.
We weren’t really allowed to talk to each other yet. The entire show was trying to struggle between relaxing, being bored, and then trying to figure out what you’re doing. Then, all of the sudden, you’re in competition mode.
When you go on a shoot, whether it is shotgun, rifle, pistol, or whatever, you go to a range and you know what you’re getting yourself into. You know the mental preparation that it’s going to take to do well and to compete against all of these other people, but when you’re in this social setting, which is really what it was inside the house, we were all just goofing off and having fun, not knowing what you’re going to shoot and not knowing what’s going on and then all of the sudden you get a phone call saying “Hey, it’s 9:15, get in the van in 15 minutes, you’re going to shoot.”
It was the same thing when Colby said that. You didn’t know what we were shooting, and we weren’t mentally prepared. It really took a lot of people by surprise.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Let’s talk about the Blue Team that was selected by Jay after shooting the Sharps rifle. How did your background affect your role within the team?
Kyle: Well, I got along with Jay really well right out of the gate. He and I are very close to each other geographically. We live nearby each other and shoot at the same ranges. We also both shoot International Skeet, which is something that neither of us knew going in that there was another guy who shot such an esoteric sport.
It was really cool, Jermaine, Daryl, Ashley, these military guys with extensive backgrounds in that sort of thing, and then to have the dichotomy of having Chris and myself, we really had a well rounded team I felt. We had a well oiled team, we had all of our bases covered, and the dynamics were really really good in the beginning.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Your performance on the show really wasn’t that bad. You obviously were not the most skilled shooter on the team, but neither were you someone who could easily be dismissed. Many of the early episodes we see the team dynamic play a much more important role than the performance of any individual. Was it difficult to find your role within the team and to figure out what unique skills you brought to the table and how you could help the team the most?
Kyle: Absolutely. Out of the gate we shot the .45-70 Sharps rifle. It was a 200 yard shot, something that I don’t do a whole lot. Really, there were a lot of missed shots. The fact that Jay hit it and Ashley didn’t or George didn’t, that was kind of a fluke. There were not any elimination challenges that were going to come as a result of how well or how poorly you did there.
Then with the 1911 with the pool balls, that was really really tough. That was not something that I had claimed to be an expert in. The fact that you’re just going up there, you’re not prepared mentally, and I think Chris Tilley said it best when he said that he just “wasn’t in it,” because you can’t mentally wrap your head around what you’re going to do because you don’t have enough information.
I really struggled in the beginning. I struggled with the 1911, I struggled with the Police Positive in the paintball episode, and I don’t know what the turning point was really, but at the bow and arrow challenge, which is much more suited to a shotgun shooter in that you’re shooting more instinctively with both eyes open, for some reason everything began to fall into place.
I realized “Hey, I do deserve to be here. I am a good shooter in my own right. Let’s just have fun with it.”
Cheaper Than Dirt: One thing that everyone we’ve spoken to has mentioned, both from Season 1 and Season 2, is that despite how heated things may have gotten on the set, despite the intense competitions, and perhaps because of those same things, that they all came out of the experience with very strong friendships with all of the other participants.
Kyle: I absolutely had the same experience. Since the show has come out, and since the editing has been done, there has been a story line built around specific characters that may or may not accurately depict how they really are in real life, I feel like it’s been a full time job defending these guys, because they really are such good people.
A lot of people will say that “George is such a @#$! He’s got to go!” But I mean come on, he’s really just absolutely amazing. Or they will think that some guy is really arrogant, but I know that they are the most humble guy I’ve met in my entire life. How he come’s across that way is beyond me. Really, the coolest thing about the entire experience, yes we got to shoot some really cool scenarios with some great weapons platforms and all that, but the coolest thing about the whole thing is that I got to meet so many people who come from such a different background, who have a different mindset.
I’m 23, a lot of these guys are much older. The fact that they were able to break down their defenses and really open up to someone like me, or someone like Jay, or really anyone else in the house, was really cool.
You’re in this house with no outside stimulation, and all you have is each other. You have to get along. Getting to know them on such a personal level and becoming such good friends was the absolute best thing about the entire experience.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Let’s go back to something you just mentioned about the editing, the story lines, and the way the show is put together. IT does seem that through the casting process that they are really looking for talented shooters with the right personality to fill a certain character role that they have picked out. You mentioned that you were really only competing for the role of the young talented city slicker.
Cheaper Than Dirt: We’ve seen the stoic military guy and the extremely specialized competition shooter, but there does seem to be in every season a person or two who are cast and edited to appear as the heel, as the adversary that the viewers are not supposed to like. For many viewers Jay Lim seems to fill that role in Season 2. What was your experience with Jay like? Is the editing accurate, and does he deserve that role that it seems he’s been cast into?
Kyle: Jay and I met, we’d never known each other before, but we first met in LA after we both realized that we were on the show. I had recognized him from the 50 people who went out for the final selection process. We started talking and realized that we lived only 20 miles away from each other, we go to the same ranges, and we had a lot in common.
He’s an academic, I’m an academic, and we just really hit it off. I would say that, without a doubt, he was my best friend on the show. We were buddies. I helped him devise his list for the team selection. We were very close. He respected my opinion, I respected his. He’s an awesome guy.
That being said, he has some quirks. Obviously those are exaggerated on the show through editing, but I had an awesome experience with him. We hang out together every week. We’ve gone to Vegas together. Would I want to live together with him ever again? Probably not, but I love hanging out with the guy. His family is awesome, he’s got an adorable little baby, and he’s just a great guy.
I didn’t get any of those negative vibes and, to be honest, the reason he came across so poorly to some of the Red Team members is that he’s just out there. The best way to describe him would is that he’s a systems guy. He thinks very systematically about how everything is supposed to work out. If it doesn’t, he gets confused or just mentally breaks down. With social dynamics, he can’t factor those into his system. The Red Team didn’t trust him, they didn’t understand him.
Towards the end however, I think that Eric and George and Jamie especially really opened up to him and consider him as much a friend as anybody else.
Cheaper Than Dirt: We saw some resistance from the Blue Team, some push back against Jay, to the extent that he was sent up for elimination. Still, he’s showed time and time again that when it counts, he’s able to make the shots.
Kyle: He’s a great athlete is what it really comes down to. He taught himself to play golf and became a professional golfer in just a year. That’s something that most people can’t do. He picks up a gun and he’s naturally able to bio-mechanically break down the motions and figure out exactly what he needs to do to hit the target. It may be unorthodox, it may not be everybody else’s style, and it may be a style from 30 years ago with his cup and saucer technique that has been lambasted on some of the online forums.
He’s unorthodox, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that in these team practice sessions you only get like, 12 rounds of ammunition. It’s not like you’re out there all day shooting cases and cases of ammo. You get rationed, literally sometimes only 4 rounds of ammo. Have fun with 25 rounds of .45 ammo! It’s not like you can overhaul somebody’s style or teach an old dog new tricks with those few rounds. He was going to revert back to whatever he knew in the heat of competition, so he might as well practice that and get to know the gun and where his point of impact is rather than adjusting his technique or style.
He made it happen in a number of those challenges just based on his pure natural ability. He’s not a professional shooter. I’m not sure he would even consider himself an amateur shooter. He’s a recreational shooter. He really did a lot better than everyone expected, and I think that is part of what drove all of the hate towards him.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Very interesting point of view there. Let’s move on and talk about this week’s episode. These were some of the most difficult challenges presented so far during Season 2.
Kyle: We came off of the most recent 1911 challenge two episodes ago, and I really felt like I finally was able to master that gun. I did really well on that one and felt confident in the way I was able to help my team. I did well on the last episodes with the tomahawks. We lost Chris Tilley and that was unfortunate, but it’s part of the game.
This last episode, we didn’t know what we were going to shoot. I kept thinking, “When are we going to see a shotgun?” I just wanted to finally show that I was worth my weight on this team. I want to be able to finally show off a little bit. Then we got to practice and it was three pistols. We had just sent home our last pistol shooter, and we show up to practice and it’s trick shooting.
There are a lot of exhibition shotgun shooters out there. It plays well to the technique and skills that a shotgun shooter possesses. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be shooting a pistol again, but the practice went well. The lollipop, I felt that I did the best out of our team, which was kind of a surprise to everybody, the Red Team especially.
It was a lot of fun. It was very very difficult. Those precision shots, with these guns in particular, a lot of people think “Well, I have a .357 Ruger here at the house, I can do that with my eyes closed.”
These guns are literally out of the back of a truck from some armorer. These are not competition guns. It was really really difficult. The first time we handled a double action trigger was the first episode when Chris Tilley went up against Travis Marsh with a .44 Magnum. He came back to the house and he said “I can’t shoot this gun! We’ll go from a 5lb trigger to an 8lb trigger in back to back shots. It’s such an inconsistent trigger pull.”
