Dec 25, 2014

Ruger Charger out again

One of my "want" guns that was never available in NY got shelved by Ruger before I moved to a free state.

Now they've re-released it.

BAD case of the wants. Especially the takedown model.

Put on an Ergo grip, drop in a BX-25 trigger, thread the Sparrow on the front ... that'll be a SWEET plinker.

Dec 23, 2014

Coming up roses?

The strong contender mentioned in the last post is currently off the list. We made an offer, they made a half-ass counteroffer, we made a new offer, they refused to counter it, we made a sweetheart offer and were told it had gone under contract right before they received our sweetheart offer.

I'm not entirely sure I believe that. The seller is using a family member as the listing agent, and I have strong suspicions that he hasn't been entirely forthcoming with them about our offers. Beyond that, I am starting to suspect the house has some serious hidden issues that they either are trying to keep hidden or just denying. To wit: they are one-hundred-percent adamant that the (nearly worn-out) roof will not be replaced prior to closing.

So we walked away. We've started hitting listings again. There are a few new places we're liking, and we'll be doing drive-by looks to check out neighborhoods and curb appeal before setting up showings.

We have accepted the fact that an HOA may just be unavoidable. We have some geographic restrictions (my job requires it unless I can get the golden-ticket waiver; highly unlikely), and beyond that are ... shall we say "social restrictions"? A lot of the city is not a place I want to live, let alone contemplate starting and raising a family. The trick now is to find an HOA that has tolerable restrictions.

I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason. It's a tough row to hoe sometimes, and there have been some seriously stressful moments days weeks months over the last two years of job hunting, moving, house selling, job hunting again... but overall? I'm in a far better place than I was two or three years ago. I have the support of a great family, both at home and afar, and we're going to make it all work out.

Dec 16, 2014

House hunting

It's amazing what a few hours of driving around can do for your perceptions of things.

We're on the hunt for a house out here, and gave our realtor what we thought was a pretty picky list of things:
- X or more bedrooms
- Y or more bathrooms
- Z or more square feet
- MUST be in GeographicArea.
- Lot size at least N.

She looked at it and said, "That's it? This'll be easy."

We started getting auto-emails with listings. 150ish to start with, and we've filtered through a ton of them. A lot got discarded out of hand due to location (2.5 acres, but ... sandwiched between two major highways), or condition ("a real handyman's dream!"), or lot size, or any number of other factors that made it apparent right off that it wasn't for us. We spent the better part of two afternoons driving around and looking at ones that were still on the list. A whole lot more got nixed.

Big-ass McMansions in cookiecutter developments on lots under a quarter-acre, and most with HOA covenants to make boot camp look like a sabbatical. And none with mature landscaping, or more than a ten-foot gap between houses. Ugh. I want to be able to sit on my porch or deck with my morning coffee and not have my neighbors participate in the over-the-paper conversations.

We had one on our "we like it" list based on the listing before we met the agent. We took a look at it very shortly after meeting her. We still liked it.

We looked at it again this weekend and we all still like it. It's not the perfect house, but it's hitting most of our requirements nicely. Even has enough space for a few yard raptors.

However ... there was a listing we'd looked at over the summer that got pulled last month, and we'd been kind of pipe-dreaming about it. Location wasn't ideal based only on schools - but it was a multi-acre lot in the city we have to live in. Photos were gorgeous. We did a driveby over the summer and it looked as good outside as we'd hoped. Our agent made a call and got us an off-market showing.

It's a beautiful house, and it'll make someone a great home. Not us, though. It was at the top of our budget and needed more work than we are willing (or willing to afford) to do. And the multi-acre lot? Most of it is unusable space thanks to terrain.

We'd never have known that from drive-bys and photos.

So ... we're continuing the hunt, with a strong contender in the running. Here's hoping.

Dec 11, 2014

Stamp 2

Got an email from my local Class 3 pusher the other night. Approved Form 4 was in hand, and could I come in to pick up...

If it hadn't been 1am when I read the email, I'd have probably left rubber smoke hanging in the driveway. Instead I waited 19 interminable hours and picked this up during his normal business hours:

That, my friends, is a SilencerCo Sparrow: 5" long, 6.5oz, and rated for the common rimfire cartridges and even 5.7x28.

