All posts by James

Holiday Gift Guide – 2020

Year of Hell Edition!

So, 2020 has been fun, right!? While I’m sure most of us have sat around at home engaging in firearms related retail therapy since mid-March (don’t worry, your secret is safe with us) – Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Christmas is just barely visible on the Horizon. So here’s an early jump on some Christmas 2020 gift ideas.

Note that some of these are recycled from last year’s list because they’re still good ideas, some even better buys this year than last year.

Stocking Stuffers

Maglula UpLULA Magazine Reloader – $29.99

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If you don’t alreadyhave one of these, or know someone who shoots and doesn’t already have one of these – this is a no brainer. Trust me.

Bushnell Magnetic Boresighter – $27

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I recommended this last year, and I’m doing it again, but for a slightly different reason – with the increased focus on “things you can do at home”, this is a good tool for doing all you can at home and maximizing the time you’re out at the range, letting you get a pretty good boresight on a new scope without leaving the house.

Strelok Pro App – $11.99

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Worth. Every. Penny.

So this might be an odd choice for a Christmas list since it’s not a physical good – but getting someone a Google Play / iTunes gift card for this one and giving them the link would be a great gift for anyone who’s thinking of getting into long range shooting. This app is phenomenal.
Available via Google Play Store or the App Store, for Android or iOS, respectively.

Under $75

OSAGE RIVER Range Bag – $52.99

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Available in a few colors in different sizes.

Everyone can use a good range bag or 2. Or 3.


Plano 1612 Water Resistant Field Box – $16.99

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These make great ammunition boxes, among other things.

EDR Bleeding Control Trauma Kit, Basic Trauma Pack – $59.99

I wanted to include something like this in the list – and this particular one is an update to one I included last year. If anyone with more experience using this stuff has any better suggestions in this price range, let me know!


For People You Really Like

MagnetoSpeed Barrel Mounted Chronograph – $179

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If you’ve seen my review, you already know why I recommend one of these for anyone getting into long range / PRS, esp. if you’re going to work up your own loads. This thing has been indispensable.

and on that note…

Lee Precision Breechlock Challenger Kit – $199.99

We all know that getting our hands on ammunition lately has been a bit of an issue. This is the workaround.

or, the upgrade –

RCBS Rock Chucker Supreme Master Kit – $602.99

The Lee kit is much cheaper, but is definitely the “get your feet wet” setup. This is what you want when you’re serious about it.

Caldwell Precision Shooting Rest – $98.99

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Caldwell makes more than just sandbags for shooting rests. This is a nice middle ground between nothing and a full lead sled rig.

LaserLyte Laser Trainer – $94.99

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So these are pretty neat – works like a snapcap, but flashes a laser point roughly where the point of impact would be – granted there are more expensive options with more features, but for the price, and following the 2020 theme of “stay indoors” – these are pretty neat. You can also get some accessories for it.

Sig BDX Combo Kit – $1399.99

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I’ll take one too, if you would.

Repeating from last year – here’s the crown jewel of the list. If you’ve got someone you really want to make smile, this is an awesome piece of kit for the money. I could probably spend a whole article on this one and what it can do, but go check it out. Also worth noting, while the price has actually went UP since last year (as has most things on this list) the list price here on this one is $1679.99, get it while it’s hot!

Armson Gen II Retro OEG

After quite a bit of shooting the previously reviewed Troy XM177E2, I’d gotten interested in getting some type of retro optic on there. While I was initially leaning towards the Brownells Retro 4X, finding one in stock (even before COVID has been clearing the shelves) proved nearly impossible.
Edit: Naturally, now that I’m writing this, they’re in stock.

On the strong suggestion of this website’s occasional other writer, I looked into another period-correct option – an Occluded Eye Gunsight. These are essentially the predecessor to the modern red dot – rather than having a see through tube, you have a black tube with a fiber optic (and optionally, a tritium lamp) in the front. When viewed with both eyes open, it projects the sharply detailed, but “soft” red dot over the target. This is very similar to using an Aimpoint or other red dot with the front cover closed, and keeping both eyes open.

While this sounds like a huge disadvantage, upon using it, you’ll immediately find that it has several advantages over a modern red dot, not the least of which is the fact that it’s always on, and it’s brightness is never a factor since the eye witnessing it is always against a solid black background, so when your brain combines the image, the dot will always be visible. You can be looking directly into a light source, and still see that dot. It’s also never too bright for a situation. It’s always just a perfect, soft red dot.