We got to the practice stage with the .357 Magnum and we were shooting our non-dominant hand. Shooting with your non-dominant hand is extremely difficult, people try to master this in all the pistol sports, but when you have a gun that seems to literally have a three-stage variable weight trigger it is just awful.
There was one time when I literally couldn’t pull the trigger back. It got stuck on the second stage and it was like a 25 pound pull. I told them “This trigger, something’s wrong with the hammer. You have a problem with the sear or the hammer, something’s up.” Ashley got up and he had the same problem, and we just shut it down. We weren’t shooting that gun.
We didn’t have a gunsmith on there. We had an armorer, and in his defense he did a very good job with what he was given. The next season, from what I hear, are going to be absolutely 100% better. They’re getting a bunch of sponsorships and it should be a lot of fun to watch. But yes, it was difficult getting results from the weapons we were given, not to make excuses, but it was difficult.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Top Shot is about being able to overcome and adapt using whatever you are given, and at the end of the day the competitor who is able to do that the best is the one who will prevail.
Kyle: I really think that’s what did a lot of the professional pistol shooters in. You know, all of the professional pistol shooters, Maggie, Athena, Chris, John Guida even though he’s not a professional he shoots at that level, they were all so honed with their match guns. They were talking about guns with a trigger pull measured in ounces, with optics and compensators, chambered in .38 super and other calibers with absolutely no recoil.
Then they’re given a 1911 GI model that is literally brand new, with an 8-9 pound trigger, and the entire thing is totally different. Yes, it’s the same basic platform they’re shooting, but this is a totally different gun. It’s like a baseball player with bat with a very specific weight. If you give them a bat that is a few ounces heavier or a few ounces lighter, their rhythm is off and their timing is off. Their swing is totally different.
I really think that is what hampered these professional pistol shooters who literally had just come back from the USPSA Nationals. There was not time to practice with these bare bones GI model guns.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Talking about the team challenge in this week’s episode, it seemed like everyone really seemed to struggle with it. You were left with shooting the vertical plates with both hands at the same time. It’s challenging enough just to get both hammers to fall simultaneously on a double action revolver, but to to be able to also aim at targets on the left and on the right at the same time, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could pull it off.
Kyle: It really was difficult. During the team challenge, Ashley felt like he would feel more comfortable shooting the corn cob pipes, even though I had done better in practice and would do a better job in that particular stage. So, I took on the two-handed simultaneous firing vertical rack.
It was extremely challenging, especially with those triggers which were so inconsistent, all compounded by the fact that I’m blind in my left eye. So, it wasn’t like I could use my left eye to aim that one and get a proper sight picture and my right to do the same on the other side. There was no simultaneous sight alignment, I had to move my head.
Of course, when you move your head to the left, your right hand is doing whatever it wants to do as it is affected by wind, gravity, whatever. Getting them to fire at the same time is difficult enough, but combined with the fact that I couldn’t get a sight picture at the same time, made it nearly impossible.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Still, despite all of that, you did hit a pair of plates.
Kyle: I did, I hit the first two simultaneously and got a point, the next pair I hit the right one, and then hit the right one again. After the first pair I was never able to hit the left one again.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Ashley had a pretty poor performance during that challenge. Jay Lim also struggled and didn’t hit a single plate, and he indicated that he felt that he would be sent with Ashley to the elimination challenge. I think there was some confusion among the viewers, myself includes, as to why you were picked on the nomination range to go to the elimination challenge. Was there something behind the scenes that we missed?
Kyle: I knew 100% that I was going to be nominated. We had a breakdown about the 4th episode, and it didn’t come across, for once, as dramatically as it happened. It was the episode where Jermaine and Jay went to the elimination challenge, and Jermaine was supposed to choose whoever he wanted to go to the elimination with.
I knew that if Jermaine were to choose anybody, more than likely it was going to be me. Just for self preservation and because I didn’t perform well in the first two challenges.
Cheaper Than Dirt: And of course he did choose you.
Kyle: He did, but then Daryl stepped up and chose Jay and forced a shoot off, and then Jay ended up going. I was kind of saved by the skin of my teeth. When we got back to the house, it really boiled over. Daryl and Jay got into it, we all got into it. We didn’t leave our little room until we hashed things out. We were there for over an hour. There was some serious heat being thrown back and forth. Jay thought he was being undercut by Daryl, didn’t trust the team, thought he the whole team had kinda rebelled against him.
We got to the point where there was a mutual understanding of what happened, and what needed to happen moving forward. From that point on, we never left the room without knowing who was going to elimination. There was no doubt in our mind, we knew who exactly was shooting who’s target, but obviously they weren’t going to show that however because it would ruin the show.
We knew who was going up and who was going to fire on my target.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Right, and none of the viewers of this week’s episode saw that. Walk us through the logic, what happened behind the scenes that led to your nomination?
Kyle: I knew that I didn’t perform well in the first two team challenges. I knew that I had gone to one elimination when I had done better than Ashley or some of the other people. I took that as an indication that I had redeemed myself for one of my poor performances at the very beginning. I still had one more to make up for, in my head, how I was thinking.
I didn’t do terribly well. I tied Daryl, but then Daryl had that phenomenal shot with the splitting of the bullet on the axe, so we weren’t going to send him. Really it was left between myself, Ashley, and Jay. Ashley nominated himself, he was going to go regardless. At that point it just came down to myself and Jay.
I won’t say that Jay carries the team, but he performs well in every single challenge. He did phenomenally well, and this was the first challenge where he didn’t do so well, but he was also given the toughest shot. Each one of his shots was worth three times what ours were worth. Obviously it was a difficult shot, and while he didn’t hit any, it was the hardest shot and he’d done so well in all of the previous challenges that, by process of elimination, it became me and Ashley.
And I was totally fine with that. I was OK going up against Ashley, I had the utmost respect for the guys despite what is being said online about him calling me out and throwing me under the bus. Whatever, the guy is amazing, and there is a whole other story behind that as well.
I was confident. I felt that my skill set would be well suited for the challenge, and I felt like we would be evenly matched.
I also felt like the challenge might be with a shotgun, because in the last season and the exhibition shots, they used a shotgun. I wasn’t sure they would do that again, but I thought “Wouldn’t that be cool if it actually was?” so I was kinda holding out for that. Obviously it wasn’t, but I felt confident going in. I didn’t feel like my team had backstabbed me. It just kinda happened by process of elimination and I was cool with that.
Cheaper Than Dirt: You showed up to the practice session for the elimination challenge, and Taran Butler is standing there next to this big contraption, and he tells you that you’re going to be hanging upside down, did you have any confidence that you’d still be able to pull off a win?
Kyle: Absolutely. The whole thing about Top Shot is to be as prepared as you possibly can be for whatever is going to be thrown at you. You kinda have to laugh it off and have fun with it. Ashley and I were in the bus, we’re riding to the ranch to shoot, and we don’t know what we’re shooting or in what scenario and what the targets will be, we’re literally like two buddies going to the range having a good time.
That’s really what it was at that moment. We were standing there, still not knowing what we’d be shooting, just prepping for the filming and whatnot, and we kinda got a glimpse of the frame and wondered “What is that?”
We saw targets 25 yards away, so we knew it would be a pistol, that much was obvious by the way it was set up, and you’re just thinking to yourself “What the hell is going on?”
We couldn’t see who the expert was, but then we walked up and they told us “You’re going to be upside down.”
I have never shot upside down. There isn’t really a safe way to do it, really, at a range. I was very excited, and I had a lot of confidence. Ashley is a big, big lumbering guy, but this isn’t particularly suited for CQB tactics or Special-Ops stuff. It really is more suited for my particular skill set.
Cheaper Than Dirt: As you said, very few people have ever fired a gun upside down. What did you have to do to be able to make the shots?
Kyle: Many people have said “Oh, that doesn’t look that difficult. It’s just like shooting a regular target, but upside down.”
OK, well, that’s cool, but you have to imagine how gravity works on every single muscle you use when holding a gun. When you’re holding a gun while standing upright on your feet, you’re lifting with your arms and using your shoulders, forearms, and those groups of muscles. When you’re upside down, you’re actually pulling the gun instead of lifting. It’s the other way around.
All of the muscles that your using are muscles that you don’t normally use when you’re shooting. All of your control muscles are different. The sight picture is also disorienting. The entire thing is completely the opposite, you’ve got blood rushing to your head, you’re losing concentration, you can’t really breathe because your abs are trying to support you and keep you taught, and so all of these muscles are constricting and working hard, which is the complete opposite of how you shoot a successful shot where you would relax and use a smooth and easy trigger squeeze.
