Jan 28, 2010

On Recoil

We've all heard the banter at the range:
"Kicks like a pissed-off mule."
"Kills on one end and maims on the other."
"Bit snappy."
"Barks like hell."

The list of variations is endless, but they all boil down to one thing: a gun that is either recoils hard or has a tremendous muzzle blast. Many shooters combine these things into one item they mentally label "recoil", but they are really two (or even three) separate things.

First, there's recoil. This is simply the gun world's homage to Newton. Any action has an equal and opposite reaction. The bullet sent down the barrel has an equal force pushing the opposite direction: back into the shooter. There's nothing you can do to reduce recoil energy - it's a fixed number. What can be done, however, is to reduce the feeling of recoil. There's two basic ways to do that: increase the weight of the gun, and increase the time over which the recoil is felt.

Increasing the weight of the gun is, of course, simple - and often not desirable. For those who carry pistols, shaving ounces counts; a steel-frame 1911 is nearly three times the weight of an alloy-framed .38 snub. Without getting into the trade-offs there, a lighter gun is easier to carry regularly. In rifles, unless the gun is only carried from the truck to the bench and back, weight matters. Any hunter will tell you just how heavy a 7-pound rifle is after a day in the woods, especially if he's dragging a deer back at the same time.

Increasine the time over which the recoil is felt can be a trickier task, but by no means impossible. Think of the difference between a sharp punch to the shoulder and a hard shove. One hurts, but you can simply ride the other through. The simplest way to do it is to add cushioning to the gun. Numerous manufacturers make butt pads for rifles and shotguns or grips for pistols that cushion the recoil impulse. Well-known brands are Sims Limbsaver, Hogues, Pachy, etc. The other option, especially in long guns, is a recoil dampener. This is a damped weight that recoils separately - and opposite - the gun, reducing the energy that is directly transferred to the shooter.

The final way to reduce recoil is a muzzle brake. This diverts some portion of the propellant gases up and to the sides of the muzzle, effectively pushing the barrel down and pulling it forward from the shooter. A good muzzle brake is highly effective for reducing recoil but at the cost of punishing muzzle blast... which is the second part of "recoil".

To make a gun go bang, powder is burned. That powder burns very rapidly and creates a large quantity of hot gas, which forces the bullet down the barrel and on down to the target. The gas also leaves the barrel at a high velocity, but is expanding in all directions as soon as it is "uncorked" from the barrel. If you've ever seen someone shooting a gun in low-light situations, you're well-familiar with the ball of flame that encompasses the muzzle during each shot. That rapidly-expanding gas pushes a small supersonic pressure wave back towards the shooter. It's loud and can be physically painful with larger guns.

The more powder being burned, or the more powder that burns outside the barrel, the louder and harsher the muzzle blast is. A .22 rifle has almost no muzzle blaast. That same cartridge in a pistol will produce a tiny bit of flash at the muzzle, but blast is still negligible. Step up to the centerfire calibers, and muzzle blast ranges from mild (.223) to mind-bending (.50BMG). How can muzzle blast be reduced? Longer barrels, and no brake.

For example: A Mosin-Nagant 91/30 shoots a 7.62x54R cartridge; it's a military-surplus rifle and was standard issue for many Eurasian armies for several decades. It has a barrel about 24" long, and is an accurate rifle. Hard-recoiling and loud, but not unbearably so. Its cousin, the M-N 91/44, is the same cartridge in a carbine barrel, about 6" shorter. The muzzle blast from that will clear a shooting line in short order, raise huge dust clouds when fired prone, and start grass fires if it's very dry out. The fireball is visible in daylight and generally engulfs the muzzle, bayonet, and as far back as the shooter's support hand. (It should be noted that this fireball only lasts for thousandths of a second, the shooter never feels anything on this hand from it.)

The other alternative, especially for hand-loaders, is light loads, or shooting "Specials" in guns designed for magnums. A light .38Spl load in a .357Mag gun is often a real pleasure, and allows extended practice without abusing oneself too much.