If you get one with tritium (and you should), this extends to low-light shooting as well. The tritum lamp provides just enough illumination to the fiber optic to give you a visible soft red dot that wont interfere with your eyesight in low light.

This is where this gunsight really shines, and why it happens to be “historically correct” on this rifle – during the Son Tay raid, commercial off-the-shelf Single Point OEGs were used. During the practice for the raid, it was found that these drastically increased hit probability at night – and thus we got (as far as I can tell) the first use of a red dot type sight in combat.

The only real drawback is in the potential difficulty in zeroing. For what it’s worth, I think I got lucky and mine was almost dead on at 25y out of the box – but it definitely helped that the M16 carry handle mount mine came on allowed viewing of the iron sights through a channel under it. One of the quirks of how these sights work with your brain is, if you try to actually focus on the dot, it’s likely to “move around” as your brain tries to reconcile what’s going on. What this means is, you have to keep both eyes on the target, not focus on the dot, and make fairly quick shots as soon as you bring the rifle up. These sights are intended for fairly close range work, however, so just getting it in the ballpark of center of mass at 25y is plenty fine – and once you get a bit more used to using it, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting it zeroed more precisely if you’d like. My OEG came with instructions on how to do this.

As a final shoutout, Armson’s customer service is fantastic. I had a brief email exchange with Mr. Hatcher about my sight and ended up with a real “this thing was built specifically for me” feeling from the whole interaction. While they are a bit pricey for something that can be considered such old generation tech – M16 Gen II Retro = $209.95 + $40 for the tritium – these clearly fall into the “don’t build them like they used to” department… even though Armson definitely does continue to build ’em like they used to. It’s also worth noting that they will replace / retrofit older OEGs with new tritium, as well as upgraded adjustment knobs.

MagnetoSpeed V3 Review

Alright, vote obligated discontinued retro rifle review out of the way, let’s get into my current jam – precision rifle shooting. Full disclosure – I’m an amateur – this is a new hobby I’ve been wanting to get into for a while, and thanks to our other contributor here, I’m now geared up for it.

So, super basic initial things to do:

So, need a rifle, know the basics of how to use it, have something to plug numbers into for the purposes of weaponizing math, and get the initial numbers to plug into it – so it looks like we’re missing a piece of equipment here – the chronograph.

Ballistic chronographs come in a few types, but the basic is one like the Caldwell unit above that uses two screens and an optical sensor. These are fairly cheap and easy to use, but have to be set up in front of your shooting position, and are dependent on proper lighting. Additionally, while they’re very close, they’re not really giving you a true directly-at-the-muzzle velocity.

A more high tech, and significantly pricier option, is a doppler radar chronograph, like the Labradar example shown below. These sit on the ground or bench next to your firearm, and use radar to detect the projectile’s speed. Fancy. Interesting to note though – that while testing the MagnetoSpeed chronograph for this article, a ran across another shooter who had both the Labradar chrono and a MagnetoSpeed. When I told him I was using my MagnetoSpeed for the first time, he mentioned he was too, as his Labradar is normally fantastic, but didn’t work on our club’s 100y range with their newly installed steel “no blue sky” baffle system. Reviews also show that they seem to have problems with people using suppressors, though I can’t really figure out why that’d be the case.

So here we are with the “just right” option – a magnetic chronograph. In this case, the MagnetoSpeed V3. This unit consists of a “bayonet” that attaches directly to the barrel of your rifle (or suppressor, pistol, or to a rail, depending on options) and uses 2 magnetic sensors to detect the bullet’s velocity. Not only are you getting direct at-the-muzzle readings, but this unit allows for fairly rapid fire without missing a shot, as optical chronographs are known to do.

Please ignore the crazy window blinds, my dog likes to watch what's going on out there.

These come in 2 flavors at the moment, the V3 as pictured, and the Sporter, which seems fine as a bog-standard unit that’ll do the needful, but I wanted the additional mounting options and ability to attach to a suppressor that comes with purchasing the V3.

Mounting was pretty straight forward, the unit comes with several spacers, you hold the unit up against your barrel, check clearance with the provided rod (showing you the proper distance the “deck” of the bayonet should be from the bore / bullet flight path), and add/remove spacers as needed. Then simply throw the strap around the barrel, get it hand tight through a clasp, and turn a thumb screw on the bottom to snug it up. I had no problems with it moving during use, but I was also using the included suppressor heat shield, despite not needing it, because it seemed to add a bit of traction. Note that this seems to be a quick-fix for people who use the Sporter version and have issues with it shifting, using a bit of rubber strap.