That’s not what you can do while upside down. It’s quite the opposite.
Cheaper Than Dirt: When shooting while standing upright, gravity also helps to mitigate the recoil by pulling the pistol back down after the muzzle blast pushes it back and upwards. While upside down, gravity makes the recoil much, much worse.
Kyle: The recoil control was another thing that made it insanely hard. The transitions were harder because the recoil was so much affected by gravity. Pulling the gun up to get it back on target when hanging upside down than it is when standing upright. Like I said, that makes the transitions a lot harder.
You really have to get it out of your head that you’re upside down and just mentally tell yourself that you can do this, that this can be done, and that you’re going to hit the target.
Cheaper Than Dirt: During the challenge itself, Ashley had a flawless run. He hit every single bottle. On your run going into it, did you feel confident that you could do the same?
Kyle: I did. I didn’t know his score. We weren’t able to see each other shoot. I had no idea that he had a flawless run. When I got back up to the set everything had been cleaned up and reset for me to go. I had no idea how well he did.
You just don’t know, so you get up there and you just tell yourself that you’re going to hit every single one of these targets. Obviously my pistol shooting wasn’t the best in the previous challenges, so I just told myself that I’d go up there and do my best.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Not knowing how Ashley did, you had to feel pretty good hitting 5 out of 6 then. There was no let down when you had that one miss.
Kyle: Oh, absolutely not. I felt really really good. Looking back, I was actually 6 or 7 seconds faster than Ashley, and the tie breaker was time. You have 6 shots, the chance of a tie is actually pretty great. I knew that I had to be quick, but also be accurate. Hitting 5 out of 6, I was pretty pleased with that.
I actually thought that I had won. You know, the chances of him hitting 6 out of 6, I didn’t expect him to do so well. I never thought he would have a perfect run.
Cheaper Than Dirt: If you’re going to be sent home however, that’s the way you’d want it done. For your competitor to have a flawless run.
Kyle: That’s exactly how it should have happened. If you’re going to beat me, you’d better be perfect. I couldn’t be mad about it, I couldn’t be resentful. I really was very very happy that he one in those circumstances, under those conditions, and with that score.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Given the chance to do it all again, would you take the opportunity?
Kyle: In a heartbeat. When I left, I don’t know if my answer would be the same, because you go through so much. There is so much boredom and you miss your family and friends. You miss the comfort of your own home and your own life, and you want some type of music of stimulation. When you’re on the show you don’t know the news, you don’t know anything, so getting out of there was actually kinda nice.
It was nice to watch TV or have a beer, or any of those things that you do in your day to day life. Looking back now, and being in that house with those guys, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. It was a great experience and I take away fifteen lifelong friends. It was awesome, I loved it.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Top Shot has done a phenomenal job of introducing people who may have never been exposed to the shooting sports to how fun, exciting, and safe they can be. California, where you live, is not well known for being very accepting of hunters and shooters in general. What more can we do, how can we leverage the foothold that Top Shot has given us to help to bring the shooting sports back into the mainstream?
Kyle: Even before I was on Top Shot, I really thought of myself as an ambassador for the shooting sports. I’m young, I’m not the typical looking shooter, and I think that allows people to talk to me in a different way, and I think that allows people to talk to me in a different way than if I were to be, say, wearing camouflage and open carrying an AR-15.
I went to UCLA in Los Angeles, which is arguably the most restrictive city, in addition to New York, DC, Chicago and San Francisco, which might be slightly more restrictive, but L.A. is very very restrictive. They do not issue any concealed carry permits whatsoever, except under extreme circumstances. I really do see myself as an ambassador for the shooting sports.
Everyone I meet and talk to, whether it be a political discussion or social discussion, at some point it always seems that shooting gets brought up. They’ll ask “What do you do?” And I’ll reply that I shoot competitively, and then their curiosity is piqued and the conversation just goes from there. They’ll want to know “How did you get into that?” and they’re so fascinated.
I’ve really taken it upon myself, whether it is co-workers or my friends or family members, to take them out shooting. Just take them out, have fun, and hit some targets, just so they can realize that:
A) Gun toting Americans are not uneducated or carrying guns and causing harm and being violent with them. The number of people who commit violent crimes with firearms are so few, and they are blown far out of proportion by the media. It has really been my mission to spread the word that gun ownership is your right and can also be seen as part of your duty to protect yourself and your family.
B) Gun ownership can be fun and enjoyable. It can be a way to bring families together and have a fun experience. I didn’t get the chance to shoot with my mom that much, but I shot with my dad and that really brought us together. It really solidified our relationship through what can only be described as turbulent adolescent times. I think there is a lot to be said for having a safe, recreational, shooting foundation within a family.
Cheaper Than Dirt: We talked earlier about your childhood growing up in Southern California and how your parents dealt with your early fascination with firearms. I’m sure there are many parents out there who have children who are fascinated with hunting, shooting, or firearms in general. Many parents see these activities and this fascination with guns and come to the conclusion that their children are social deviants, that they are violent, or have some mental disorder. What would you tell those parents out there whose children have expressed an interest in guns and shooting?
Kyle: I think, to go back just a little bit, that there are going to be far, far more kids out there who are interested in shooting. With video games that emphasize military actions or even competition shooting video games, there are going to be many more kids out there who have an interest in firearms and want to shoot guns.
If you don’t give them a direction with that interest, there is a very good chance that when they do encounter that firearm, whether they find one or their friends take them to their parent’s house and they see a gun, there is no education behind them. All they know is what they saw on a video game.
Any parent who has a child interested in shooting at all really needs to educate them. At some point in time they are going to encounter a firearm, and it’s important to teach them what to do when they do.
The Eddie Eagle program through the NRA is a phenomenal program, and I’ve actually taken part in teaching that program to a lot of young shotgun shooters in Orange County with my coach. It’s a great program and any parent out there should look into it. It’s free, and you can find literature about it online.
Give your child an opportunity to shoot in a safe environment, give them lessons, teach them the respect of owning a firearm, and the respect needed to shoot it responsibly. I couldn’t emphasize this more: education is the key behind any firearm legislation moving forward.
Cheaper Than Dirt: Those are some very profound insights, and I want to thank you for taking the time to share them with us. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.
Kyle: By all means, I appreciate having the opportunity.
As we approach the launch of the first episode of Down Zero TV, here at the Shooter’s Log you’re getting a first look at one of the main guns we’ll be using on Down Zero TV. This year, Sig re-booted the P250 line by adding a variety of new grip frames to the line. For only $45, you can have a large, medium, or small grip frame for your Sig P250. The guns also come in three barrel sizes, from sub-compact with it’s 3.5 inch barrel, compact with a 4ish-inch barrel, to the pictured full-size gun which has a 5 inch barrel. Each barrel size can be shared with the different size grip frames, creating a platform that can be interchanged to fit your needs.
But the really neat thing about the P250 is the modularity of the system – it’s really like LEGO for grownups. The trigger group is the serialized part on the P250, meaning that in the eyes of the ATF, the only “gun” is the trigger group, and you can buy and ship frames at will. My P250 is a 9mm for IDPA SSP and Bianchi Cup Production division, but if I wanted to change it up to a .40 S&W for Limited-10, I could simply buy a caliber exchange kit and some .40 mags and be off to the races.
Right now, we’re waiting on holsters for the P250. That’s currently the only major drawback to the gun. When Sig relaunched it, they changed the rail system on the front so that many of the previous holsters no longer fit the gun; that means that you have to be very careful with your holster selection or risk having a holster that straight up won’t fit your gun. For Down Zero TV, we’re going to try a cross-section of leather and kydex holsters for the P250, to help owners out there get an idea of what is going to work well for their gun.
While the Sig P250 hasn’t endured a severe round count yet – its partner in the tests is going to be the Sig 1911 Tactical Operations I’ve been talking about at Gun Nuts. The Sig was literally picked up from the FFL on Tuesday, and once we get holsters in for it you can expect to see a lot more of the P250 out on the range.
Viewers of Season 2 of Top Shot on the History Channel saw J.J. Racaza and Blake Miguez make a surprise appearance on the show a few weeks ago. Between his day job at the Department of Homeland Security and his time spent competing and practicing for the upcoming World Championships J.J. has a very busy schedule, but we managed to catch up with him and talk about his experience coming back onto the show as a speed shooting expert.
Cheaper Than Dirt: What have you been up to since we last spoke back in August of 2010 when you were eliminated on Season 1 of Top Shot?
J.J. I actually got engaged!