The third and final component of that nebulous recoil cloud is often neglected, but it is worth mentioning. The first two pieces are pretty self-apparent. If the gun hurts the hand or shoulder, and is loud, it's a hard-kicking gun. The final piece, though, is muzzle rise or "flip". This is directly related to the height of the bore over the shooter's hand, the weight of the gun, and the power of the loading. A lightweight load like a .22 or a .38 in a large revolver has minimal flip. The weight of the gun is enough to keep the muzzle roughly on target and not abuse the shooter too much.

In the middle of the road are most of the centerfire automatics, and each of these behave differently. A 9mm often has minimal muzzle flip, as the bore is lower and the recoil energy simply isn't that powerful. A .45ACP in a 1911-style gun will flip more than a 9mm, but less than some other guns. In my own experience, a Sig in .40S&W has more muzzle flip than a 1911 - because the barrel is mounted significantly higher over the grips than the .45.

At the far end of the spectrum are things like the Ruger Super Alaskan (.454 Casull) or Thompson-Center Contender (.30-30 or .45-70). These are massize, heavy guns, but the cartridges they shoot are so powerful that the muzzle will often end up 45 degrees above the initial aim point after firing. In addition to that rise, the gun is often counter-torqued around the barrel as the rifling brings the bullet up to spin. It's an interesting experience to pull a trigger and suddenly find the gun well above your head and turned 30 degrees around the bore.

So with all these things in mind, how does one control recoil? There are no easy answers - Newton doesn't like being ignored. Different grips or a heavier gun can help control some of the felt recoil and muzzle flip. A lighter load may reduce muzzle blast, but sacrifices power. A muzzle brake reduces recoil, but dramatically increases muzzle blast. Everything is a trade off. Beyond that, recoil and perceived recoil are very subjective. I don't mind a hard recoil shove - I shoot 2oz magnum turkey loads every spring and thoroughly enjoyed the .454 Casull and .30-30 Contender - but harsh muzzle blast drives me nuts. I refuse to shoot next to someone with a muzzle brake, and don't enjoy shooting .50s. But that's me. You may be different.

Meantime, I'm going to take the Contender back to the range and see how it does out at 100 yards...

Jan 22, 2010

Book notes

I'm a fairly avid reader. One of the great things about the house we bought was the ten-foot-wide set of built-in book cases. They're full. Admittedly, the top shelf is full of liquor, and the cabinets underneath are full of ammo, but otherwise, it's all books. And that's not all of them - there are at least a couple boxes of books still floating around waiting to be unpacked. Fiction, non-fiction. Reference. Classics. Modern authors. It's all there - and if you're not able to find SOMETHING you like on our shelves, then you're likely dead.

Having no TV reception and not paying for satellite increases the amount of reading we do - even with a large collection of movies, I will far more often turn on a lamp and read a book than the idiot box and a movie. The only thing that changes is the book in my hands and my location in the house as the seasons change. Summer and fall I can be found on the deck, cold drink on the patio table and sun over my shoulder. Winter, I'll be on the couch near the stove, mug of hot something on the coffee table. Springtime, I expect I'll be on the window seat in the guest bedroom, a temperature-appropriate drink within easy reach.

My parents have a habit of gently feeding this addiction (rightfully so, as they're the ones who started it in the first place), either by buying books they think I'll like (high on the best ever list is Requiem: Images of Ground Zero) or giving me a gift card for a book store. The only trouble I ever have spending those gift cards is narrowing down the stack of books to fit the card. MrsZ and I have left Barnes & Noble with a receipt in the low three-figure range more than once.

Christmas saw another gift card arrive, and I moseyed along to B&N when I had a few moments free. I brought home two books: The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, and Time Spike by Eric Flint and Marilyn Kosmatka.

I'd heard good things about "Guns" before. The short premise: it's 1864. The Army of North Virginia is in rough shape after a hell of a bad year, including Gettysburg. A stranger shows up in camp and brings a new rifle to Robert E. Lee. This rifle is ... the AK-47. The entire Confederate Army is equipped with AKs and wins the War of Northern Aggression. The rest, as they say ... is history. It's a fast-paced read, and draws you in to the story. Absolutely worth the eight bucks, particularly if you're even a little bit into Civil War history.

