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Range Report (M&P FSS follow up)

Just a quick, yet well overdue follow up to my last range report.  I finally had a chance to shoot the Apex poly-FSS equipped M&P 9L on paper.  After a few warm up shots, I shot this group free hand (beware of cr@ppy cell phone pic):

10 shot group at 10 yards with M&P 9L w/ Apex polymer FSS trigger kit

10 shot group at 10 yards with M&P 9L w/ Apex polymer FSS trigger kit using Federal 115 gr FMJ RN

The orange spot is a 1 1/2″ target spot with the group being about the width of my thumb with slight vertical stringing.  I’m pretty sure the stringing is my fault as I adjusted my grip while shooting this group; the fact that it is off center I attribute to the rear sight placement.  In order to change out the factory sear block for the Apex one, the rear sight must be moved out of the way*.  Obviously I did not restore it to the exact same spot.

Time for some math.  Or I could just use Brownells sight correction calculator

  • Distance between front and rear sight faces: 7.25″
  • Distance to target: 360″
  • Amount of correction desired: 1″ (to the left)

Therefore, I need to move the rear sight:  0.020 inches to the left

Now where did I put my caliper?

As for the trigger, I’m still very happy.  Of note is that I originally reported the pull weight at 4 lbs 10 oz, but using the Lyman digital trigger pull scale borrowed from a range employee I measured it again at 5 lbs even.  I’m not sure which scale is more accurate but I am careful to keep my technique consistent.  Out of curiosity, I will swap the carry weight trigger spring for the competition weight spring before my next range trip to see how much difference it makes in pull weight and subjective feel.

Either way the trigger feel is fantastic and my personal metric of ‘do I shoot it better after the mod?’ tells me that this was definitely a worthwhile upgrade and it made the M&P’s easier for me to shoot accurately.

FTC notice: TANSTAAFL. I bought it. Bugg3r off.

*some might consider this a design flaw, although it may very well be to avoid a patent infringement. ,:/

Range Report: +1 New Shooter

As mentioned Friday, I had the privilege of introducing another person to the joy of responsible firearms use this past weekend.

The old saying that you never get a second chance at a first impression holds true and I try to stack the odds in favor of a positive experience when bringing in new shooters.  Things like using ear plugs and electronic muffs for indoor shooting, larger high contrast ‘positive feedback’ targets, shorter distances and light recoiling, accurate firearms (.22 rimfire) all make the experience easier.  I assume up front that I will cover all the costs associated. [Hey, the first one’s free. *wink*]  I also try to avoid crowds (unable to do that this time), using unfamiliar jargon, overly technical details, politics, and targets that represent other people or animals.  My goal is simply to introduce my hobby to the person.  Afterwards, if they want more info, I can always elaborate.

We met at a local indoor range on Saturday afternoon and it was packed!  While we waited for a lane, I covered Cooper’s rules of safety and the basics of grip, stance and sight alignment.  Thankfully, a range employee found a quiet area for us to use during the instruction.  Trying to explain anything on a live range even with electronic hearing protection is, um, difficult.

The dreaded flinch is something we all have to overcome; preventing it in the first place is something to strive for.  Public ranges present more of a challenge with new shooters due to the noise from the other patrons.  Some of the benefits of using a rimfire are lost when the guy in the next lane is firing a .40 S&W, .357 mag, shotgun, etc.  When timing allows, I prefer to instruct new shooters using a pellet gun in the backyard before going to a gun range or better yet out to the country.

My student was a quick study and quickly understood the safety and sight alignment concepts; grip, stance and trigger press were, of course, unfamiliar and required a bit more explanation.  However, once we had the chance to shoot, he took to it like a duck to water.

Starting at about 5 yards, my student put the first 10 rounds into about a 5 inch group using my Ruger 22/45 with a fiber optic front sight.  Pretty good for a first go!  We worked a bit on grip and trigger press for another magazine or two and soon moved a fresh target out to 7 yards in order to force more focus onto the front sight.  He did very well again and kept the group at about the same size or smaller at that distance.

After a hundred rounds or so of .22, I asked if he’d like to try something else.  He gladly accepted the chance to shoot a few rounds of 9mm* and .38 special.  Again he shot well and enjoyed every moment of it.  We finished up with a magazine or two of .22 to reinforce good habits and called it a day.