There's only one problem, and a serious one it is... I mailed my form in July and my dealer told me to expect 7-9 months. It's been five.

I don't have anything threaded 1/2-28.

On my way out the door I was sternly admonished not to get anything threaded while I was there. I promised I wouldn't, then noted that BassPro was an easy side trip on the way as the door closed... but I didn't.

My gun priority list has suddenly changed from parting together a couple more ARs and buying ammo here and there to:
- repairing and threading my Savage MkII
- stamping and SBRing my M&P15-22
- threading my Ruger MkIII
- acquiring a Ruger American .22Mag
- acquiring a S&W M&P22c

That set aside, the process for buying that suppressor started in May when I ordered and paid for it. My dealer waited two months for the Form 3 to process so he could receive it from SilencerCo, it took me a week to get my paperwork finished and mailed in, and then another five months of waiting for the ATF to fold-spindle-mutilate and return my Form 4.

Total costs:
Trust by attorney: $350 (admittedly to be used in multiple instances, so amortize if you wish)
Suppressor: $450
ATF stamp: $200
Three trips to the dealer: 2 hours and 40 miles round trip each time.

... but if I don't have a muffler on my car, I get a ticket.

Dec 10, 2014

Housing Bubble: Round 2

Fannie and Freddie will again back mortgages with 3% down. (Warning: Autoplay with sound.)

The new loans will only be doled out to those who buy private mortgage insurance, have a credit score of at least 620 and offer complete documentation of their income, assets and job status. And, to further mitigate risk, the agencies will require borrowers to receive home ownership counseling.
Oh, well, in that case...

The mortgages require "home ownership counseling". Well, that's great... are they going to counsel people on what to do when it's 3am on Thanksgiving morning and the water heater just committed hara-kiri all over the basement floor? How to pay for that plumber's bill? Or are they going to teach them to use a water shutoff valve, a mop, a couple wrenches and a propane torch to sweat a new joint on a new water heater?

When we bought our first house in 2009, we didn't really know what we were doing. We had an agent who got lazy. We had a deal explode underneath us (which cost us a sizable chunk of money in fees for inspections etc - today I realize we could have probably filed a small claim suit for those fees as we'd have not made an offer and entered a contract if  the seller had actually made the legally-required disclosures), we had banks that wanted to give us obscene amounts of money, and truthfully, we didn't know what we wanted.

I'm not kidding about the obscene amount of money.

Our agent told us to get a pre-qualification letter from a bank, so we did. We had a rough number in mind that we were comfortable with affording. We gave the bank everything - statements, balances, assets, incomes, the works - and the lady plugged the numbers into her computer and rattled off a pre-qual number more than double what we thought we could afford.

I laughed at her.

She showed me the numbers. Three percent down, whatever percentage of gross monthly income, debt-to-income ratios... sure, we could afford it! She tried to tell us more than once that we could afford this mortgage.

She was nuts. Plain nuts. Or at least I thought so. We'd have been eating a lot of beans and rice and ramen if we'd gone anywhere near the numbers she waved at us.

Over the last decade we've heard a few major words over and over in the headlines. Bubble. Sub-prime. "Too big to fail."

Still, according to Mark Palim, who directs economic and strategic research at Fannie Mae, it's a welcome expansion of credit.
"It's not a radical departure from what we're doing now, but anything at the margins helps," he said.
Helps who, exactly?

When did we stop teaching fiscal responsibility? I (admittedly) learned some of it the hard way. MrsZ and I have had some tough months over the last eight years, and yes, some arguments and tears to balance budgets.

Now? We're not living check-to-check. We're far from wealthy. We do have a small balance on our credit card (which is being hammered down on a pretty strong plan). But we're living comfortably within our means*, and are a hell of a lot happier for it. (In fact, MrsZ just resigned from her job. It hasn't panned out the way we'd hoped and we're financially able to allow her to not work for a while without juggling bills.)

But now, less than a decade after the sub-prime crisis popped a bubble, we're setting up young homebuyers for failure again ... Why? Who does this benefit? And who doesn't have a chair when the music stops?