I took a chance on "Time Spike". It's published by Baen Books, the same folks who printed Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International. It's got a dinosaur, a conquistador, and a prison on the cover. It seemed like a fair bet. Premise: through some kind of (un?)natural disaster, a certain geographic area is compressed in time. A modern high-security prison, Hernando de Soto, the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears, a fair portions of the Mounds people ... and oh yeah, dinosaurs ... sharing one small piece of the world at one time. Interesting concept, good story ... but some of the writing feels undeveloped. Extraneous plot elements that get wrapped up very suddenly, leaving you saying, "Wait ... what? Why?" It's worth a library visit, but probably wouldn't buy it again. I'll be checking into the author's other works via the library.

Jan 21, 2010

Brown, Parkerizing

First and foremost, congratulations to Senator-Elect Scott Brown (MA-R). I hope he remembers this campaign and how he earned his seat. However, as Lissa says, "[W]hile Scott Brown seems very likable and intelligent, he’s still a politician."

One of the instructors I've worked with in the Appleseed Program has pointed out - at every shoot - that what every politician wants, more than anything else in the world ... is to be re-elected. When your "job" is to legislate, and you've a job interview every 2/4/6 years, the way to keep your job is to keep your employers (the voting public) happy. The way to do that is to LISTEN TO THEM. Not pork-barrel spending, not make-work jobs programs, not putting the KY by the office door for the lobbyists.

But there's a second half to that. It's not just the politicians. If they're going to listen to you, you have to SAY SOMETHING. Anything! Make your voice heard, and not just in November. Every single politician I know of has a web site, and those all have either an e-mail address or a comment form readily available. Those are good, and will likely be read by a staffer and a notation will be made somewhere. Mailing a letter costs $0.44 and will fall into the same bin as an email. Phone calls are cheap and quick.

Right here is a list of all 100 senators with their office address and phone number. It's a simple call. "Hi, my name is ZerCool, and I'm a constituent of $SENATOR. I'm calling to let you know that I oppose/support bill number ____." A staffer will take your name, address, and phone number, and someday you may or may not get a form-letter response... but if you're not talking, they sure as hell aren't listening. Even if you didn't vote for 'em, they're still your designated representative. Use that fact. They work for you. Don't ever let them forget it.

(A list of representatives is at www.house.gov with appropriate contact info.)

OK, off politics and back to the guns!

As mentioned a couple entries ago, MrsZ and I went to the range and re-familiarized her with most of the pistols, including the 1911. It was malfunctioning on nearly every shot - failing to go all the way into battery. Ejected fine, picked up and fed the next round fine, but the slide would stop about 1/4" from being closed. This is, as I'm sure you can imagine, a Bad Thing. It won't fire out of battery, but having to push the slide closed each shot isn't something to inspire confidence.

Last night I took the time to field-strip and scrub it, and found just what I'd expected - waxy build-up on the slide rails and internals. This has happened before, but never to this extent. It's a by-product of the cast-lead loads I use, which are lubricated with a wax mixture. The wax heats up and vaporizes when the gun is fired, and condenses all over the internals. The rails, feed ramp, extractor, slide, firing pin channel, slide-lock pin, etc, all had varying levels of coating, but it was everywhere. Some very careful (and tedious) work with q-tips, Hoppes 9, and rags removed it all, and the gun now seems to be fine - a range trip sometime soon will verify.

This happened once over the summer during an IDPA match, and was caused by the same thing - wax buildup. It wasn't as pronounced during the match because (A) it was summer and therefore hot, and (B) during a match, so the gun was being run rapidly and therefore hot - and those factor combined to keep the wax thin and less sticky. Now that it's winter, a bit of wax or over-zealous greasing will gum up the works right quick. Re-lubed with Remington dri-lube (teflon based) on the rails and in the appropriate internals and hopefully that helps.

I also noticed a little bit of very light freckling on the slide. Now, my 1911 is parkerized - a manganese phosphate coating which is rough-textured and rust-resistant. Not rust-proof, as clearly evidenced by my 870, but pretty durable. Unfortunately, I had left my 1911 sitting in a foam-lined vault for a bit too long, and it made some trips in and out of the truck and house in all kinds of weather. A bit of moisture must have been retained in the foam, and some freckling/discoloration started. I nabbed it in time (rub the snot out of it with a terry washcloth), but it's something to be aware of.