I’ve been trying to communicate with all of the supportive people out there and at the same time try to prepare for the World Championships this year. I have two of them lined up actually. There’s the IPSC World Championship and then the World Speed Shooting Championship is coming up in August.
Cheaper Than Dirt: You’ve won the World Speed Shooting Championship in the past. Will you be defending your title?
J.J. No, I actually lost the title last year. In Limited, iron sights, I lost my title from a stupid jam on the last stage.
Cheaper Than Dirt: What a disappointment. We’re all hoping you can win it back this year.
J.J. I’m hoping for it. I’m definitely going to go for it this year, in both divisions, Open and Limited.
Cheaper Than Dirt We’ve talked to nearly all of the Top Shot competitors as they have been eliminated from the show, just as we did during Season 1, and it seems like you’ve been quite the driving force in motivating a number of top level shooters to apply for the show.
J.J. *chuckles* Why do you say that?
Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s see… We’ve got Athena, Jermaine, and Maggie, just to name a few, all of whom said you encouraged them to try out.
J.J. *laughs* That’s good. The show was a positive experience for me last year. They saw how it could turn out to be a good thing, a great thing actually, to be recognized in that manner and to showcase your skills out there. People really gave me a lot of credit, which I don’t think I deserved. It was really just being in the right place at the right time I guess, but it’s nice to hear that they called me and appreciated my influence to get them to go on the show.
Cheaper Than Dirt It was great to see USPSA and IPSC represented on there, as well as another Filipino-American. We love to see that level of diversity as we bring the shooting sports back into the mainstream. What else can we as fans of the 2nd Amendment, as hunters, gun owners, and shooting sports competitors, do to help bring the shooting sports further into the limelight?
J.J. You know what, to tell you the truth, it’s a good start with Top Shot to bring out every type of shooting discipline into the mainstream. The biggest thing I noticed ever since Top Shot is that there are a whole lot of disciplines out there, and we don’t know each other. Even though one person may be in the top echelon in their field, like Kelly was number one in long range rifle but, you know, I didn’t know much about him.
We definitely need to get people together a little bit more. If we do that it will give us more recognition in the mainstream. Getting it on TV was definitely a huge help.
Cheaper Than Dirt What Top Shot really does is bring together the different shooting disciplines.
J.J. Correct. I totally agree with that. That’s it.
I mean, there’s a lot of difference between pistol shooters and rifle shooters, even IDPA and USPSA shooters, there is a lot of friction between each other. Instead of going against each other, why don’t we support each other? We’re all in the same field, but we’re all at the same time only interested in our own little discipline.
Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about the show for a bit now. How did you wrangle your way back onto Season 2 as an expert?
J.J. You know, I was very fortunate. I was just in the right place at the right time during the first season. They knew what Blake and I could do, and we talked about it a lot. We wouldn’t shut up about it throughout the whole entire Season 1, on how we’d love to showcase our skills. I was fortunate to make it far enough to make it to that dueling tree and then make it look good.
They saw that and they saw the huge disparity on the skill level with the pistol, in both accuracy and speed, so in a sense their eyes were opened. They had no idea what my specialty was, I just told them “pistol.”
So, they called me and asked “Hey, what can you bring? Do you have a gun that looks like a 1911? That’s what we want to showcase.”
I said “I have the perfect gun for it,” and I told them “The 2011 is basically the 1911 on steroids,” and they used that line over and over on TV.
Cheaper Than Dirt Tell us a little bit more about the gun. This was the Razorcat made by Limcat, correct?
J.J. Yes. My sponsor gave me an opportunity since I was getting a lot of orders through them asking for my gun, and he didn’t have a gun specifically made for me. He asked me, “Hey, would you like to have a gun specifically for you?”
I told him “Definitely,” and so we started designing. He gave me about 5 or 6 designs with a compensator and we worked with it, test fired it, and came up with this. He asked me what color I wanted and I went with simple black and white. That black and white really stands out, I didn’t realize how it was going to turn out.
It was amazing watching it on there. It was almost a tear jerker for my parents to see that my gun was showcased on national cable television.
Cheaper Than Dirt Take us behinds the scenes now. We’ve talked with Athena and Maggie, both accomplished competitors who have shot with you on the national circuit. Everyone was so disappointed to see them go, especially when we saw that you and Blake would be back on the show. What was it like, you and Blake sitting in the hotel lobby, and seeing Maggie walk in through the door when you knew you were going to be on the show the next day?
J.J. You know, I was really hoping that I’d have a few friends out there. There were maybe 4 or 5 that I knew out there. Jermaine actually used to work with me at D.H.S. and I was looking forward to meeting them out there and seeing how they would react, because they had no idea. I was in the dark though, I had no idea how people were doing.
I was sitting there in the hotel lobby with Blake, we were just so excited, and we see Maggie come walking in and my heart just dropped. I couldn’t wait for them to showcase their skills because I knew it came early for them in the competition. Then I found out that Athena was gone, my boy Finks was gone, and Maggie was eliminated.
Maggie saw us and said “I was told what you guys were going to be doing, and I’m so mad!” You could actually look at her and see the disappointment on her place.
It touched me a little bit, and Blake and I looked at each other and asked “Who’s left? Because I don’t know…”
Now it looked like all the IPSC shooters where gone-
Cheaper Than Dirt Well, you had Chris Tilley still in.
J.J. Correct, but I didn’t know that Chris Tilley was still in. I actually had news for Chris Tilley at that point, because he had made the US Team, as the 4th place guy on the US Team. I asked the producers “Hey, can I tell him?” but they wouldn’t allow me to tell him. Being there, it was very hard to keep my mouth shut.
Cheaper Than Dirt How frustrating! And on top of that, unfortunately we saw him eliminated just a few episodes later, and now almost all of our USPSA and IPSC shooters are gone.
J.J. I think Kyle actually had some experience in the USPSA, he told me during the show.
Cheaper Than Dirt Top Shot is about being able to adapt to any weapon and do so quickly. Do you think the level of training in that particular specialization can actually handicap competitors on the show?
J.J. You know, I’ve looked at it, and I’ve thought about it, and it looks like it could work both ways. When I went in there I had all the confidence in the world that I would be able to pick up anything and translate it to the way I shoot my pistol. But you get there and they give you something that you’ve never seen before, never even heard of before, and they tell you that you’ve got 5 round to zero the weapon.
In a sense, it’s basically problem solving. Your specialty skill can help you with the confidence, but when they give you an unknown weapon you had better be able to figure it out, and you’d better have some good problem solving skills because that’s what Top Shot is. It’s about figuring out what you’re given and making the best out of it.
Cheaper Than Dirt What was it like to go back on there as an expert, to be on the other side of the fence? You don’t have anything on the line, you don’t have the stress of being up for elimination, and you get to watch things from the sidelines.
J.J. There are two ways to answer this. I’ve always had two answers for this.
Being out there as an expert with nothing on the line, just coaching and watching these guys compete was an amazing experience. Sitting out there, not as a cast member, but at the same time being a part of the crew, they treat us a lot different. We were no longer blind, we were constantly given the heads up. We were kinda roaming on our own schedule.
But when it came to competition, Blake and I kinda looked at each other, and I said “I’m not a bench player. I want to get out there!” It felt like it was the 4th quarter and we’re down by 6, and I’m sitting on the bench because the coach wouldn’t put me in.
I wanted to take over. The competition part of me wanted to go and help out and do something other than the coaching part of it. It was just torture.
Cheaper Than Dirt You probably have some sympathies towards the Blue Team, given that you were on that team in Season 1.
J.J. I was. Obviously my loyalty is with the Blue Team. I went up there and I looked at the Blue Team and it looked like they were struggling. They had less people than the Red Team. I actually said during the show “I wish I was on the Blue Team again.”
Once you start to meet the group and the cast, I started pulling for the Red Team. They had a lot more character it seemed like. The Blue Team, it seemed like they were all disheveled. Speaking to the team members one at a time, it seemed like they were all against each other. There was not that camaraderie that we had in the first season.
Cheaper Than Dirt In interviewing the team members as they are eliminated, we’ve seen that there are some serious problems popping up here and there in the team dynamic. As anyone who has been on the show can tell you, it’s critically important to be able to pull together as a team to win the team challenges and stay safe from elimination.
J.J. That’s it. Now that I get to think about it, in hindsight, you don’t need to be the best at one challenge. At the same time, you can’t be the worst. You just have to cruise through and make the team as strong as you can. The stronger your team is, the further you make it through the show. Once it gets to the individual challenge, the wolf gets hungry.
Cheaper Than Dirt Let’s talk about one team member in particular, and you’ll know what I’m going to ask you as soon as I mention his name: Jay Lim. He’s gained the reputation as someone who is difficult to coach. Was that your experience as well?
