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DIY and Mods: User Friendly Chamber Flags

Chamber flags are useful safety items and even when not required due to range rules, I’ll use them just as a courtesy to other shooters.  However, some of them are not the most user friendly of devices, often they require a ‘bit of fiddling’ to get them in and out of the chamber.  With that in mind, here’s how I modify chamber flags.  [as usual, click images to enlarge]

Just knock off two corners and shave the sides of the stick.

Before and After.

All those right angles and nibs sticking out make for plenty to snag on.  I trim the outside corner and trim the sides to make it easier to insert and remove.  Trimming the inside corner of the flag provides a ‘finger hook’ that makes removal as easy as swiping a finger alongside the receiver.

Also while the standard flag will fit in a .22 rimfire bore, you can make your own by using a piece of string trimmer line and adding a wire crimp butt connector.  (I resisted the impulse of sophomoric humor; the link is safe)

A piece of weed whacker line and a crimped wire connector makes for a fine rimfire chamber flag

A piece of weed whacker line and a crimped wire connector makes a fine rimfire chamber flag

While the crimp connector isn’t absolutely necessary, I like it there for the peace of mind knowing the trimmer line can’t slip all the way into the bore.

For shotguns, the flags themselves aren’t really unwieldy but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be improved.  I recommend simply drilling a hole and adding a key chain of your choice.

Chamber flags for shotguns don't seem as unwieldy, but can still be improved

“Because I like it” is enough reason for me.

I realize that these aren’t revolutionary, life-changing mods but they make life a little bit easier on the range.  I hope you find them useful too.

DIY Saiga 12, part 2 – Facilitating Mag Changes for Slug Changeovers

It’s been a couple of months since I posted about building up my DIY Saiga 12 and attending my first shotgun action match.  Since then I’ve had a chance to shoot it some more, and again at a match and I have modified my gun based on what I thought could be improved for use (primarily in competition).

One of the first things that I wanted to improve was speed and ease of magazine changes for slug changeovers.  Changing from shot to slug and back to shot using an AK-type shotgun is one of the greatest time sucks when on the clock.  To better accomplish that task I first wanted a mag coupler.  Having read on the internetz that a .308 MagCinch would also work for Saiga 12 mags, I bought one only to find that the ridges and bumps on the AGP magazines prevented proper contact of the mating surfaces which meant no matter how tightly they were joined, the magazines still had a fair amount of independent movement (i.e. ‘slop’).  Using a white crayon, I marked the MagCinch brackets where they needed to be relieved and then, carefully (with lots of trial fitting) used a Dremel tool to grind away where needed to allow solid contact.  This was a complete success and resulted in two magazines joined solidly.

.308 MagCinch on Saiga 12 mags from AGP. The staggered heights allows free access to the charging handle.

Now I keep shot loads in the right magazine and slugs in the left allowing me to change between the two as needed.  I was concerned that the recoil of a 12 gauge might cause rounds to dislodge on the open topped ‘jungle clipped’ magazine but that has turned out, thankfully, to not be the case.  For several hundred rounds now I have not had a single shell on the open mag dislodge or even move in the slightest for that matter.  However, changing between the two magazines still requires a particular technique.  Since S-12 magazines will not easily seat on an unmodified closed bolt, I also added a Tromix charging handle and a JT engineering extended magazine release which I thought would help with the method I use to more quickly change magazines.  That technique (the “Iraqi method”) can be seen in this video.

Proper combat technique or not, this method allows me to (1) fire a shot, (2) change my firing grip to grab the charging handle and pull it fully to the rear, clearing the chamber and holding the gun level against my shoulder, (3) reach up with my left hand to grab the magazines, (4) thumb the magazine release with my left hand to release the shot filled mag, (5) move the slug mag over two inches and lock it in place [and thereby not have to seat it on a closed bolt], and finally (6) release the charging handle to chamber a slug round and (7) reacquire a firing grip.  The knurled charging handle does help me perform this action with more control and comfort; the extended mag release does not.