This was fantastically quick and easy to mount at the range, and didn’t involve carrying around a traditional chronograph and tripod, or the need to call the firing line safe if adjustment or troubleshooting is needed. The only thing needed after attaching to the rifle is using one of the included cables to attach the control unit, which automatically powers on when it detects that it’s connected.

So here’s where I got uneasy – this thing was so simple in setting up. Heck, it even looks cool. So come on… this thing’s not really going to work, is it?

It was almost boringly reliable. It performed flawlessly for me in testing during two shooting sessions. Attach, plug in, fire away. Numbers show up, give average and standard deviation (SD) as needed. I was plugging the numbers directly into the calculator on my phone, so no need to use the optional data storage via SD card – but that’s an option available on the V3.

Note: Just look at that Standard Deviation – and this was Federal Gold Medal Match. I guess I’m going to have to get into hand loading now…

One drawback I’d anticipated, and did notice even at 100 yards – having something hanging on the end of my barrel, as light as it may be, did affect my group size. In my case, during the 5 shot group to get the data shown above, my shots strung vertically. That can be seen below in the center group, compared to the other groups.

So, worst case – you fire a few shots for data, then fire separate groups to zero. So far I’ve met 2 others at my club’s range that uses these, one had the same issue I did, and one didn’t seem to be affected. It’s by no means a deal breaker for me though.

As far as accuracy, the provided data has worked out to be accurate for me insofar as the velocity + my Strelok Pro had me on target when I moved out to 300 yards, so that works for me. Here’s a longer read on an accuracy comparison done against a top-of-the-line traditional chronograph. Note the fact that the MagnetoSpeed V3 caught a lot of the shots the optical chrono missed.

The MagnetoSpeed V3 currently retails for $399 MSRP, but can be found on Amazon for $380, available with both a hard, and soft case option.

The MagnetoSpeed Sporter currently retails for $189 MSRP, and is available from Amazon for $179.

Stay tuned for more on my adventure into chasing longer and longer shots.

Troy XM177E2 Retro Review

Important Note:
Unfortunately, by the time I got around to publishing this review, this Troy has discontinued it’s
‘My Service Rifle’ line of retro rifles. That’s a shame, as this example had some great features not in other production retro rifles. As of this writing, none are listed on gunbroker, or easily found elsewhere.

Lets face it, iconic guns are fun to own. And since many of us don’t have $20k to go dropping on an original, it’s usually down to waiting for a usually-still-overpriced reproduction, or spending the time part hunting to roll your own.

The Colt Commando (Model 609) / XM177, is one of those iconic guns. From the covers of books about the men who first carried ’em in Southeast Asia, to numerous classic action movie scenes.

Credit to IMFDB.org for the movie pics.

Even for practical reasons, the attributes that led to it’s military adoption (and eventual evolution into the M4 Carbine) make it a light weight, handy, reliable example of the AR platform.

So why did I go with Troy over the other available production reproductions? Well, not going to lie, price was definitely a factor. As shown above, Colt’s reproduction was just massively overpriced, so that was a non-starter. Brownell’s clone, the XBRN177E2, currently retails for $1397.99. The Troy rifle shown here was available at a much better $899, while it was still available new. It’s worth noting that Brownell’s occasionally runs sales on their retro rifle line.

So what about the features I mentioned that set the Troy rifle apart from others such as the Brownell’s example?
Both have a short (12.5″ for the Troy, and 12.7″ for the Brownell’s) pencil barrel, with pinned & welded muzzle device that are a decent replica of the original Colt moderator.

Both feature the correct ‘teardrop’ forward assist on a fixed carry handle upper, with nice details such as the bayonet lug delete.

What sets the troy apart slightly is the use of original vintage grips from surplus stock, whereas the Brownell’s uses a reproduction of noticeably different quality. The grey color of the receiver is also present on the Troy, whereas it isn’t on the XBRN177E2 – though it appears to be a (at least decently tough) coating. Additionally, the Troy uses a metal stock like the original, rather than the polymer reproduction used on Brownell’s rifle.
There are also small touches like the faux giggle-switch bits and pieces, and receiver markings.

The Troy rifle also came with a nice load of accessories, such as a reproduction ‘field expedient’ sling (which are still available), cleaning kit, and some reproduction booklets, including the M16 ‘comic book’ manual, and an official manual in a military FM format. That was a nice touch.