J.J. You know, it’s very hard to walk up to the line and try to teach somebody something that they are unaccustomed to within 30 or 40 rounds. I understood his point about trying out my style for 5 rounds and then going back to what he’s more comfortable with. The bottom line is, once you’ve been doing something for years and years, and then step up to the line you’re taught something completely different, when the pressure is on you’re going to go back to something subconsciously. You’re not going to have time to think things through.
There was a lot more resistance with Jay and coaching him, and it seemed like that throughout the whole season with all of the experts. I thought it was just me and Blake. We tried our best with him, but he even shunned Chris Tilley who was a Grand Master, on his team, and who tried to lend a hand to him.
Cheaper Than Dirt Jay made the comment “I was unhappy with the instruction. Why change fundanmentals? I just want to know how to shoot faster and more accurately.” Did he have a valid point there?
J.J. Actually, I would say no. The basic principles of speed shooting or practical shooting comes down to three things: recoil management, sight picture acquisition, and trigger manipulation. He didn’t have the first two. If you don’t have the first two, your gun is flopping all over the place. If you have one step missing you can’t put it together and shoot fast and accurate.
Cheaper Than Dirt Yet, when it came right down to it, Jay was still able to make the shots, and consistently so.
J.J. Yeah, he seems to have that natural ability to not worry about who he’s going up against or what people think about him. He just zones everyone out and does his thing, which is very important when you’re on TV or when you’re on a challenge like that.
Cheaper Than Dirt That is indeed the mark of an experienced competitor, having that ability to get into the zone and tune everything else out.
I appreciate your time and information and want to thank you for talking with us today. We’re looking forward to seeing you compete once again on the world stage at the Speed Shooting Championships as well as the IPSC World Championships, and we wish you the best of luck.
J.J. Thank you, it was great to talk to you again.
When sighting in your rifle, you need to make sure that you begin with a good solid bench and an adjustable but solid rifle rest. Many different guns rests are on the market, from advanced fully adjustable machine rests, to rabbit ear bags and old style shot filled bags. Machine rests generally have, at a minimum, a front forend rest similar to The Rock Jr Shooting Rest. This forend rest is adjustable for elevation so that you can easily and precisely position the rifle. A rear bag is also helpful, even with some machine rests. Other more robust machine rests have fully adjustable front and rear rests, and some like the HySkore Dangerous Game Rest even include a remote trigger, enabling you to fire the rifle without touching it at all.
Consistency is key when sighting in a rifle. Every shot should break exactly the same. You don’t need to be fighting your rest or your bags when setting up for your sighting in shots. Whether you are using a machine rest or sand or shot filled bags, take the time to set up your rest properly so that when the time comes to fire the shot the only thing you are doing is squeezing the trigger. When properly setup on a bench rest prior to the shot, your rifle should be fully supported by the rest and able to remain perfectly centered on your target without any corrections from you the shooter.
Wind flags and pinwheels are very helpful when sighting in so that your shots are not thrown off by the wind. In the absence of wind flags, pay attention to vegetation such as trees, bushes, and grass to see how and when the wind is blowing. One thing you don’t want is to have some shots fired when the wind is blowing while others are shot during lulls in the breeze. Spend some time analyzing the wind and make a conscious decision as to whether you will be firing when the wind is up or during the lulls. Ideally, you should shoot when the wind is down or non-existant. But if that is not possible, you can make accurate estimates of wind speed and direction and use that to adjust the zero on your scope to compensate for the wind. Keep an eye out next week for our article on reading the wind and mirage, where we’ll go into detail on how to read and adjust for these conditions.
Choosing a good target for sighting in your rifle is critical to making the process painless and accurate. Our VisiShot Sight-in Paper Targets feature a grid for easy windage and elevation adjustments, as well as a high visibility background that makes it very easy to see where your shots are hitting the paper. Whatever target style you choose, having a one with a 1″ grid is probably the most important trait that you should look for. When sighting in your rifle at 100 yards, it is easy to adjust elevation and windage because 1 MOA is approximately equal to a 1″ square on your target.
When you’re sighting in a new scope on your rifle, you will first want to get an accurate bore sight in order to get your rounds on paper and reasonably close to your point of aim. Performing a boresight on a bolt action rifle is generally quite easy. All you need to do is to pull the bolt and peer down the bore while your rifle is on the bench rest. Next, without moving the rifle, glance through your scope and make a note of where the crosshairs are indicating. Adjust the crosshairs towards the target bullseye and then repeat the procedure, until your scope appears to be aiming fairly close to the center of your bore sight.
Reinstall the bolt, and then check your scope. It should be centered perfectly on your target with the bags or rest completely supporting the rifle without any outside support. You should be able to set up on your shooting position behind the rifle and place your shooting hand in position over the trigger, and then remove it so that you are completely hands off without the rifle changing position at all.
Take three shots to confirm that the rifle is consistent. Your shots may not be near your point of aim, but since the rifle has been bore sighted they should be on the paper and they should all make a nice tight group. A good tight group demonstrates that the rifle is capable of making consistent and, more importantly, repeatable shots. If your rifle is not shooting consistently, or highly variable wind conditions cause your rounds to drift significantly, it will be very difficult to zero your rifle with any level of confidence. If the wind is calm and the rifle steady on a good solid bench rest, but your rounds are scattered all over the target, it may be time to try another type or brand of ammunition. If you have tried different weights and brands of ammunition and your rifle is still unable to get a good group, it may be time to take your long gun in to an expert gunsmith who can diagnose and hopefully repair the problem.
Once you have confirmed that you are getting consistent shots, it is time to adjust the scope so that the point of aim gives you the desired point of impact. Note that the point of aim and desired point of impact are not always the same. If for example you are sighting in your rifle on a 100 yard range, but you want to have a 300 yard zero, your desired point of impact will be higher than your point of aim by a few inches depending on the cartridge you are firing. By the same token, if you want to sight in your rifle for zero wind but are shooting in a consistent 10mph 90 degree cross wind, you will want your point of impact to be to the right of your point of aim.
There are two ways to adjust the scope to get the point of aim and point of impact the same place. One way is to know how far each click of adjustment moves your point of aim and calculate the necessary adjustments. For example at 100 yards, if your point of impact is 4″ high and 3″ left and your scope adjusts in 1/8 MOA clicks, you would then adjust your scope 32 clicks down and 24 clicks right. The other way is to hold the rifle so that your crosshairs are on your point of aim, and then carefully, without disturbing the rifle in the rest, adjust the scope so that the crosshairs are now over the actual impact holes in your target. This seems counter intuitive, because even though you want the impact to be lower the actual reticle is moving up to meet your actual point of impact. But if you look at the indicators on your turret tubes where you make the adjustments to windage and elevation, you will notice that you are actually moving the point of aim down while the reticle appears to be moving up. The advantage of these methods are that, properly done, they do not use very much ammunition; you can usually get on target with only one adjustment.
When deciding what distance to zero your rifle for, consider the trajectory of your particular cartridge when choosing a point blank zero. Ideally, you will want a zero that gives you a Maximum Point Blank Range, or MPBR. An MPBR is the zero range at which you will need minimal holdover to keep your round on target. When you are in a hunting situation, there is not always time to grab the range-finder and calculate the exact distance to your target or to stabilize your rifle enough to use your Mil-Dot scope to measure the target size and estimated range. By computing the trajectory of your cartridge, you can calculate the ideal MPBR. For example, let’s say that you are zeroing your 4-16x50mm scope on a Remington 700 chambered in 7mm Remington Ultra Mag. If you have a zero at 350 yards, your maximum variation out to 410 yards is only +/- 6″. For medium game hunting, this will put you at “minute of deer” accuracy for any range between 0 and 410 yards. If we are zeroing this particular combination at 100 yards, the point of impact should be exactly 4.8″ above the point of aim. Ideally you should confirm your MPBR zero at the actual distance you are calibrating your scope and rifle combination for: in this example we would confirm zero at 350 yards. Find the statistics of the round you are firing and some ballistics tables and play around to find out your MPBR before choosing a distance to zero your rifle.
Images courtesy of Ruger Firearms.
It’s a common feature found on many scopes and other optics, but what exactly is a Mil-Dot reticle, and how do you use it?
It’s important to make clear the distinction between Minutes of Angle and Mils. A Mil, or milliradian is equal to about 3.44 MOA. Most reticles are marked in milliradians using Mil-Dots, while adjustments through the turrets are usually made in fractions of an MOA.