Charging handle and mag release; magazine for shot loads

One of the reasons I chose JT’s single sided mag release was so that I could still use my left thumb for some mag changes and my trigger finger for others. Having my gun modified to allow loading on a closed bolt would largely eliminate having to do the manipulations above.  Another note regarding the extended mag release: It works well but I find that I have to shift my grip to use my index finger to release a magazine.  Maybe I need to look into an extended, extended magazine release.  Either way until I have the gun modded to load on a closed bolt, the extended release isn’t particularly useful because I’ll still have to use the “Iraqi reload” technique or lock the bolt back to load another magazine and both actions require two hands, negating the benefit of having an extended mag release.  However, the magazine coupler, the charging handle and the change in technique have significantly reduced the time I take to change from shot to slugs and back.

Charging handle and mag release; magazine for slug loads

Stay tuned for “DIY Saiga 12, Part 3 – Optics and Freakin’ Lasers!”

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.

Saiga 12 DIY project complete [w/ notes and pics]

I’ve had a Saiga 12 for a well over a year now but hadn’t gotten around to doing the trigger group/pistol grip conversion.   After reading Linoge’s posts about his recent acquisition: Vera (and my correct guess as to its identity thus allowing him to share it with the world), my interest to see the project through was rekindled.  I ordered parts from Carolina Shooters Supply and used the Saiga 12 forum discount code to get 5% off.   Props must be given to CSS; the parts were ordered in the late afternoon on a Friday and were shipped the same day.  CSS also has helpful videos on how to go about the procedure once the parts are in hand.

This was not the first S-12 conversion I have performed.  The first was for a buddy whose girlfriend asked me what gun-thing she should get for his birthday last year.  I told her about the kits and told her I would perform the surgery so she could surprise him.  Upon receiving it, he of course instantly realized she was a keeper and married her.  Of course, having his gun to practice on helped and my conversion was easier and faster.  I also learned in between that I wanted a AR stock adapter for mine.  My buddy’s kit came with a K-Var polymer stock with a steel buttplate.  Being the sort to perform my due diligence before turning over the gun to said buddy, I ‘function tested’ it with 50 rounds of high brass birdshot.  [Warning: incoming exaggeration] The sensation of doing so can accurately be replicated by placing a can of Spam again your shoulder, lid towards you, and having someone repeatedly smack it with a sledgehammer.  Also learned from the first build was that while I like the Ergo grips on my AR’s, the Ergo AK grip placed my hand too low and thus my finger too low on the trigger to be comfortable.

My friend’s Saiga 12 that I got to practice on

For my build I used the CSS trigger guard and trigger kit with a Hogue AK grip, a CAA AK aluminum stock adapter and Magpul MOE stock.  Addtionally I added the V-plug from MD Arms for gas port regulation.  Just for additional CDI factor, I added a DPH Phantom Flash Enhancer.  Funny thing, the muzzle device didn’t look that big on the webpage…

Phantom Flash Enhancer for Saiga 12

The major lesson learned this go around (and what really helped speed the project) was learning how to properly use a cobalt drill bit.  A small thing yes, but important: Go slow.  Don’t get anxious once the bit starts biting into the steel and go full throttle.  You will burn the bit causing it to lose its temper (literally) and it won’t cut ever again.  There, four dollars and time saved.

I’m also glad I got the Hogue grip.  It did require fitting in order to be placed forward enough to seat the attachment screw, but comfort and hand placement is much improved compared to the Ergo AK grip.  The CAA stock adapter required judicious amounts of filing and fitting to attach mostly due to the head of rearmost triggerguard screw.

So how did it turn out?  Have a gander.

mostly converted at this point; did you know a MASH clip fit the hole in the tang nicely?

Completed S12 DIY project ready for testing

With everything finally fitted and secured with locktite, I ventured out for a function test yesterday with 25 rounds of Winchester Super Speed birdshot and 30 rounds of Winchester Super X buckshot (2 3/4″ 9 pellet OO buck).  After getting the gas port set, it ran like a top using 10 round magazines from AGP.  Next outing I might try a drum from MD Arms.  My shoulder has convinced me to add an extended recoil pad too.  I’m interested to see how well the MOE stock holds up to repeated use and I’m also considering adding some sort of top rail (any recommendations?) with a Primary Arms micro RDS.

Best of all, as I was cleaning up another shooter came over to mention that the range is having an Action Shotgun match Sunday morning!  Guess where I’ll be.  What better way to build my own familiarity and competence with the platform and test its reliability than to run it in a match?  All in all, even though it’s not nearly as cool as Linoge’s, I am quite happy with my Saiga 12 and am looking forward to more fun with it.