Right, how does it shoot? Is it reliable? Seems to be just fine for me – though it’s worth noting that their QC may have seen a few dips, as can be found in some threads about these on arfcom. FWIW, I’ve had zero issues with mine, nor seem to have any of the fit and finish problems. It’s a light, nice handling rifle that definitely doesn’t feel at all like a 16″ AR.

Like the originals, these stocks are 1-position, open or closed.
Firing @ 25y one handed and resting on a bag – note that the muzzle device, while not actually reducing report like the original Colt moderator, does a great job as a linear comp, throwing the sound forward – this is appreciated on the 12.5″ barrel.
Apologies for the world shaking with every shot – here’s a side angle where the POV doesn’t benefit from the linear comp effect of the faux moderator any longer, and it was an unsupported phone simply leaning on an ammo can.

I guess I’ll wrap it up by just saying – it’s a shame these aren’t available new any longer, but if you want a decent XM177E2 reproduction, it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on gunbroker, etc. for one of these.

Holiday Gift Guide – 2019

It’s about that time of year again – so here are some holiday gift suggestions. I’ll also be listing some early & upcoming Black Friday sales shortly!

Edit: I’ll probably be adding to this over the next few weeks as I run across things or people make suggestions on our Facebook page.

Stocking Stuffers

Ammunition

A box or two of ammunition is always a great option for something that fits just fine in a stocking. Lately I’ve been doing most of my buying from SGAmmo, Target Sports USA, and Lucky Gunner.

Bleeding Control Kit / Basic Trauma Pack – $69.99

I wanted to include something like this in the list – and this particular one seemed to be pretty well reviewed. If anyone with more experience using this stuff has any better suggestions in this price range, let me know!

Maglula UpLULA Magazine Reloader – $27.49

If you don’t already have one of these, or know someone who shoots and doesn’t already have one of these – this is a no brainer. Trust me.

Under $50

Bushnell Magnetic Boresighter – $27

Especially if you’re getting someone some new optics (or know they’re getting or likely to get some for Christmas), one of these is handy – and will at the very least give ’em something to do with the rifle until they can get out to to the range to finish sighting it in properly.

Strelok Pro App – $11.99

Worth. Every. Penny.

So this might be an odd choice for a Christmas list since it’s not a physical good – but getting someone a Google Play / iTunes gift card for this one and giving them the link would be a great gift for anyone who’s thinking of getting into long range shooting. This app is phenomenal.
Available via Google Play Store or the App Store, for Android or iOS, respectively.

OSAGE RIVER Range Bag – $44.99

Available in a few colors in different sizes.

Everyone can use a good range bag or 2. Or 3.

Plano 1612 Water Resistant Field Box – $18.99

These make great ammunition boxes, among other things.

For People You Really Like

MagnetoSpeed Barrel Mounted Chronograph – $179

Caveat – I haven’t gotten a chance to use one of these myself yet, but they’re well reviewed, and for rifle shooting anyway, seem more handy than a traditional shoot-through chrono. If one of you do decide to get one of these, be sure to let me know what you think of it!

Caldwell Precision Shooting Rest – $59.61

Caldwell makes more than just sandbags for shooting rests. This is a nice middle ground between nothing and a full lead sled rig.

LaserLyte Laser Trainer – $98.99

So these are pretty neat – works like a snapcap, but flashes a laser point roughly where the point of impact would be. Granted – it’s a laser, there’s no drop, so this is more of a “make sure you’re not jerking the thing off target” than “practice at home” thing – but still pretty neat. You can also get some accessories for it.

Sig BDX Combo Kit – $1149.99

I’ll take one too, if you would.

So here’s the crown jewel of the list. If you’ve got someone you really want to make smile, this is an awesome piece of kit for the money. I could probably spend a whole article on this one and what it can do, but go check it out. Also worth noting, the list price on this one is $1679.99, get it while it’s hot!

Timney Targa Drop-in Trigger – Install and Review

Though Geissele seems to dominate the topic of aftermarket AR triggers, I’ve long been a fan of Timney Triggers when it comes to other applications, so I figured I’d give them a try when it came time to upgrade the trigger on the AR9 project gun.

That Milspec trigger from PSA won’t do.

So, after watching for deals for a bit, I ended up snagging one for a decent price from grabagun.

I went with the flat bow rather than curved, but even their curved one is quite a bit straighter than many AR triggers.  This is mostly personal preference.

So, the neat there here is – compared to many other AR triggers available – these units are pre-assembled in an aluminum housing that just drops right in place.  Not only does it make them a snap to install, but you can swap them out just as easily.