Variable magnification scopes come in two types: First Focal Plane (FFP) or Second Focal Plane (SFP) reticles. Most American scopes have the reticle on the second or rear focal plane, so that the reticle stays the same size as the zoom is changed. European style scopes have the reticle on the first or front focal plane, such that as the magnification on the scope is increased the reticle increases in size. European Mil-Dot reticles are accurate for range estimation at any zoom level. For American style rear focal plane reticles on variable magnification scopes, the Mil-Dot size estimation is only accurate at a certain zoom level. For most variable scopes with a second focal plane reticle the proper magnification is 10x, though this does vary depending on the manufacturer. Consult your owner’s manual to determine what zoom level your Mil-Dot reticle is designed for.
Based on a presumed chest height of 15 inches, this deer would range at approximately 1,389 yards. Too far away for an ethical shot.
The first step in using a Mil-Dot reticle is accurately measuring the size of a target in Mils. Once a target of known size is measured in Mils in the scope, a simple calculation is used to estimate range to the target and compensate for bullet drop. Accurately measuring the target in Mils is not easy, and it is necessary to get an approximation down to around one tenth of a Mil. In the photo shown to the left, the chest of the deer reads at approximately 0.3 Mils. Shown here on the internet, this measurement is fairly easy to see, but when staring down a scope that you are struggling to hold steady at a target that may not be holding still, it becomes much more difficult to get an accurate Mil read.
The formula for computing the estimated range is accomplished by taking the target size in yards, multiplying that by 1000 and then dividing the result by the target measurement in Mils. The result is the approximate distance in yards to the target. The formula for meters is the same, with the target size in meters multiplied by 1000 and divided by the target measurement in Mils giving the approximate range in meters.
So, if you have a man sized target that is six feet tall, you would compute Target size in yards (2) multiplied by 1000 and divided by the measurement in Mils. If a six foot tall target, for example, measures 3 Mils, the formula would be 2 X 1000 / 3= 667 yards.
Size of Target In Yards X 1000 / Mils read = Range to Target (in yards)
The formula is the same for meters:
Size of Target In Meters X 1000 / Mils read = Range to Target (in meters)
There are two ways to compensate for bullet drop. One is to use hold-over. This involves changing the point of aim to be somewhere other than the center of the cross hairs of a scope. The other is to adjust the turrets the appropriate number of clicks until the target can be centered in the cross hairs. Once the range is known, the shooter can then make the necessary adjustments to the elevation using the scope turrets, or hold over the proper amount using the Mil-Dots as an aiming system. If you know your rifle is zeroed at 300 yards for example, your target is an estimated 400 yards and your bullet drop at 400 yards is 15 inches, then you would hold just slightly less than 1 Mil high (1 Mil-Dot is 14.4″ at 400 yards).
Click to download our free Mil-Dot Range Guide (*.PDF)
There are numerous tools on the market that make range estimation using a Mil-Dot system fast and easy. Some use a slide rule type setup where the target size and measurement in Mils is input to the tool, and the range estimate is then shown. Others use a spreadsheet to allow the shooter to quickly find the range estimate. You can download your own “cheat sheet” by clicking on the image shown to the right. Simply save the *.PDF file to your computer and print it out on a plain sheet of 8.5×11 paper. Fold the paper into thirds and cut or tear carefully along the creases and you will have three copies of our Mil-Dot Range Estimation guide you can laminate or simply fold up and take with you.
Here are a few more quick references to help you quickly and easily estimate range using a Mil-Dot reticle: The average adult deer chest is around 18 inches tall. At 100 yards, that deer chest will take measure 5 Mil-Dots, 2.5 dots at 200 yards, 1.6 dots at 300 yards, and 1.25 dots at 400 yards. For calculating holdover, remember that 1 Mil is about 3.44 MOA, so 1 Mil at 100 yards is about 3.5 inches. At 200 yards, that same Mil is about 7 inches, at 300 a single Mil is 12 inches, and at 400 yards is just over 14 inches.
The only way to get good at using your Mil-Dot reticle to estimate range is to practice. Take a hike and set up multiple targets of known size (1 yard/3 foot squares of poster board on stakes work great) at various distances from your shooting bench. Head back and get out your estimation guide, calculator, or pencil and paper and find your measurements and estimated range. Confirm your estimated range figures with a laser range finder, GPS, or other device. Soon you’ll be able to quickly and easily estimate the range to nearly any target.
Unlike IDPA, which uses a fixed 90 round course of fire as the classifier, USPSA uses a rotating array of classifier stages. Usually one classifier stage will be inserted in every club match, and a shooter needs to shoot a minimum of four classifiers in one division to achieve a USPSA classification. From time to time, clubs will hold special “classifier matches” where the bulk of the stages will be classifiers, which allows shooters who are unclassified to quickly get classified.
Classifier stages themselves are broken down into “skill tests”, and while shooting a classifier well doesn’t mean that you can shoot a 32 round field course well, it does mean that your shooting fundamentals (such as sight picture, trigger control, etc) are generally solid. Most classifiers will also test your ability to reload, which is imperative for pretty much every division except Open and Limited. To help with that, we’re going to break down CM99-42 Fast’n Furious.
- Gun: S&W 686 SSR Pro
- Ammo: BVAC .38 Special
- Holster: Comp-Tac Belt Holster
- Speedloader holder: 4Wheelguns.com ICORE model
Fast’n Furious is a very simple classifier stage that can cause a lot of problems for shooters. Right off the bat, the shooter is faced with a choice – start on the weak hand side of the barricade, or the strong hand side? I personally choose to start on the weak hand side of the barricade. While this slows down my draw slightly, it speeds up the reload as it’s much faster for me to reload as I move back to my strong side. So for decision number 1, I recommend starting on the weak-hand side.
Decision number 2 is “Steel or paper first?” Once you’ve picked which side to start and finish on, you have to decide whether or not you’re going to shoot the poppers or the paper targets first. For Revolver and Single Stack shooters, the choice is clear cut: steel first. If you’re running a revolver, you cannot afford a miss here, but in the off chance that you do it’s better to engage the steel first so that you’ve got enough rounds to get them down. In a perfect world though, you don’t miss the steel and shoot exactly six rounds on each side. Production/L10 shooters (and of course Limited and Open) could shoot either first – if I was running L10 I’d draw and shoot the paper first, because I can get a faster presentation on a paper target than I can on the steel popper. So decision number 2: which targets first is steel for SS/Revo, and paper first for everyone else.
Once you make your decisions on how to shoot it, all that’s left is execution. The critical parts of this classifier are 1) not missing the steel, 2) sticking your reload, and 3) getting good first shots on your draw and after your reload. If you can do all that, you’ll post a great score!
We’re holding our first ever Firearm Beauty Contest. That’s right, just submit a photo of your AR style rifle to our Facebook Page and you could win a $50 gift certificate from Cheaper Than Dirt! This contest is open to any AR platform, including piston guns, AR pistols, and non-standard calibers and configurations such as the AR-10, LR-308, R-25, etc.
Here are the rules:
- Post an image of your AR-15 based rifle to our Facebook Wall.
- In the description make sure you have the phrase “AR-15 Beauty Contest”
- Have your friends click “Like” on your photo
- The fan photo with the most “Likes” at the end of the month (Contest ends April 30th) will win a $50 Gift Certificate from Cheaper Than Dirt!
- One entry per person, please!
- Keep all entries “Family Friendly” please! If you wouldn’t want your own mother to see it, it’s probably not appropriate for our contest.
That’s it! We’ll continue to have monthly contests, with each month featuring a different type of firearm, so if you don’t own an AR, don’t worry, you’ll get a chance to show off your firearms at a later date.
The company which would later become known as Mauser was started on July 31st in 1811 when Friedrich I of Wurttemberg founded a weapons factory in the small hamlet of Oberndorf deep within the Black Forest of Germany. Commissioned as a royal weapons forge, the factory opened the next year with 133 employees.
The forge was moderately successful throughout the 19th century. Then, in 1867 Wilhelm and Paul Mauser devised an ingenious rotating bolt system for breechloading rifles. Their new system was extremely simple to operate, making it much faster and more reliable than comparable systems of the same era. The advantages of such a system were soon made evident. By 1871 the most recent version of the bolt system was utilized in the standard issue German battle rifle. Designated the Gewehr 71, the rifle was chambered for a massive 11x60mm blackpowder cartridge. In 1888 the Germans adopted the 7.92x57J cartridge which, with minor modifications, would later become the well known 8mm German cartridge around which almost all Mauser rifles were later designed. Improvements to the rifle included a box magazine introduced by Vetterli, and a newly modified extractor that did not rotate with the bolt and which helped to prevent double feeds.