Jan 19, 2010


I love Craigslist. It's great fun to watch the lowest common denominator try to combine that new-fangled intartubes with the writing of a classified ad. The print media still have one thing over Craigslist: editors. A little gnome with a red pen going through the submissions and crying quietly for society.

The "rants and raves" is always amusing - some very brave people out there, hiding behind an anonymous email address. A few flag wars now and then. Recent topics have included BH0 (a perennial favorite), facial hair, Haiti (pro and con), local mass transit, and so forth.

The real meat, however, lies in the "for sale/wanted" columns. I always skim through a few of those sections looking for good deals and have found a couple. I also look to them for a good chuckle. Today, however, brought a couple winners!

Wanted: Flat Screen TV - 26" or bigger, $75 or less ($TOWN)

Hi, We usually don't have TV, but we really love the winter olympics, so we're getting cable, and want to pick up a decent, functional, flat-screen HD (ideally) TV, which we will then use for DVD's afterward. Let us know, and please be specific about any and all flaws/defects/problems. Doesn't mean we won't be interested, but we really don't want to bring a unit home, turn it on, and discover what you probably knew all along. Just be honest. We might make a sale.

Now, as it happens, I was in the Maul last evening, and wandered through Target's electronics section to kill a few minutes. I stopped and looked at flat-screen TVs because they're shiny. Now, prices on TVs have dropped dramatically in the past four or five years. The 32" LCD I bought (on sale and with a coupon) for $500 two and a half years ago is now at $450 regular price. A 26" LCD will lighten your wallet to the tune of $300 right now. I'm sure you think $75 is a fair price for you, since you don't usually have TV, but I see no reason any normal person would part with one for about a quarter of the retail price for a new one. For further dreams of "something for not much" I suggest you send your request in writing to: Da Lightworker, 1600 Pennsylvania Av, Washington DC. And request your unicorn while you're at it.

help with bail - $1500 ($MISSPELLED TOWN)

i need help geting my wife out of jail i need 1500 cash i will pay it back when i get my taxes i will do it all in leagal doc please call me at $PHONE

Maybe I'm naive, but suggesting that someone wait for you to get your taxes back so you can repay a loan for bail money just seems like a bad idea. Even if you do sign a promissory note - also known as a "leagal doc". A suggestion: most towns, even itty-bitty ones, have at least a few businessmen of questionable moral fortitude known as "bail-bondsmen". I'd contact one of them and see what pieces of property you can put in hock to him for your wife's bail... Or take advantage of the situation and run like hell before she gets out.

Jan 17, 2010

Search Term Roundup

It's been a while, and this one will be less tongue-in-cheek.

champion c46514
I've had this term show up in various flavors, sometimes with "review" as an addition search term. This is the generator I bought for emergency use. It's inexpensive ($250-350 at Tractor Supply, depending on sales and rebates), made in China, and low on features. It also works just fine. I haven't needed to run the house on it yet, but I fire it up every couple weeks to keep parts lubricated properly. I have tested it with loads, and it grunts and then smooths right out.

I was asked by someone if I'd trust it to run 24/7 for a week or two. Short answer: no. It's not designed for that duty cycle, and I don't need it to run that long. One or two hours in three or four or five hours is more realistic, and I would trust it for that. If you need 24/7 reliability, then you need to cough up a LOT more than $300. In truth, you should be looking at a permanent-mount genset that runs on natural gas or propane, or a very high-end portable. We're talking order-of-magnitude price increase, though.

effectively shooting the .38 snub revolver
You're kidding, right? Everyone knows that simply owning a .38 snubbie makes you a Hardcore Badass! By holding it, you will instantly become a shooter on par with Jerry Miculek.

The only way to learn to effectively shoot anything is PRACTICE. Dry-fire practice regularly, get some snapcaps and practice reloading, practice your draw a few times a day. Try to get to the range every week or so and run at least a few cylinders through it to really learn to handle the recoil. A high grip will help to reduce muzzle flip, but you will likely get bitten by the cylinder release occasionally. Live with it.