Here’s what’s included

How to Install:

      1. Typical safety disclaimer:
        Make sure the firearm is unloaded, have no ammunition in your work area, wear protection, look both ways, etc.
      2. Remove the upper receiver.
      3. Remove the Grip, being careful not to lose the Safety Detent & Spring.
      4. Carefully remove the Safety.
      5. Remove the remaining pins holding the trigger assembly in place.  You’ll need these when installing the new trigger.

        You could use a punch to remove these, but they were easy enough to nudge out with the included Allen Wrench
      6. Remove the trigger assembly, and toss into the parts bin / trash.   Seriously though – you probably wont want them again after shooting with a proper aftermarket trigger.
      7. Enjoy the satisfying *thunk* from dropping your Timney Targa trigger into place.
      8. Line up and replace the pins.  Note that there won’t be much tension on these yet to hold them in.  We’re about to remedy that.
      9. Using the provided Allen Wrench, tighten the set screws in the bottom of the trigger module housing.  There’s one on each side.
      10. Replace the Safety.
      11. Replace the Grip, being sure that the Safety Detent and Spring make it back in there.
      12. Function test the trigger and safety, then do a standard AR function test once you replace the upper.

     

Listen to that gorgeous reset and hammer fall.

I can’t wait to try out the Timney trigger I’ve selected for another project, currently being worked on by our other writer.

Huge improvement over the standard Milspec trigger.

Ordering a CMP M1 Garand

Get off my lawn.

As a special Memorial Day themed post, I thought I’d give a rundown of cheapest way to get yourself the rifle you’ve seen in at least one movie today, if you do Memorial Day correctly.

There are, of course, easier ways to get your hand on an M1, simply purchasing at a gun show, or an LGS if they have one would be easy enough, and ordering online from gunbroker or a builder such as Fulton Armory would take just slightly more effort.

But if you want both the benefit of paying as little as $650 for an M1 that’s in guaranteed usable condition, the novelty of legally ordering a battle rifle direct to your door without going through an FFL, the Civilian Marksmanship Program is the only way to go.  As an added bonus, you get to support a really great organization that was legislated into existence with a really great goal – getting surplus military arms into the hands of qualified US citizens in order to ensure the future of marksmanship and gun safety.  Or, I guess, you can check out their actual mission statement.  I was close enough.

Enough babbling.  So, in order to make the cut, you need to meet similar requirements that you’d need to make any 4473 purchase, with 3 additional reqs:

  • Be a US Citizen, Over 18 Years of Age
  • Be a member of a CMP Affiliated Organization
  • Show proof of Marksmanship or Firearms Related Activity

A lot of folks see the $650-750 M1s and love the idea, but balk at the effort needed to order.  But – it’s not really that hard, here’s the easiest path:

  1. Download an order packet here.
    You’ll want to fill as much of this as you can as a fillable form, then print the whole thing.  Pro-tip: Use the checklist page as you go.
  2. Easiest way to take care of the Citizenship and Date of Birth proof, is with a US Passport or Passport Card.  Make a copy of it on a copy machine, print, and put that in with the packet.  Done.
  3. CMP Affiliated club – you may a member of one, and not even know it, esp. if you’re a member of a shooting range or club, double especially if they do any NRA High Power / Service Rifle or CMP matches.
    If NOT, which will still be the case for most people, there’s a quick and easy to this, and it’ll only cost you $25.  Join the Garand Collectors Association here.  Even spending $25, you’re still getting a great deal.  Heck, you’re even going to get 2nd Day FedEx shipping on that rifle for no cost.
    In any case, once you’ve confirmed you’re in an affiliated club, or made it so, either print a copy of your membership card, or just the membership page of the website (they’re not too picky), and throw it in your order packet.
  4. Marksmanship or other Firearms Related Activity.
    Note: Exempt from this requirement if over 60 years old.
    Alright, so this may either be the easy one, or the involved one, depending on your situation.  If you’ve got a CHL / License to Carry, you’re good to go.  Copy and print it, shuffle into the order packet, and you’re done.
    If you do not have a CHL / LTC, you’ll have to meet this one some other way.   Current or past Military or LE service meets this requirement.  Copy a relevant ID card or DD214 and you’re good to go.
    Otherwise, there are a few other options, but the easiest is to print one of these, head to your local range, and get an RSO to sign off for you.  Congrats, the hardest part is over.
  5. Have that form all together, make sure you didn’t accidentally leave any original items in there (they don’t want your passport), get it an a document mailer, and take it somewhere with a notary.  UPS stores are a good bet because you can just send from there, but any kind of shipping / postal shop is a good bet so you can get page 2 notarized and then get the whole thing shipped in one go.
  6. Send to:
    CMP SALES
    1401 COMMERCE BLVD
    ANNISTON, AL 36207
  7. Wait.  Okay, actually this is the hard part.  They’re pretty full up on orders, so much so, that I’m always astounded they even HAVE any surplus Garands left.  If you don’t want to wait *that* long, get a Field Grade or buck up and get a Special Grade.  Service Grades, the current “best” condition USGI barreled rifles you can get, currently have ~ 2 month wait.