With the introduction of the Model 93, a smaller cartridge was introduced: the 7x57mm. Stripper clips were used to quickly load the five round box magazine of the M93. The 7mm Mauser as it became known was widely adopted by Spain, Chile, Argentina, and a number of other Latin American countries. The rifle made its claim to fame in the historic battle of San Juan Hill where 700 Spanish soliders held off an attack of over 15,000 US troops for more than twelve hours. Naturally, the United States recognized the inherent advantages of the Mauser design and incorporated many of its characteristics into the 1903 Springfield.
The Americans weren’t the only ones who noticed the incredible performance of the M93 Mauser. Soon after the Cuban battle of San Juan Hill, militaries throughout the world began flooding the Mauser factory with orders for the rifle. More versions of the rifle were quickly developed for Turkey, Brasil, South Africa, Iran, China, and Sweden. The South Africans again proved the worthiness of the Mauser design in their confrontation with the British during the Boer war, prompting the United Kingdom to develop what would eventually be the SMLE – the standard of British infantry units until the 1950s.
But rifles weren’t the only arms manufactured by Mauser. The company pioneered the autoloading pistol market with their “broomhandled” Mauser pistol. The C96 as it was designated was produced between 1896 and 1936 and saw action throughout World War I and II. By the time it was discontinued, over 1,000,000 pistols had been produced. The Mausers were finally given control of the factory in 1897, naming it Waffenfabrik Mauser AG.
Finally, in 1898, the most famous Mauser design was released: the M98. This design was the pinnacle of Mauser rifle design and included all of the previous improvements that had been made to earlier models. The German military adopted the rifle designating it the Gewehr 98. Carbine models of the M98, the K98, were brought online in the beginning of World War I, but saw little service and are still rarites that are highly sought after by collectors. An extremely short carbine referred to as the Karabiner Kurz (short carbine), or K98k, was used as the primary German infantry weapon from 1935 through the conclusion of World War II.
At the end of World War II the Mauser factory was seized by Allied forces and eventually placed under French control. The factory was completely dismantled and all records destroyed. Mauser engineers Edmund Heckler and Theodor Koch along with Aled Seidel recovered what they could and later founded German arms manufacturer Heckler and Koch. Allied forces maintained control of the Mauser factory until 1952 when Mauser was finally allowed to resume manufacturing firearms. Mauser continued to manufacture military rifles with varying degrees of success. A focus on NATO heavy arms soon became their new focus. In 1999 SIG purchased a stake in Mauser, and the civilian firearms porion of the company was spun off to form Mauser Jagdwaffen GmbH
We unveiled a custom built .40 caliber pistol assembled from Lone Wolf’s Timberwolf frame and USPSA Open division legal Werewolf slide and compensator. No sooner had we released this little sneak peek than we became inundated with people wanting to know where they could acquire their own Glock based competition race gun.
We called up J.R. from Lone Wolf Distributors to talk about the gun and learn more about Lone Wolf’s custom division.
Cheaper Than Dirt Lone Wolf has been manufacturing aftermarket products for Glock pistols for some time now-
J.R. Since 1998.
Cheaper Than Dirt What were some of the first products that Lone Wolf got started manufacturing?
J.R. We started out with basic items actually. I used to run with the crew from Aro-Tek, and at the time I was doing a TV show called “Sportsmen of the Northwest, it was a cable access show and we were doing all things that go bang. Our motto was “We’ll go fishin’ when we’re out of ammunition.”
I hooked up with the Aro-Tek crew, and that was about the time that Glock first came into the US. With Aro-Tek and Glock being synonymous in parts, I got hooked up with the Glock crew directly and ran with them on all of the early tournaments during the inception of the GSSF (the Glock Shooting Sports Foundation).
Cheaper Than Dirt It’s the aftermarket parts that are your main bread and butter, right?.
J.R. Yeah, we cater to the guy who owns a hot rod and wants to tweak his engine and put on headers and mag wheels. Our customers usually own multiple Glocks and tweak them all of the time. They want to do the best that they can, and that comes down to equipment sometimes.
Cheaper Than Dirt How do you go about developing these various parts? Do customers come to you and request various items?
J.R. Sure. Of course it used to be just mass quantities of alcohol and we’d just dream something up *chuckles*
No, I actually have a background as an action pistol shooter and also ran the cable access program, and we used to team up with these guys and listen to them and what they wanted in a gun. Being an innovator is just an act of listening.
People would say “You know, if this part did this, it would be better, and you could make an improvement over here too,” and I knew the right people in the industry who could do those things and bring them to market. Now with our status in the industry where it is at, I have people come to me all the time with ideas and suggestions for new products or improvements to existing products.
Cheaper Than Dirt What about concealed carry and defensive pistols? Can we expect to see more parts that are aimed at competitors in IDPA?
J.R. Yes, in fact I have a few plans to get into that. For IDPA, you need to produce 2,000 units per year to qualify for certain divisions, and they’ve got some regulations in there that make it difficult for a new gun manufacturer to get into.
Cheaper Than Dirt Lone Wolf has experienced rapid growth over the years, moving from basic parts and aftermarket accessories into becoming a full custom gun shop.
J.R. The custom gunworks that we have going is still in its infancy. We’re not actually releasing the completed guns just yet. We’re still doing them as custom builds for the customer. Some of the guns that you’re seeing, including the one that you tested, are project guns that we’re doing. Patrick Kelley’s is one of those. He helped us develop these pistols.
Here’s the thing though: If we began building custom guns using the parts that we have now, as soon as we build more than 50 guns we fall into the higher BATFE tax rate of 11% for firearm manufacturers. Once that happens, the price has to go up. Right now we’re just selling cheap parts.
Cheaper Than Dirt So there is a bit of a regulatory hurdle you’ve got to overcome if you make the decision to move into building actual firearms instead of just selling parts.
J.R. I full well plan on overcoming that hurdle, probably some time within the next year. I’ve got some concept designs that I’ve sent out to the USPSA and asked them where we need to be to meet their requirements and make 500 units. I could produce 500 units tomorrow, but it’s the additional 11% tax that the ATF charges and once you get that on there the cost of the custom guns we would be building goes up by that amount.
Cheaper Than Dirt Can we expect to see any “bare-bones” custom guns produced by Lone Wolf? Something along the lines of an STI Spartan maybe?
J.R. Right now I can get you into a bare-bones Timberwolf frame pistol with everything, all Lone Wolf parts, for around $700 I think.
Cheaper Than Dirt Team Cheaper Than Dirt! member Patrick Kelley helped develop one of your Timberwolf based race guns, and we got to take it out for some range time just the other day.
J.R. What you may not know is that Pat Kelley and I have been friends for, well, forever it seems like. I’ve squadded with him time and time again at numerous shoots, helped promote different shoots with him, so we have a lot of history together. What you may not know is that I bounce a lot of projects off of Pat and he gives me his input.
Like I said earlier, I rely on a lot of input from my friends in the shooting industry. We’ll bring in a new project and I’ll get their input and they may come up with 15 changes that they would like to see made, and we may incorporate 10 or 11 of them. It just makes it a better system all the way around.
Cheaper Than Dirt So the gun that we’re featuring here, is that just a standard Timberwolf frame with a Werewolf upper?
J.R. Actually I built that gun years ago when we were putting some ideas together, and Pat took a photograph of it in a low-light situation and we named it “Flash” because through that photograph we could see that we were achieving 100% gas dump. That compensator is really, really effective. Phenomenally effective.
The whole idea was that we could develop a system that could dump everything and keep it within 2-inches. If you look at the high speed photograph that Patrick took you can see that there is no bounce, that the red dot sight doesn’t move. That gun is going to be fast.
Cheaper Than Dirt You’ve virtually eliminated all of the muzzle rise.
J.R. Yup, it’s a beauty. The development of that gun has only been inhibited by access to a dot sight. I’ve gone to virtually every micro-dot sight manufacturer and tried getting them to cooperate and lower the price of the optic.
The Optima, and before that, the C-More, was the brainchild for all modern micro-dot sights. Ira K., when he introduced the C-More at SHOT Show, I was there when that happened and that was the biggest thing that had happened to the shooting industry in some time.
Tasco got involved and they brought in the Optima. When it was first introduced the Optima was $300 and that was just unacceptable. I bought the Optima for $300 and was incorporating it into our handgun designs even then. Fortunately for us, when Tasco went out of business after they ran into financial problems and went belly up, I was getting Optimas for $99 and then we could retail them out for $125 and add a base. Now you’re talkin’.
But we were doing dot sights way back then, and incorporating them into our designs. I was selling 100 of them a month.
Cheaper Than Dirt You’ve been machining slides to take these micro-dot sights for some time then.