As we were leaving he asked if he could reimburse me for the expense.  I thanked him for offering but declined stating that I found it rewarding that he had a good time and that was enough.  When he pressed a bit, I responded that if he really wanted to, the best remuneration he could give me would be to join the NRA**.  He responded with a half-joking, “Well, I don’t want to be on any lists.”  Smiling, I half-joked back saying, “I don’t understand. You’re already on the lists.” [He has a job requiring federal security clearance and at least two hobbies requiring federal licenses.]  He agreed to consider it. We talked a bit more and parted as friends, agreeing we both want more range time.

*M&P with polymer FSS trigger – brief report tomorrow

**Yes, I did say I try to avoid politics with new shooters but I also want to keep being able to exercise my rights and enjoy my favorite past time.  Remember: If each member just brought in one more, the membership would double.


AAR: Saiga at a Shotgun Match – Observations and Lessons

I attended my first Action Shotgun match Sunday with a gun, my DIY Saiga 12, that I had only shot once before only two days prior. Being a noob to this discipline of competition, my goals were straightforward: (1) Be safe, (2) Have fun, (3) Learn more about my shotgun, (4) Not embarrass myself too badly (5) Have fun.

About half a dozen shooters were present sporting mostly tube magazine fed semi-autos of Benelli-type inertial action (Benelli, Mossberg 930 SPX, and a Stoeger 2000; all with extended magazines). I was the only Saiga shooter there that day. Some of the competitors were obviously practiced and experienced in this game and had the skill and equipment to make a very good showing. It seemed everyone else had a belt rig with half a dozen shell caddies on it.

My rig on the other hand, was a leather gunbelt with an old $12 shotgun shell bag hanging on it.  I kept three magazines loaded with shot in the largest pouch closest to me with the crimps facing up and out and a mag loaded with slugs in the second closest pouch nose down facing to the rear.

My shotgun belt rig – expensive, rare and highly specialized.

The rules for the match stipulated that everything except the cardboard IPSC targets had to be shot with #8 shot or smaller (club rule) and slugs were for cardboard only. We were warned that putting a slug on steel was a match DQ. The club also has a rule due to the angle of the berms to the other shooting areas that the gun must stay mostly horizontal for each course of fire.

The course of fire was varied with barricades, forward falling poppers, plates on stands, clays on stands, swingers (both cardboard IPSC targets and plates with clays in the center) and a Texas Star. All targets were set at about 10-12 yds away. From my experiences playing with the SASS crowd, I was comfortable with the 170 safety arc, shooting in turn, making ready, showing clear, shooting on the clock, etc. but I also knew that I might be hindered by other learned patterns of behavior that differed from this game. Namely, shooting from behind cover and reloading on the move. The horizontal-gun-at-all-times was something that was unfamiliar too. Not having those skills ingrained and combined with my lack of familiarity with the Saiga led me to try and slow down and focus on safety and the front sight. That paid off fairly well for the first two stages…

I understand that shotgun matches are almost as much about reloading as they are shooting. This match followed that paradigm. It was structured to force reloading at certain points by stating a certain number of rounds loaded at the start, slug target placement, etc. Going in I knew that the tube mag fed guns benefit from ‘last in, first out’ feeding. For those to load a slug, just load into the tube and cycle the action to bring it into the chamber. While the Saiga 12 does benefit from the ability to replenish ammo a full mag at a time, that ability has to be balanced with the facts that the gun does not have a last round bolt-hold-open, mags have to be rocked in, and there really isn’t a way to interrupt the mag feeding to load a slug when needed.

So with a lot to remember and manage I shot the match:

Stage 1: [shooters with guns of greater than 5 capacity can load 8+1] From left side of barricade, engage four 5” plates from behind cover in ‘barricade order’ (slicing the pie, outside to inside). Shooter then moves to right side of barricade and engages 3 more plates in barricade order. Load two slugs, step on platform to start IPSC cardboard swinger and engage twice. Reloading on the move, move right 10′ to next barricade and from the right side shoot activation plate and then the two swinging plates (breaking the clays in the center of each). Move right again about 10′ to the third barricade, loading as needed, and engage a single forward falling plate and then the Texas Star.

Considering it was my first time shooting the Saiga against the clock I think I shot this one fairly well. Slugs had to be loaded from the body but there was no penalty for dropping live rounds my stage went like this: I shot the first seven targets, dumped the mag with a live round, pulled the bolt to the rear, clearing the action and locked it back, loaded a mag with slugs, released the action, shot two, dumped the mag, cleared the action, held the bolt to the rear while loading a third mag loaded with shot and finished the stage.