The builders benefit - because they are paid before they turn over keys.
The banks benefit - because the foreclosures can be resold, the loans are insured, and they made some interest while those wonderful sub-prime buyers living on the bleeding edge of their credit score were making payments.
The insurance companies benefit - because they're collecting a lot of premiums, and what the hell - they're too big to fail, right?

Who's on the hook?

Go look in the mirror. If you pay taxes, you're on the hook, and you should be asking SERIOUS questions of your elected representatives as to why they're willing to allow this again.

* - (having a third adult in the house, and associated income, of course, helps tremendously; that is fodder for a coming post)

Nov 17, 2014

Thank you

Several of you reached out to lend an ear after my last post. It's appreciated.

And, inevitably, there have been some good moments to help outweigh the unpleasant ones.

Nov 14, 2014

A couple for the wish-list

My selection of actions and calibers is pretty well-rounded... but there are a couple holes I'd like to fill:
- a Glock 19 ... because good lord they're everywhere. And I can get Blue Label pricing.
- a bolt-action .223, leaning towards a Tikka T3 Lite stainless.
- a big-bore. This is WAY down the list, but I'd love to have a .338 or larger in the vault.

Nov 12, 2014

A month in... and a few thoughts

I've been working at the new job for almost a month. It has not been all sunshine and light.

My assigned trainer was there my first day, and then went on vacation. (He has since returned.)

I had a bit of a flap with my interim trainer.

I have (more than once) questioned my ability to do the job.

I have taken a significant pay cut (again).

I have come home from a shift absolutely braindead. I ate dinner by muscle memory and collapsed into bed until the alarm went off again the next morning.

I have had to work hard to break some really bad habits.

I have worked more fires in four weeks than in the preceding fourteen months.

I have received my complete uniform issue (A's, work, and accessories).

I will be released from my training period effective at 1800 Saturday.

All that said...

This department is an order of magnitude busier than anything I've ever dealt with before, and I have been warned that nights (where I'm heading) will see a lot of trauma and other unpleasantness. It's going to take some adjusting.

I have already had more than one call that's necessitated a fifteen-minute break and walk around the building while I say some quiet words. I can't go into specifics here for obvious reasons... but for those of you in the field, if you see me on IRC or FB and want to lend me an ear for a few minutes, I would kind of appreciate it.

Nov 3, 2014

WTF, silver?

Back in January, I wrote:
For the silverbugs who read, it has been on a pretty steady (albeit gradual) decline for several days and is now flirting with $19/oz. Can it go lower? Of course. Will it? Maybe a bit. I personally feel the days of $10 silver are long gone; $20 is my "buy what you comfortably can" price and if it went to $15 I'd be looking to load up at the expense of other things. 
Well, it has continued a generally down slope these intervening nine months, and spot is now around $16/oz (having dropped over $2 in the last six weeks). The end of Quantitative Easing 3 seems to have influenced the price, but I don't pretend to understand why.

Life changes lately (namely the job change and attendant pay cut) have made buying a lot of extra stuff less attractive. I did buy a few small pieces with my severance check, and I have another ATB set coming soon, but otherwise? Not likely to buy much. That said: if you can, it sure is a nice time to look at silver and gold, as both are awful close to a five-year low.

And it bears repeating:
If you're investing with plans to flip for a profit... One: do your own research. Past performance, future results, etc. I'm not an adviser. Two: the handling fees (shipping, insurance, etc) on flipping physical items can eat up any profits in a hell of a hurry unless the spot increase is huge. Three: investors do silver on paper (SLV options, and calls, and lots of other words I don't pretend to get).

If you're hedging with an eye towards a tangible asset with long-term stability, then physical precious metals are a great bet, and fitting them into your budget is a great way to build a nice nest egg. (Look up dollar-cost averaging. Buy a set dollar amount monthly, regardless of the spot price.) But only do this if the rest of your house is in order. Food, shelter, etc.

Oct 24, 2014

Isn't this a gun blog?

Occasionally I do write about guns here... like now.