J.R. Yes, for many moons. The problem was, when the Optimas ran out, nobody could bring them in. I actually tried to buy it, and of course everybody is familiar with the Doctor sight, but that was still $300-$400. I couldn’t get anybody to work with me, so we scrapped the whole project.
Cheaper Than Dirt At least until the Burris FastFire came out.
J.R. Burris jumped right on board actually. The Burris guys were out there and I had seen one of their samples. I had to meetings with them, made a few suggestions, and they made a couple of changes, some of which they were going to make anyway. Next thing you know we were able to introduce it as an OEM part, and that really pays off for the consumer.
Cheaper Than Dirt Some people express concern about the FastFire holding up to the recoil of the slide…
J.R. It’s just going to hold together. It’s solid-state, it holds together just fine. Nothing can happen.
The best thing is that Burris really wants to work with us. We were able to work together, bring the price down, and put it into an affordable package
Cheaper Than Dirt We’re Cheaper Than Dirt, and our customers are really bargain conscious, so it’s always great to see an affordable package like that be made available. Not everyone has thousands of dollars to throw away.
J.R. You’ve hit the nail on the head. IPSC and action shooters aren’t cheap, but they do need to maximize their dollars. If they’ve got $100 they want the most that they can absolutely get for that $100.
Cheaper Than Dirt What you’ve done then is take Glock’s parts interchangeability, their reliability, and take it the next step forward and push the envelope until you’ve created a fantastic race gun that can be assembled by almost anyone with a basic knowledge of the firearm.
J.R. Right. In the early years we were pretty much ignored by Glock because the majority of people just wanted a stock firearm that went bang every time. We were off into the race gun scene however. We were finding ways to make the gun run faster and faster.
Cheaper Than Dirt And make it faster you did. Most race guns are like finely tuned F1 cars that take a lot of maintenance and a lot of fine tuning and tweaking to run reliably. How does Lone Wolf overcome that?
J.R. We deal with it. When you see a high speed photograph of Pat Kelley with 5 empties rolling off his knuckles, most people look at that and marvel at the fact that there is no muzzle rise and comment that “He’s got to be the fastest shooter in the world.”
I look at that photo and I’ll tell you, that gun is riding right on the verge of failure to eject. The thing is, it can run on that edge all day long and that’s what makes it as fast as it is.
Cheaper Than Dirt So part of what you do is find that edge, push out and find just how fast you can go.
J.R. There you go. You find that edge, you find that point where the gun is running right at the point of failure, and then you pull back just a bit to make it reliable. It may take just a hairs’ breadth to tip that gun over the edge and have a failure to eject or some other malfunction, but we keep the gun running just on this side of that line.
Cheaper Than Dirt And that’s just what you manage to do is find that edge, pull back a hair, and then put the finished product into production and into the hands of shooters.
Now we’ve heard some rumors that, in the next few weeks, customers are going to be able to build and order their own custom guns online. Is there any truth to that?
J.R. Where we are at now, I’ve got a full time IT guy who writes code for me, and where we’re taking this is that you’ll be able to pull up the components you need and put it together online.
We’ve got a brand new facility, a million dollar facility. Right now we’re at 4,000 square feet but we’ll be moving up to 8,000 square feet. We’ll have a custom assembly line right there and in-house refinishing. Right now we contract out some of that, but things are changing big this year. Especially with the introduction of our new AR platform built all around Glock.
Cheaper Than Dirt Tell us a bit more about that.
J.R. It’s based on an AR, but it takes Glock magazines and it will run 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and .45 GAP on one platform, and then we’ve got .45 ACP and 10mm on the other platform. We’ve built both receivers already. Once we do the 10mm we can do all of the custom wildcat calibers on it.
It’s a great short range carbine, perfect for law enforcement. We’ve got ones in full auto now too. I don’t know if you had the opportunity to see the newest one at SHOT Show, but it created a lot of buzz. We’ve got a lot of AR manufacturers who want us to license it through them also.
Cheaper Than Dirt Any plans to do that?
J.R. We can’t. I just want to make sure that it’s done right. At the end of next month we should start releasing them, and I want everyone to know that they came from Lone Wolf.
This has been a three year project, and we’ve had very limited production of the G9 for now. We just want to make sure the quality is there and that the firearm is done right.
Cheaper Than Dirt It’s really been a pleasure talking with you and learning more about how you make these fantastic firearms, and I can’t wait to see these pistol be put into full production. You’ve got some really exciting products coming out now.
J.R. We do, and we can’t wait to get them out to you.
For whatever reason, people often seem enamored with speed re-holstering. If you’ve ever shot an IDPA/USPSA match, you’ve likely seen this guy: he shoots the course of fire, and then does his “unload and show clear” at Warp 5, rapidly thrusting his gun back in the holster almost as fast as he took it out at the start of the stage. This guy also shows up at training classes, where he’s even more dangerous because he might now be trying to speed-holster a loaded gun. Like it says at the top: no one ever won a match or a gunfight by being the first to have his gun put away.
The second major holster gaffe is not having a “good” holster. What makes a holster good? Two primary things: that it’s designed to fit your gun, and that you don’t need two hands to re-holster the pistol. “Universal” is holster code for “won’t fit your gun well”, and flappy nylon or leather holsters that you need to push open with your support hand are dangerous.
One example of a “good” holster is the Blackhawk Serpa holster, pictured here for the Springfield XD. Because the SERPA is made from a rigid polymer, it’s not going to “squish” shut like you see a lot of low quality nylon or leather holsters do, which means you can safely re-holster the gun without having to drop your support hand down by the muzzle to “help.” There are leather holsters that also fit this bill, but you have to work a little bit harder to find them. Make sure that if you buy a leather holster, it’s made for your gun and is not a “universal” holster. The big problem with “universal” leather holsters is that because they’re not sized for a specific pistol, they give up retention and proper fit in exchange for fitting a wide variety of guns.
Once you’ve picked a good holster, it’s time to take a look at the act of re-holstering the gun itself. Many professional trainers teach the concept of a “hard stop”: after you finish shooting, but before you put the gun away, pull the gun into a high retention position, take a deep breath, relax, and then slowly re-holster. I do this during matches as well. Once I’ve completed the stage, I’ll take a deep breath and consciously think “relax” before I proceed to unload and show clear. Then, once I’ve shown the RO a clear chamber and gone hammer down, I’ll take a more calming breath as I holster the gun.
In a match, you win the match by being the fastest out of the holster, and the fastest and most accurate through the course of fire. Don’t risk a DQ or injury by trying to jam your gun back into the holster super fast. Get a good quality holster, and then take your time putting the gun away.
Turkey season is almost here, and if you haven’t done so already, it’s a good idea to take your turkey
MasterPiece Arms has unveiled their newest addition to the Protector line, the .380 Premium. With fully machined aluminum grips and a hard anodized frame, this is a dress gun you can feel comfortable slipping into a suit pocket or clutch purse.
From the press release:
MasterPiece Arms new Protector Model, the MPA380P, is a US manufactured conceal carry pistol built on a fully machined 4140 stainless steel lower receiver and upper slide. Demonstrating MPA’s central philosophy to build only high-quality, precision engineered firearms, the new MPA380 “Premium” subcompact, semi-auto pistol sports fully machined aluminum grips with a bead blasted finish protected by a clear anodize coat. The MPA380P pistol is a Double-Action-Only with a 5+1 magazine capacity, plus the extended magazine pad for added shooting comfort. Every MPA pistol comes in a lockable case with one magazine and an owner’s manual, plus the additional relief of knowing your MPA comes with a Lifetime Warranty. MSRP is $345.90 and the pistol is available now at Cheaper Than Dirt!
Anyone who has read much about or spent much time around the preparedness community has undoubtedly heard the term B.O.B or Bug-Out-Bag. The Bug-Out-Bag is
Once again we’re continuing our series on assembling your own AR-15 lower receiver. The next step in the process is the installation of the selector, detent and spring, and pistol grip.
To begin the installation, first cock the hammer. Do not let the hammer fall and strike the lower, as it may cause damage.
Insert the selector through the hole in the left side of the receiver.
Flip the receiver over and insert the selector detent with the pointed side toward the selector. Insert the detent spring into the pistol grip. Install the pistol grip onto the receiver. Ensure that the detent spring does not bind as it is placed into the detent hole.
Install the grip screw with washer.
Check the selector for proper operation. Move the selector to safe and pull the trigger. The hammer should not fall. Move the selector to fire and, with your finger over the hammer, pull the trigger. Make sure to catch the hammer as it is sprung forward to prevent it from striking the lower. Keep holding the trigger back and then cock the hammer. It should be engaged by the disconnecter when the trigger is released. Flip the selector back to “safe” and repeat this process.