Lessons learned: Don’t crowd the barricade; step back. For my first shots, I must have looked like I was trying to brace on the barricade a la Bianchi Cup-style which only served to hang the bolt handle against the frame preventing it from cycling after the first shot. This also caused me to raise the barrel as I moved to the right side, earning me a warning [“Muzzle!”] because I didn’t keep the gun horizontal. In all my prior encounters with stage props (barricades, windows, doors, buckboards, stagecoaches, bars, jails, horses, etc.) I don’t ever recall having to always keep the gun level. That is definitely something I need to work on for that range. From there, my mag changes were not smooth and probably looked more like a wrestling match than a shooting match. I left a trail of half full mags and loose live rounds behind me but at least I hit everything I shot at and didn’t have to make up any rounds due to plates not falling or clays not breaking. And I didn’t earn any procedurals.

I noticed another shooter, when loading slugs, mostly topped off his Benelli with shot before adding his two slugs. This reduced the amount of loading he had to do to finish the stage. I didn’t think to ask if it was kosher to have mags with mixed ammo already preloaded. At a slug changeover having a mag fully loaded with the top rounds being slugs would save me an additional mag change afterward. However, I don’t want to engage in gamesmanship either. Loading the slugs into an already loaded mag on the clock would accomplish the same thing but unlike with the tube autos, doing so would require two hands.

Stage 2: Stand and hose. No cover, no movement. Start at low ready. Five forward-falling poppers (full size, three half size, full size – about a yard apart from each other). Score. Reset. Repeat.

This one felt good.  I hammered them left to right with five, centered, high hits and did it in somewhere around three and a half seconds 2.88 seconds. My second run was faster and came in at bit under three seconds 2.46 seconds. I think I actually won that stage, primarily because most of the other guys each had to fire extra shots to get all the poppers down. I think it was at this point somebody asked me what choke I was using to which I replied, “None.” It was also at this point that I remembered that I was running the gun pretty much without lube. I had cleaned it after the initial function test and hadn’t lubed it.

Stage 3: Starting out in the open, engage 4 ‘clays on sticks’ then while reloading on the move, cover the 10 yds laterally to the right to the next 4 clays on sticks shooting them while still moving. Shooter then turns to the right, loads a slug and while behind cover shot between two no-shoot silhouettes to an IPSC target behind them. Moving again to the right to a barricade shooter then engages four plates on stands in barricade order from behind cover.

This is where I lost some mojo. Still happy from my last run, I ‘blazed’ through this stage in 33 seconds (again leaving a trail of half empty mags and loaded rounds behind me). I was still ‘less than smooth’ in the way doing 40 mph on a washboard road in a go cart is ‘less than smooth’ at but to this point each target had only required one round to ‘neutralize’ so I was feeling pretty good. Until they told me I had five procedurals on that stage.  The years of CAS programming came back and I had run that stage pretty much on auto-pilot.  Not reloading on the move (x2). Not shooting on the move. Not shooting from behind cover (x2). Ugh.  At five seconds per procedural, that stings.  The shooter that won that stage did so in under 25 seconds and did it with an extra ‘o’ in smooth. (He shoots off the left shoulder and so actually he did it walking backwards – not in heels though.)

Stage 4: Pretty much the same as Stage 1 but shot in reverse order with a minor change for the slug target.

I got two procedurals on this one; probably because I let my performance on Stage 3 rattle me and I wound up shooting from the wrong sides of a couple of the barricades and got another warning for raising my muzzle. I also forgot that my gun had a front sight and I had to expend way too many rounds getting hits on the suddenly stubborn Texas Star.

So after all that, how would I rate the day? Awesome! I got to play with my new toy, ring steel, break clays, punch holes and meet some new friends. My gun cycled every time and aside from some issues with the trigger nut, it ran flawlessly. Everyone there was friendly, made me feel welcome and tolerated my noob questions and errors. The small match turnout due to the holiday was a good thing for me because it let me try this discipline without too much additional stress.  Many hands make for light work and everyone pitched in for target pasting, resetting, scoring (not me so much there) and taking it all down after the match. I learned a lot from the match, not just on my own but from watching and talking with others. I have a better working knowledge of problem solving with a Saiga 12 and what I might need to change to improve my skill with it. It was a great day.