One of my acquisitions over the last several months was an Atlas Bipod. I've had a couple of the "clamps to a swivel stud" over the years and they have always felt flimsy. I found a fair deal on a gently-used Atlas with the quick-mount for a Picatinny rail, and it was off to the races. (DaddyBear or FarmDad referred to these as "car payment bipods" in chat one night. Not far off the mark: my first car payment was about 60% of what I paid for this piece of kit.)

I've mounted it on an AR and ... truth be told ... it's worth every damn penny. Swivel, cant, adjustable legs, solid rubber feet - and those are easily replaced with skis or cleats or spikes if I so desire. No, it doesn't snap into place like the Harris-style 'pods. I'm OK with that, because I don't need that. It does lock the legs into position - and has 45-degree positions for them as well.

Unfortunately, two of the rifles I wanted to mount this bipod on - my Savage MkII and Savage Model 12 - are beautiful laminate wood stocks with not a hint of rail to be found. How to fix this? Add rails, of course.

I dug out a few spare sections of bolt-on rails from a Troy Alpha handguard, and found that the backing plates are threaded 10-32. A stop at Lowe's resulted in a package of 3/4" 10-32 stainless hex cap screws, and I started on the MkII.

It comes from the factory with two front swivel studs. I removed one and used that hole to start mounting the rail section, then drilled the second one and countersunk the outside. No inletting was needed, as the stock has a pretty good channel already. End result:

I made the stop at Lowe's again for a package of 1" screws for the Model 12, screwed up my courage, and clamped the stock into my vise:
(Yes, it's an old welding glove for padding. Works like a champ.) I measured, marked, measured, drilled pilot holes, then drilled through the stock with the correct diameter bit.

The Model 12 has no relief channel in the inletting, and putting the backer plate in the existing barrel channel would likely destroy the free-float and thus the accuracy. So ... I screwed up my courage and dug out my router. Fitted with a 1/2" straight-flute bit, I started cutting away an inlet in small sections. I ended up digging in deeper than I meant to on the last pass, but there was plenty of meat for "oops" and it didn't hurt anything beyond my pride. I chose not to countersink the rail offsets on this one, so there is a slight gap between the rail and the stock... but the final result is something I'm happy with:

There are plenty of gun projects to keep me occupied over the coming months, as funds allow. I need to pick up an adjustable gas block for an AR rifle, a standard for a pistol, a couple gas tubes and muzzle devices, a lower parts kit (and maybe a better trigger), handguard, optics...

I'm starting to toy with duracoating the current rifle build into brushy camo of some kind, but not sure yet.

Stay tuned. Once in a while we'll talk guns. :-)

AR parts question

I'm pretty comfortable working on an AR. I've built *mumble* lowers and a couple uppers.

But ... can anyone explain to me why a (f'rex) Noveske-VLTOR stripped upper is worth $230, as opposed to an Anderson for $50?

Is the badge really worth that much to someone? Is there something I'm missing?

Oct 23, 2014

Budget Prepping

Bayou Renaissance Man presented us with this thought problem yesterday:

[A] reader e-mails to ask for advice.  I've condensed her query as follows:
I'm stuck with an unemployed partner and teenage kids who can't earn their own living.  We haven't been able to afford reserve supplies for an emergency, yet it's clear that even harder times are on the way.  I want to build up reserves for my family to help cope with them, so I'm selling a bunch of our stuff at garage sales and through Craigslist.  By mid-November I hope to have $2,000 to spend.  What's the best way for me to use that money?A bit of background:  she lives with her husband and two kids, a boy of 15 and a girl of 17, in a small suburban home in a Missouri city.  The local crime situation wasn't bad until recently, but it's getting worse as economic hard times bite deeper.  The family owns one older car free and clear - they sold a second, newer vehicle when they couldn't afford the monthly payments.  The mortgage on their home runs about $650 per month, which isn't too bad if both of them are earning, but for the past year her husband hasn't been able to find work.  Her income isn't enough to cover all the bills.

I've been stewing this one over in my brain since I read it, and I'm still refining it, but here's what I've come up with so far:

- She needs to make sure her financial house is in order. Eliminate as much debt as possible, starting with the credit cards. Nuke the extras. Cable? Gone. Internet? Shop around. Maybe gone. Cell phones? Kill the contracts, get prepaid basic phones from Walmart. (We have cable internet, no television service, and two iPhones on a shared plan. Total cost is over $200/mo.)