FCC notice: Nothing comes for free and certainly not all the stuff I bought to complete this project.

Zebra F-701 Tactical Pen? Still mostly plastic.

After reading about the “$10 Tactical Pen” (here, here and here) I decided to build one yesterday.  Since I already carry a Fisher Bullet Pen [UNPAID testimonial: Purchased in the early ’90’s, I lost it for about fifteen years, when I found it again it still wrote, having survived all that time of temperature extremes in the attic] and already had a Zebra F-402 in my desk I had most of the parts to assemble the ‘poor man’s tactical space pen’.  On the way home I stopped at Office Max and purchased a Zebra F-701 for a tad over $7 after tax.

Steve’s photo might unintentionally lead one to think that the barrel wall thickness of the pen is about 1/16 ” thick.  It isn’t.  While completing the project, I noticed that at both ends of the barrel the threads where the tip and the button attach were plastic.  With further inspection and a little more effort I was able to separate the stainless outer tube from the plastic ‘core’ of the pen [I was able to do the same with the F-402 and the ‘cores’ are the same].  The thickness illusion is due to a right angle flange at the end where the writing tip attaches.  The actual wall thickness is closer to that of a .45 Colt case mouth; I might get my calipers and get a true measurement later.  The tube is still stainless though and sturdy enough that when I tried to crush the end of the tube between my thumb and forefinger I couldn’t.

From L to R: Zebra F-701 shell, Common plastic core, F-402 shell

So now you may be thinking, “So what? It’s a composite construction, the stainless body reinforces the plastic and besides what do you want for $7-10 bucks?”  Good point, I agree; except that before I end this I would like to point out something else.  Looking down the stainless sleeve I also noticed a seam at the junction between the knurling and the smooth portion of the barrel. With a little flexing the two pieces popped apart.  The knurling is a separate piece that is press fit into the main tube.

Zebra F-701 with 2 part outer sleeve removed

“OK, so the body isn’t a single piece of stainless, it’s still more rugged than a typical pen, has cool knurling on it and besides what do you want for $7-10?”  Nothing, except it’s not $7-10.  I was able to finish this project cheaply because I already had most of the parts.  [I will still have to buy a replacement Fisher cartridge for my Bullet Pen if I decided to keep it in the 701].  If you were to start this endeavor from scratch you’d spend about $20.  [(1) 2pack of Zebra  F-402 @ $6, (1) Zebra F-701 @ $7, (1) Fisher Space Pen Cartridge @$5, plus tax and/or shipping depending on where you purchase.]  Of course, you would also have 3 whole pens, one of them being a “DIY tactical”.  For my money I’d just as soon order a $18.49 S&W Tactical Pen, add on something else (spare refill?) to bring the order to $25 and get it shipped for free.

DIY Tactical Space Pen with SS Maratac AAA Light

So, now what?  Well, I have a neat looking, more rugged-than-most corrosion resistant stainless office pen with a good heft that writes well and has no external markings (nice feature) with knurling similar to my EDC flashlight.  Should it be the only last ditch item I can grab to save my life (due to very poor planning on my part should this occur) I will use it to strike down upon my assailant with great vengeance and furious anger, hoping it won’t break as I do so.  Mostly though, I’ll write with it.

Tactical Wifi Cantenna

h/t to EverydayNoDaysOff

A `cantenna` is a directional waveguide antenna for long-range Wi-Fi used to increase the range of (or snoop on) a wireless network. Originally built using a Pringles potato chip can, a cantenna can be constructed quickly, easily, and inexpensively using readily obtained materials:


  • Of, relating to, or constituting actions carefully planned to gain a specific military end
    • – as a tactical officer in the field he had no equal
  • (of bombing or weapons) Done or for use in immediate support of military or naval operations
  • (of a person or their actions) Showing adroit planning; aiming at an end beyond the immediate action
  • [Something that is black in color and often adorned with picatinny rails]

Tactical Cantenna (Blogpost with Build Instructions)

Tactical Cantenna


Also, far more useful than the Tactical Vuvuzela.

Tactical Vuvuzela