More lessons learned:

  • I wouldn’t say that the match was any harder than any of the Cowboy Action Matches I’ve attended (after all this match only required me to manage one gun, not four, and all the shotguns at this match auto-reloaded themselves after every shot).  It just required a different skill set.  Thankfully I am somewhat trainable and with more practice and familiarity I’ll have an easier time with it.
  • I will investigate other belt rigs.
  • I need to remember to take pictures for the blog…
  • Despite all my previous competition experience, I forgot to bring sunblock and enough water. Being a fair sort of fellow, putting me in the sun is like putting a fork in a microwave. I need to replace the Bullfrog that normally resides in my range bag. Thankfully with a small turnout and everyone helping we were not out in the sun for too long.
  • I now know where just about every sharp edge is on my Saiga 12. Gloves will be something I add to my kit.
  • The stock sights can definitely need improvement. I’m not sure how I’ll go about that just yet.
  • Even though my equipment functioned well Sunday (when I did my part) I need to number my mags so I can track them.
  • Whereas my last post stated that my DIY project was complete, I am also now considering adding some user friendly ergonomic enhancements: possibly an extended mag release lever, a safety with tab that can be reached with the trigger finger, and a charging handle that is easier on my fingers. An extended recoil pad would still be nice but in competition, the adrenaline kept me from feeling the recoil.
  • I want to do this again. Soon.

Update: Scores were emailed yesterday and I came in third [out of five], no points down, with one stage win (!).  I did not have any FTN’s and my aggregate raw time was actually faster than that of the winner by .47 secs – it was the 35 seconds of penalties that pushed me down the ranks, proving that shooting clean and moving smooth and steady wins every time.

Range Report: Shooting the Medusa Revolver

I recently had the rare privilege of shooting the what some consider to be ‘ultimate survival handgun’, the Phillips & Rodgers Medusa revolver.  Like many, I’ve kicked mentally kicked myself for not buying one when they were in production.  However, a long time friend of mine recently purchased the one pictured below and was kind enough to let me shoot it.

Phillips & Rodgers Medusa Multi-Caliber Revolver

Phillips & Rodgers Medusa Multi-Caliber Revolver

As many of you know, this innovative multi-caliber handgun is capable, according to the manual, of shooting 25 different cartridges (all in the .353. to .357 cal. range; Ex: .380 ACP, 9x19mm Parabellum, 9x18mm Makarov, 9x21mm, 9x23mm, 38 Super, 38 Colt, 38 Long Colt, 38 Special, .357 Magnum, etc.).  Beyond what the manual recommends, it can actually fire 104 different cartridges from around the globe.  It is capable of doing so mostly due to its unique extractor that allows headspacing of both standard rimmed (most revolvers) and rimless cartridges (most semi-autos).   Other features to accomplish reliability and safety across so many cartridges include special steels, a patented firing pin design, and individual forcing cones in each chamber.

The extractor has what are best described as spring loaded ‘fingers’ that exert slight outward pressure to grasp the extractor groove of a rimless cartridge to keep it from falling deeper into the cylinder and away from the firing pin, maintaining proper headspace.  Because there is a channel under each extractor, when a standard rimmed cartridge is inserted that chamber’s extractor compresses into the recess allowing the cartridge to headspace on the rear of the cylinder like any other revolver.  Due to this design, every round loaded does have to be  pressed into place because of the friction of the extractor that rides along the cartridge until it literally snaps into place.  Rounds do not drop into place and you won’t win any speed contests that require reloads.  Another consideration is that semi-auto cartridges that usually headspace on the case mouth may hang up on the extractor and may have to be tilted into the chamber one at time to avoid putting undue stress on the extractor tabs.

An interesting feature of the Medusa is that since the chamber’s extractors can flex independently of each other, it is possible (in a pinch) to mix ammunition within the same cylinder – but I don’t recommend it. Here’s why: before shooting it I did a bit of research on the gun.  Being out of production, I wanted to know if there are any special considerations to adhere to when using one.  As it turns out, there are.  After reading two excellent articles about the gun (here and here).  I stumbled across an auction on Gunbroker.com for another Medusa that had two of the extractor tips broken off.  While the rest of the gun is built like a tank (the cylinder even uses the same steel as F16 gatling barrels), care must be taken to protect the extractor.  The auction description speculated that the extractor fingers might have been damaged because the owner did not adhere to the owner’s manual that states that longer cartridges should be fired before shorter ones when mixing ammunition at the range.