Last but not least, and this is my personal opinion, always do your practice in double-action. A .38 snub is really a close-range (less than 10 yards) defensive weapon. If you need it, it's going to be in a hurry, and taking the time cock the hammer and then shoot is precious time you may not have. Learn to squeeze through that heavy trigger smoothly and keep your sights lined up while you do it. (I carry a S&W 642, which is a "hammerless" and therefore double-action only.)

taurus pink lady 38 trigger job
I don't know as I've ever shot a Taurus revolver. I can't comment on how the triggers are out of the box, but if you're looking for a trigger job, you don't like yours. Here's what I'd do with any snub that didn't have a trigger to my standards:

(1) Open that bad boy up and hose it out, lightly lubricate, and close it back up. If your gun is new-in-the-box, it's not uncommon for some tiny pieces of metal (leftover from machining) to still be in the works. These will make the trigger gritty and somewhat unpredictable. If you're comfortable removing the parts and really scrubbing, do that, but otherwise a good hosing out with gunscrubber or some other action cleaner should help. Lightly oil the pivot points and moving parts, and close it up.

(2) Have a professional polish/stone the sear very lightly. Either a gunsmith you trust (with references) or the manufacturer. Smith&Wesson's Performance Center will do an action job for about $150, if memory serves. You don't want to change the sear angle or depth, only polish the surfaces so they move and break cleanly. A poor hand with a stone will turn those expensive parts into expensive paperweights at best, and major liabilities at worst. (Think hammer push-off: the hammer can be dropped without touching the trigger. This is a Bad Thing.)

(3) Without having tried this, I can't speak to its effectiveness, but there are people who insist that polishing the turn ring on a cylinder - where the cylinder latch rides - will decrease some of the gritty feeling. You'll end up with a narrow band (1/8-1/4") of very highly-polished metal around the cylinder notches. This is something that needs to be done by a professional in order to maintain reliability and timing. Done right, it's beautiful - and that's, IMHO, the only reason to get it done. Looks. A turn ring from dry firing will smooth out the rough spots just as well.

That's it. Some people will change springs to a lighter setup which will decrease the trigger weight. I can't recommend that for a defensive revolver. You must have 100% reliable hammer strikes/ignitions. Every. Single. Time. If you simply HAVE to lighten the trigger by changing springs, test the gun thoroughly before returning it to service as a carry piece. Expect to run 200-300 rounds of your carry ammo through it. And yes, use your carry ammo, not reloads or cheap bulk range ammo - primers have different hardness levels, and you need to know your carry ammo is going to work.

Jan 14, 2010

Late Night Miscellany

There's a problem with working an overnight shift. Aside from weird sleep patterns and diet.


Around 3, the phones tend to stop ringing, and the radio stops squawking, and silence settles in. We can amuse ourselves however we want to, really, but we have to be (A) at our desks and (B) awake.

Having internet access helps that tremendously.

After checking email for the forty-seventh time, reloading steepandcheap.com every fifteen minutes, scanning news from half a dozen sources, reading the regular blogs, skimming across a few irregular blogs, drive-by commenting here and there, checking the weather six times (it's still cold and the forecast hasn't changed), drooling on a bit of gun porn, checking my bank balance (and cringing), checking my credit card balance (and crying), doing a bit of retail therapy to make that bad feeling go away...

Well, I haven't run out of internet, but I started poking into some of the more obscure corners of it. A bit of wiki-crawling can take one through some odd memories.

I've been re-reading W.E.B. Griffin's "The Corps" series. It's focused on the US Marine Corps in the years leading up to and during World War II, particularly the Pacific campaigns. To be clear, it is fiction, but it is fairly historically accurate fiction. In any case, I started by looking over Google Maps and trying to find Midway Island and Wake Island. Talk about a tiny dot in a big damn ocean. From there the logical direction was to the Solomons, namely Guadalcanal. After looking at the aerials of the spots, it was time to do some reading on the realities of it.

So ... wikipedia, here I am. Guadalcanal. Major General A. A. Vandegrift. Colonel Merritt Edson. General MacArthur. Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley. Hm, that rings a bell.

I dated a granddaughter of John Bulkeley about eight years ago. He passed away in 1996 - a damn shame, I'd have loved to meet the man.