- The kids? Need jobs. Bagging groceries, flipping burgers, shoveling manure, I don't care. At 17 the daughter needs to be included in family finance discussions, and hopefully understands that she can contribute. The 15 year old? Maybe he doesn't get the big picture, but a simple, "Your school clothes are coming from Salvation Army and Walmart, anything else is on you," might be a heck of a motivator. Husband needs a job too, unless he is physically unable to work - in which case he should be on OASDI income. If he can work, there is no dishonor in digging ditches.

- I don't know what their monthly bills are, but it's time to turn the AC temp up in the summer and the heat temp down in the winter. 65-67F is fine. Add a sweatshirt and wool socks. Spend the $10-20 to get the window shrink-wrap kits as heating season approaches. Have the furnace tuned up if it hasn't been done in the last two years.

Those things alone might put a heck of a buffer in the monthly balance sheet. After that's done, we can look at the $2,000 in question and how best to use it. A lot of the comments are saying "rice and beans" ... and that's not bad advice, albeit boring and gassy. Side note: a 20-pound bag of rice will perfectly fill one dozen quart mason jars.

The woman asking the question is worried about financial hardship, not the prepper-wet-dream "TEOTWAWKI" where we all break out the colanders and gyrocopters. It's time to look not at long-term-storage preps, but daily-use stuff... so here goes.

1) Start buying "cheap" toilet paper, in bulk. ScotTissue in the 24- or 36-roll packs, 1,000 sheets per roll ... it's not as soft as Charmin' but it's a whole lot cheaper. Watch for a sale or coupons and buy two.

2) Switch as much as you can to generics/store brand. E.g., don't buy Tylenol, buy Equate (Walmart house brand) acetaminophen.

3) Buy canned goods and put them in rotation. Again, store brand. Wait for sales. Shop Aldi's. Cut down on meat and add bulk with the aforementioned rice. (Dinner tonight in our house was one chicken breast, diced and sauteed with garlic, then a jar of pasta sauce added. Simmered and served over pasta with a basic lettuce-tomato salad on the side.) Learn to cook with concentrate soups - cream of ____ makes great casseroles when mixed with some pasta, tuna, frozen vegetables, etc.

4) Cut the extras. Smoke? Start working on quitting. Drink? Cut back or quit completely. Coffee? Stop hitting Dunkin' and start brewing store-brand at home in a Melitta cone.

5) Buy meat in bulk and repackage in portions. Look for sales (the "used meat" cooler, or the ten-pound tubes of ground beef) and shop carefully.

6) Eating out/ordering in/carryout is a thing of the past.

7) Don't try to live monastically immediately. The fastest way to fail is to "splurge just this once" ... and again ... and again... (Don't ask how I know this...)

8) As you buy things for the usual rotation, buy an extra. If the shopping list (and always use a list for shopping on a budget!) calls for three cans of corn this week, change it to four and accommodate that in the budget. This is where the vast majority of that $2,000 mentioned should go.

9) Make sure ALL the routine maintenance is done on the existing car (and all household appliances). Nothing can blow a budget faster than a dead vehicle. Fluids changed on schedule, brakes inspected, tires pressured and rotated, etc. Accidents can still happen, but preventive maintenance will help.

10) Stay healthy. I know it's hard to prevent some things, but getting flu shots, a balanced diet, adequate sleep and hydration, etc; will all keep medical bills down.

11) Look in to food banks/pantries. Many don't ask about income; they assume you are being honest about needing food. There is no shame in taking help that is offered when it's needed.

A lot of the comments at BRM's post touched on home defense, including "go buy a X". I'm hoping that the woman writing has it covered already, but if not ... a suitable home defense gun and ammo could easily crush a quarter (or more) of the money she hopes to have set aside. I'm not entirely sure that's practical.

All that said ... BRM, if you can please put your reader in touch with me, being we're in the same state and all ... I'd be happy to see if I can help some. Resume polishing for the husband, I dunno ... I'm an email away.

Oct 17, 2014

Kerry said. "... If we don't adequately address this current outbreak now, then Ebola has the potential to become a scourge like HIV or polio that we will end up fighting -- all of us -- for decades."