I am certainly glad that I read that!  I wouldn’t want to damage this unusual (and borrowed and out of production) gun.  Although the auction’s description of the manual’s recommendation is not entirely specific – the manual’s intent is that when shooting different types of ammunition during the same range session, begin with cylinder-fulls of  the longest cartridges being shot that day before loading and shooting the shorter rounds [i.e. work longest to shortest].  This allows the fouling to stay ahead of the casings and therefore prevents excess friction required to extract the brass, reducing strain on the extractor.  To be on the safe side, we did not mix cartridges in the cylinder.  That way I knew the position of the fouling to be consistent.

So how did it shoot?

Superbly.  However, no eldritch lightning or other mystical energy leaped forth from the barrel to smite the target.  If you’ve shot a Smith and Wesson .357 mag revolver, the sensation is  familiar.  The Medusa does have more of a rock solid heft that is quite comforting and the lockwork does move with precision.  Even closing the cylinder is reassuring as one feels it lock tight as a bank vault.   The trigger is nearly ‘glass rod’ crisp when firing single action and smooth in double action.  Take note that the Medusa does not have a ‘competition’ action / trigger pull (nor should it, this is a working gun); it is full weight as it must to be able to reliably ignite any primer from any cartridge that it chambers.  Some of the perceived weight of the trigger pull is lessened by the old-school wide and grooved trigger.

That said, with the Medusa’s heft, full lug barrel and crisp trigger, shooting it is very comfortable.  Our distance for sighting in was 20 yards and when dialed in for .357 magnum, the gun only shot about 2 inches low at the same distance when using .38 special and 9×19 mm.  When we were careful, groups ran about two to three inches across all loads, shot offhand.  At 15 yards, I had no problem quickly running down a line of bowling pins.  All ammo fired during the outing was factory loaded.  I am certain that from the bench (or in the hands of Jerry Miculek), better accuracy would be realized.

My Pard & the Medusa in action, saving the back country from zombies and rabid bowling pins.

My Pard & the Medusa in action, saving the back country from zombies and rabid bowling pins.

We started with .357 mag ammo and moved to .38 special and then to 9 mm Para.  Late in the session a cylinder of .38 special found its way into the gun and slightly sticky extraction was evident due to the fouling from the previous 9mm’s.  After careful extraction of the spent brass, a little spray of CLP loosened things up again.  The intricacy of the cylinder and extractor assembly would seem to warrant some addition care in cleaning this firearm.

Many consider the Medusa the perfect survival (or CoMWeC, SHTF, TEOTWAWKI, etc.) handgun and they may be right, but there are considerations to observe when using one.  Even then, it’s still a handgun.  For my part, I particularly admire the ingenuity of design, excellence of execution and exceptional utility that the Medusa offers.  Someday I hope to add one* to my collection.  It was truly ahead of its time.

[*P&R also made Medusa replacement cylinders for Ruger single action .357 mag revolvers – one of those would be sweet!]

It’s about trust – Concealed Carry Ammo Considerations

Please read this piece by Sebastian.  I’d like to call attention to this comment by ‘Whitebread’ (below the article):

Every time I go to the range (assuming this to be once every month or so), the first magazine I shoot is the one that I’d been carrying in the gun. I do not oil or clean out the gun prior to going to the range. I arrive, unholster, and start my work using the carry ammo. After the first magazine, I might give the gun some oil and blow out the dust if I’m going to be shooting a lot more.

This is very reassuring, especially if you’re prone to “gun won’t work” nightmares. The point being driven home is that it WOULD have worked had you needed it. If it DOESN’T work, of course, you’ve got issues to deal with.

I had just such an experience two weekends ago, without the reassuring part.  Out with a friend having a good time at the range and before we started to pack it in for the day I thought I’d shoot my carry gun.  I drew it as I’d been carrying it, took a fine bead and pressed the trigger and heard the loudest click ever.

Chilling, but I recovered and performed a Tap-Rack-Bang drill, only to hear another ‘click’.

Several more attempts to fire resulted in repeated failures to fire on multiple cartridges due to light firing pin strikes.  A cold feeling in my stomach began as I realized that this tool which I’d carried for quite a while now was not reliable.  It worked the last time I shot it.  It’s clean, mechanically everything seems to function as intended and the ammunition is a ‘premium’ factory defensive load.  I don’t know what the problem is.

Sure, it’s better to find out now rather than when it would be needed most, but that’s about all the comfort I have.  I called the manufacturer and they asked me to send it in for repair, which I certainly will.  But by all means test your rig.  Often.

I’m carrying something else for now.