The neat part: once you’ve done the above, if you decide to make another order from the CMP in the following 3 years, you don’t need to do any of the above again.  You can just give ’em a call, tell them which grade rifle you want, and read them your credit card number.  You will also be “in the system” for things other than M1s.  More on that below.

The CMP is currently processing a has just started selling a big batch of rifles that we recovered from the Philippines.  Here’s a really interesting video on all that went into that:

Stay tuned for later posts about finishing / oiling that new production CMP marked stock you’re very likely to get.

Additionally, starting next month, surplus 1911s will be a thing, but expect a pretty long wait and possibility you wont make the cut, as they’ve only been authorized to sell a relatively small number of these per year, at least at first.  Maybe that will be increased in a later NDAA, depending on what congress looks like next year.

Federal American Eagle Syntech, Part I

We haven’t had a post in a while, as most of the activity has been over on the facebook page, but I’ve got a few topics queued up, so hopefully I’ll be able to get back into the swing of it.

First up is a 2-part test of Federal’s American Eagle Syntech.  The main feature of this cartridge is a ‘polymer-encapsulated’ bullet.  Like a Total Metal Jacket (TMJ) round, the polymer surrounds the entire bullet including the base.  This is great for indoor ranges (especially those with poor ventilation) as it limits lead vapor.  The advertised benefit of the polymer as opposed to a copper jacket is the lack of metal-on-metal contact leading to lower temperatures, and less copper/lead fouling.

Additionally, the cartridge features clean burning propellants to further reducing fouling.  Of course, that’s a common marketing statement in order to sell you overpriced ammunition – so I figured I’d put it to the test.  At the time I tested this, I was only able to find the 115gr 9mm in stock, though they also sell this cartridge in 165gr .40 S&W and 230gr .45ACP.   This limited some of the tests I planned to do, but more on that below.

I decided to test the 9mm with a Beretta 92A1 that I shoot pretty often, so I could get a good read on the accuracy of this cartridge.  Additionally, it’s chrome-lined barrel would with judging the cleanliness.

So how did it do?

After the first magazine, there was only a touch of haze on the surfaces, but it still barely looked like it had been fired.

Here was the results after the 50 round box.  As far as I could tell, it did seem to have less buildup than the PMC Bronze I normally shoot, and consider pretty clean.  This was significantly cleaner than some of the cheaper stuff I’ve used.  Since this test I’ve used it a few more times, and the claim of less fouling seems to hold up.

As far as accuracy – as to be expected with a premium priced practice ammunition, was pretty good.  Definitely better than cheaper stuff like range reloads / Tula / Freedom Munitions / etc., but about on par with PMC Bronze / Winchester Train & Defend, at least as tested at 15 yards.

The ammunition also claims to be lower recoil thanks to lower friction – but I didn’t seem to feel any difference.

As far as the lower temperature claims, it seems logical to me, but I wasn’t really able to notice a difference or do any empirical test to that end.  What I would like to do, however, is get my hands on some of the .45ACP and run a magazine through a submachine gun, then test with a non-contact thermometer, and compare against some Federal American Eagle.  I’d also like to see if the ‘clean burning propellants’ make any difference in suppressor fouling, especially since Federal makes an even more premium ‘American Eagle Suppressor‘ load.  So keep an eye here or on our facebook page for updates.

 

Budget “Precision” AR

First off – yeah, not a “precision” rifle by any means, but a decent range plinker that’ll tack-drive just fine inside of 300y.  Just thought that was worth mentioning in case the sarcasm in the title wasn’t on-the-nose enough.

In case you haven’t noticed, the entry price of ARs has fallen off a cliff lately.  A look at the front page of Bud’s Gun Shop will usually show you at least one budget entry AR from a maker you’ve either never seen, or didn’t think you’d ever see in the AR Market, for right around $500.