From there I went to a list of Medal of Honor recipients. (Bulkeley was awarded the Medal of Honor for his command and actions with a PT squadron in the Phillipines between Pearl Harbor and the evacuation of MacArthur to Australia.) The list I was skimming included brief summaries of the citations - and a lot of asterisks indicating a posthumous award.

That brought back another memory. I was on an EMS call a few years ago, and as was my habit, I eyeballed the room around me as my partner interviewed the patient. Our patient was an elderly person, and on the mantle was a military portrait of a young man in uniform. Next to it was the triangular case of a folded American flag... and next to that was a display case of military medals. At the top of the case was The Medal.

The ribbon was sun-faded, the medal slightly tarnished - but the mantle, the picture, and the cases were spotless. The wood was clean and waxed, the glass fronts had no dust or fingerprints. I looked close enough to see that the last name on the citation was the same as our patient, but the flag made it obvious that this was another posthumous award.

How does one thank a parent for the life of their child? Is it possible?

I'm fairly sure our patient saw me looking at the picture and the award. Our eyes met and I gave a small nod. I hope it conveyed the message I intended, because I don't think there can ever be the right words for that situation.

Jan 11, 2010

Range visit!

MrsZ made a request about two weeks ago for a range visit sometime soon. I went to the local range on meeting morning and signed up. A one-year family membership is $60. This gives me a 250yd rifle range, and a 50-foot indoor pistol range... and a key to use them when I want to. Obviously, the outdoor range is a daylight-hours proposition, but indoors is a "when you want" deal.

We made a trip down there with a few pistols and put things through their paces.

Merrily blasting away from about 7 yards (the range isn't marked, so we picked a "this looks good" distance) and having the place to ourselves, we ran through several magazines each from the 22/45, a couple cylinders apiece in the 28-2, a magazine each from the 1911, and she was game to try a cylinder from the new 642, while I put about a half-box through it.

I was shooting for quick hits more than super accuracy - as soon as I had a reasonable sight picture, I was squeezing through the trigger. As a result, my 7-yard groups were generally 6-8". I'm ok with that because it means quick center-mass hits and quick followups.

The group from the 22/45, however, was one rather large ragged hole with a few fliers. That was just a joy to shoot in a better environment than cornfield - no wind flapping targets around brings the group size down in a hurry. A couple magazines from the weak hand were a wider pattern but still where I wanted them.

And then I looked at MrsZ's target. Her grip wasn't perfect on any of the guns - she has small hands. The 642 kicked more than she wanted. She staged the double-action triggers something wicked.


And she tore the freakin' center out of that target with everything she used.

Seriously - one big ragged hole about 5" across, a few fliers (probably from the 642, it is a SNAPPY gun), but ... tore it up.

She may not be a gunny, but damned if she ain't a shooter!

Jan 4, 2010

On passing

I mentioned a bit ago that Grandma was in the hospital.

She passed away Saturday afternoon.

Grandpa is doing as well as can be expected, and is being surrounded with support and help from friends in their building, as well as family members. I expect MrsZ and I will try to make a few visits to him over the coming week; nothing overwhelming or major plans, maybe just dessert or dinner, etc.

My parents were both with Grandma when she passed; as mom described it, she sighed, closed her eyes ... and that was it. She hadn't been particularly alert for several days - highly medicated for pain.

It's reminiscent of how my great-grandmother passed; she was more alert but told my parents, "I think I'll take a nap." She closed her eyes and went to sleep ... and that was it.

Mom and Dad went and picked Grandpa up from lunch at his home, and they brought him back to the hospital. Our hospital gets dinged a lot, but it sounds like they did things right in this case - between Grandma passing and Grandpa arriving, they cleaned all the medical "stuff" out and settled her in so she looked to be sleeping.

Mom called me while Grandpa was sitting with Grandma, in her words, "just a few last minutes alone together, grandpa is having some cocoa and quiet." They celebrated their sixty-fifth anniversary this past summer.

It's brought to my mind something that I often try not to think about... the idea of sitting in a hospital watching my partner for life go before me. I don't want to be the last to go.

Requiescat in pace, Grandma. You're always loved.