No, you fuckwit, Ebola is not and will not be a scourge like HIV-AIDS.

People who catch HIV have at least some semblance of a chance at a normal life. Yes, it's going to be a contributing factor to their death someday.

Ebola kills you right the fuck now.

We may well be fighting it for decades, but only if we're unwilling to step up and make the unpleasant choices that need to be made right the fuck now.

We're having some real hard conversations around our house these days.

Oct 16, 2014


Back on 9/11/14, I posted a single picture.

I took that photo in late winter/early spring of 2002, a bare five months after our world changed forever.

Since I took that picture, I've moved a dozen times. I've held four or five different jobs. I volunteered as a firefighter. I fell in love, got married, bought a house, got a dog, sold a house, moved across the country, fell in love again, and - in hindsight - have watched myself grow up.

The one thing I have not done is return to the corner of Church and Vesey Streets.

I wasn't ready.

This past weekend I was in New York City for a friend's wedding and had a morning of downtime before the service. I decided it was time.

I took the subways down, and walked the block from Cortlandt Street over to the 9/11 Memorial.

I spent some time walking and thinking. And watching. And looking. And thinking some more.

I posted the following two pictures to my facebook account, with the caption, "The real awe is not what fell... It's what arose."

The towers were buildings. Knocking down a building is not awe-inspiring.
Freedom Tower, symbolic as it is, is not awe-inspiring.
The memorial pools are beautiful and gut-wrenching in their way, but not awe-inspiring.

No, what awes me is the spirit that is embodied in the pools and tower. On 9/11, we were forced to see the reality: we are not beloved 'round the world. And we were hurt, deeply. And we turned around and built a symbol right back up.

It doesn't matter how tall Freedom Tower is. We could have built the crudest plywood shack in the same spot and the spirit would be the same. Abraham Lincoln said it, far more eloquently than I may:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
As I walked, I saw a young girl - perhaps five or six years old - and overheard part of the conversation she was having with her father, as he tried to explain what had happened, what it meant, why it happened... He tried.

I took one other picture while I visited:
This is from the FDNY section of the South memorial; around panel S14 if memory serves. I didn't pick a name in particular, just a spot near the middle of their section.

They went up.

I cannot imagine a more fitting epitaph.

Tipping Point

I think (hope) ebola won't get any more of a toehold than it has in the US. I suspect I'm wrong. We're going to see more cases.

If some chucklehead in ISISILEIEIO decides to weaponize a handful of True Believers and send them to a hotel in $AmericanCity for a week or two, then go forth to ... Chinatown. Little Italy. The fish markets, restaurants, supermarkets, bodegas... be friendly! Shake hands! Cough and wipe your nose and handle the fruit! ... Well kids, it's going to get right sporting in these parts. (Which Clancy novel was that? "Executive Orders", I think?)

I live in suburbia now. We have a bit of victuals put back for rainy days. Enough? Hard to say. How long are we really talking? A week? Three? Ten? I don't care how big your pantry is, at some point you will reach the back of it. What then? Is the outbreak burned out? Is society still standing?

It's been a while since I read "The Stand" ... but at one point in the book, King spends a few pages rattling off the people who survived Captain Tripps ... and then died for any number of other causes. Falling down a set of stairs. Malfunctioning gun. Simple murder. And on and on.

There is a definite point where Society will stop. I've seen several reports that nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian-Dallas have been calling out in record numbers ... but haven't seen links to credible sources, either.

What happens when:
- all the trash men call out? The trash piles up, vermin multiply, and spread other diseases.
- all the linemen call out? The lights go out. In early winter.
- all the cops/firemen call out?
- all the delivery drivers/over-the-road truckers?

It doesn't have to be ALL, either. It only has to be enough to prevent the work from getting done. If three linemen show up, they can probably fix one line at a time... and when we have an early-winter ice storm, guess what? You're in for a cold and dark few months.


Going off on a tangent (which I'm good at), there's a few reasons people are Seriously Spooked about ebola. I've heard from various places and people with Letters After Their Name that I should be "more worried about the flu". More likely to $UnlikelyEvent. And so forth.