Remember just a few years ago when these were hovering at $1k?  Good times.  Anywho, the price to build ’em has likewise plummeted, so if you’ve ever wanted to put one together, if you’re sitting on a closet full of lowers you bought during the great panic, you’ve been thinking of dabbling in a different caliber like .458, or you just want to mix ‘n match a new complete lower and barreled upper to get what you want, now’s the time.

I happened across some good sales around Memorial Day, but since checking, the prices on some of these have actually stayed at the sale price, so this info should still be pretty close to accurate.  As the first thing I acquired to kick this off was a Palmetto State Armory complete lower, I figured I’d keep it simple and go with a barreled upper and see if I could put something together that would reliably drive tacks at paper or varmints out to 300 yards on the cheap.

Since I was yet to foray into FDE colored stuff, I figured for my cheapo “blemished” lower, I’d have Palmetto send me one with FDE furniture.  I figured I’d probably be chucking it anyway, so  why not have a few FDE bits in the parts bin with all the black stuff.  Note on the “blemished” lower – best I could find that counted as a blemish, was an ever so slight discoloration in the finish.  Most people I know that get these never find the “blemish.”  Unless someone with inside info tells me otherwise, I’ve got to assume if it gets knocked over, or someone sneezes on it at some point in production, it’s marked “blem.”

For the barreled upper – I tried to find something over 16″ in a profile that made sense, but failed to find either while keeping the price point, so settled on the ubiquitous 16″ M4 profile.  Specifically, I went with what was on sale at Primary Arms.  I’ve heard mixed thing about Radical Firearms’ stuff, but most of the issues are with complete rifles, and typical of cheap BCG assemblies.  In this case, I’m just going for a barreled upper, and at that price, I’ll work it out, even if I have to replace the gas block or something. Plus, it’s always nice to throw business to a local manufacturer.

It’s also worth noting that the cheapest they had on sale came with a rather interesting hand guard.  It’s a free floated round tube with MOE compatible slots.  As best as I can tell, it’s a Radical Firearms original part (it is marked with their logo on the forward part of the rail).  While I like the look, and the round shape and size are pretty comfortable – the finish wasn’t great, and after now having used it, I can say, MOE attachment sucks – no wonder they developed m-lok.

So, upper and lower mated with no problem, rifle now needs a heart.  Luck had it that PSA had a Nickel Boron BCG on sale for $100 (and, despite being advertised as a daily deal, appears to *still* be on sale for that price).  I’ve never had a bling BCG, so figured I’d get it a shot.

Note: it’s not a full auto BCG, as a lot of folks tend to like using, with the thought it gives it extra strength / weight due to the extra material, but it’s also a $100 complete NiB BCG, so make of that what you will.

Also needed a charging handle, and figuring I was going to scope this one, and riding on the bling high of the NiB BCG, I went with a Gunfighter Mod 4 CH from Primary Arms that I’d already had waiting for a project in the parts bin, so in it went.

So that’s it, the rifle now passing function check, it was time to put some bits and pieces on there to make it capable of what I wanted out of it.  I already had a perfectly decent optic not in use, an older Bushnell Banner 4-12x40mm Adjustable Dusk/Dawn scope.  It hadn’t had a home in a couple of years, and punching paper at the range or bulls-eyeing prairie dogs doesn’t require mil-dots or fancy target turrets, so this will do.  I also had a cheap, but serviceable AR mount that would work for said scope.  I’ll include both of these, as well as the charging handle in the final price, but in my case, I didn’t have to worry about them.

This brings me around to one of my final points – with the FDE funiture on there, I figured I’d delve into one more thing I’ve been meaning to try out, and this being a cheap build, I’ve got no qualms about it – rattle can painting a rifle.  After doing a bit of research and running across this:

(Credit to jwfuhrman on m4carbine.net)

I went with Rust-Oleum Satin Dark Taupe.  It still ended up being a bit lighter than I wanted, probably a closer match to Magpul’s new “Sand” color, but matching shades of FDE is pretty tricky business, and I’m still happy with the way it turned out.  It’s also worth mentioning that this paint took a good 12 hours before it wasn’t tacky, and about a full day before I was comfortable handling it.  It’s also a tad glossier than I’d have liked, but the feel to the touch reminds me of the satin Cerakote finishes, which is exactly what I wanted.  Also, it’s already began to dull a tad, and should lose that extra sheen with regular use.

Spraying it was as easy as masking parts off and dusting until the black was covered.  It’s worth noting that you’d probably want a good clean and degreasing with brake cleaner or similar before doing this under normal conditions, but as these were new in the plastic and unlubricated, I didn’t need to do that kind of prep.

While I haven’t gotten a chance to test it at range due to weather lately, I did a 25 yard 100 yard zero at a local indoor range using free-to-download targets from ARMA DYNAMICS.  These are a pretty good resource to get a quick and dirty zero if all you’ve got access to is an indoor range.  In shooting it, I noticed two minor things this rifle could still use to make it that much better at it’s given objective, that would still be within what I consider a budget price range:

A bipod (which also required mounting solution, and as this tube had MOE slots, I went with a Magpul MOE 5 slot rail segment)…

…and a fixed stock.  I’d been wanting to try out the the carbine MOE Fixed stock I’d been seeing.  With the extended pad, it’s still just a tad shorter than I’d like, about the length of a 6 position one in from the longest, but it’ll do.

So that’s that, for now.  I’ll give an update when I get to stretch it’s legs a bit, but for the all-in on this one, even if I had to buy the parts I already had on hand, it’s a steal.  As stated at the beginning, if you’re not yet in the AR club and want to, or simply have AR projects you’ve been wanting to start (or finish), now’s the time.

Build Price Breakdown:

BLEM PSA AR-15 FREEDOM CLASSIC LOWER – 7779346B
$129.99
PSA FREEDOM 5.56 NICKEL BORON BCG – 516445123
$99.99
Radical Firearms 16″ 5.56 M4 Barreled Upper – with 10″ MOE FGS
$179.99
Bravo Company / Vltor 5.56/.223 Charging Handle Mod 4
$49.95
Bushnell Banner 4-12x 40mm Adjustable Obj Rifle Scope
$89.99
CCOP High Profile AR-ArmourTac Rifle Scope Mount Rings
$33.55
Rust-Oleum 241238 Satin Enamels Spray, Dark Taupe
$3.98
Leapers Tactical OP Bipod
$32.97
Magpul MOE Polymer Rail Section – 5 Slot
$4.49
Magpul MOE Fixed Carbine Stock
$23.99
Magpul PRS Extended Rubber Butt-Pad 0.80″
$11.95

Total Price as Configured: $660.84
No shipping prices were required in the above build

If I was to spend a bit more on it, the first thing I’d go for would be replacing the milspec trigger PSA included.  It’s not the worst, but it’s a typical milspec AR trigger.  I’d try to catch a sale for a Timney or Geissele.

PSA AR-9 Hybrid, Part 2: SBR’ed

 

If you saw the previous review/build post here, you’d know there was something we’ve been waiting on.

Well, after only 239 days, our Form 1 (e-filed, trust) was approved.  So, $200, 7 Months, and 25 Days, we’ve got our official Federal Government A-OK to put a different shaped piece of aluminum and rubber on the back of our pistol.

Transition was easy once the necessities were out of the way – that is, engraving the trust name on the receiver, making that a new SBR was manufactured, where and by whom, to match the approved Form 1, and what is now on the NFA registry.

On that note, I have to give a shout out to John Kleiber of Class 3 Weapons in Houston, TX.  If you need some engraving done, or want to skip the process and just buy an SBR’ed lower or full SBR (or just about any other NFA item you can think up), give them a call.

Once that was out of the way, all that was left to do was swap the Pistol Buffer and End Plate for a standard AR Buffer, End Plate, and Castle Nut.  Went with a low cost DPMS buffer tube, as I’ve used these a few times before, matching castle nut, and a PSA End Plate with a QD point.

And, finally, the transcendent moment where you put a stock on there.

I initially went with what I had laying around because I hadn’t decided on anything special yet, so it got an old Windham marked standard AR stock.

After shooting with it once, and deciding I wanted something a bit more stable, and running across one in my local Academy Sports, I picked up the flavor-of-the-month MFT Minimalist I’ve been seeing on 9 out of 10 posts on r/nfa lately.

The hype is well deserved though, its stable, with a nice wide contact surface, and gave a perfect fit on my buffer tube with absolutely zero rattle, while also not being too tight to move freely when engaged.  I’ve heard some cases where people have issues with the Minimalist being a bit too night, but the fit with the DPMS tubed seemed perfect.

It’s noteworthy that PSA has come out with a different model of this lower that has slightly different lines that make it look a tad more like the AR from which it was derived, and has the Last Round Bolt Hold Open feature.  While I like the design a bit better aesthetically, and LRBHO is a great feature – this is primarily a range toy, and that would be one more moving part to fail.