And you know what? They're not entirely wrong. I am indeed more likely to catch the flu than ebola - even though I've had a flu shot. Influenza is nothing to kid around with. It's highly transmissible, and a century ago it killed a whole lot of people. CDC treats influenza as a Biosafety Level 3 bug. ("... can cause severe to fatal disease in humans but for which treatments exist."

Ebola is a BSL4 bug. Spacesuit and special lab stuff. Severe to fatal disease, high risk of aerosolization, no known treatments. If you catch ebola, they will try to keep you comfortable, and the rest is up to you.

I'm a (relatively) healthy adult male.

If I catch influenza, I will be sick for a couple weeks. I'll have a runny nose, high fever, GIs, aches and pains and chills... I may wish I was dead. But the odds of me actually dying are pretty darn small.

If I catch ebola, I will be very sick for a couple weeks. I'll have a runny nose, high fever, GIs, aches and pains and chills... and petechiae, and hemorrhage in other fun places. I may wish I was dead ... and I'll have a pretty good chance of that wish being granted as my body's major systems shut down.

Am I worried about the flu? Sure, in the, "I just started a new job and don't want to be That Guy," sort of way.

Am I worried about ebola? You're damn right. Because our government can't find its ass with two hands and a flashlight, hospitals are making it up as they go along, and even if we cut the fatality rate in HALF thanks to first-world medicine, ONE IN THREE PEOPLE WHO CATCH IT WILL DIE.

And don't forget, we're right at the edge of the headlong dive into cold-and-flu season. Is that little ache behind your eyes just an early cold, or did you pick up something extra at the airport?

Which brings me to my final point:
If you're sick, stay the fuck home.

Oct 8, 2014


Somehow I forgot to mention this here. I was out walking the dog on Monday when my phone chirped with a new email alert. I glanced at the subject line:

eForms Application Status Change Notification

... opened it.

This is to advise you that the status of your eForms submission ... has changed to APPROVED.
With attachment... a beautiful pdf of my signed-and-stamped Form 1.

I scooted home, printed multiple copies, and slapped the upper and lower together that had been living separately for the last five weeks:

The lower is, of course, engraved by York Arms:

The barrel was also profiled/finished by York, and is a 10.1" 300BLK, with a Kaw Valley linear comp. Handguard is Diamondhead VRS-T. Stock is a Magpul MOE, grip is ERGO, and the optic is a wonderful Primary Arms MD-AD red dot on a Fortis F1 mount. The bipod is an Atlas with quick disconnect... not necessary but awful useful for bench work, and rock solid.

First range trip was today. Had some issues with handloads, particularly those using Hornady 130gr SP bullets... but then I tried some of my Nosler 125gr BTs. I think I have a cherry load that both the Pale Horse and this SBR like; I'll have to try up and down a few tenths each direction but 16.5gr of IMR 4227 looked good.

So ... I'm in a free state and my stamp collection is officially underway. :-D

Oct 6, 2014


Preheat oven to 350F.

Cooking by explosion was successful:
5-6 strips bacon, cooked and chopped, back in the pan with:
1/3lb kielbasa, diced
1/2 onion, minced
1/2lb sliced baby bella mushrooms
Cook 'til the kielbasa is browned and/or the onions are just translucent. Take off heat and set aside.

Cook 1.5lb pasta of choice. While pasta is cooking:
In a medium saucepan, melt 3T butter over medium-low heat
Add 1c. cultured buttermilk and 1c. half-n-half or milk.
Whisk in 3T corn starch and a healthy dash of pepper.
Slowly add 2lb shredded cheese of choice, whisking steadily.
Adjust consistency by adding milk/half-n-half until just creamy.

Drain pasta well. Pour the cheese sauce over it and stir.

In a deep 9x13 (3.5qt minimum):
Grease the pan lightly.
Make a layer of the bacon/onion/kielbasa/mushroom mix.
Pour the pasta and cheese over it. Don't stir, just give it a jiggle to settle.
Top with a good dash of parmesan-romano and a few tablespoons of bread crumbs.

Into the oven for 45min at 350F, or until bubbling and lightly browned.

On Interviews...

This job hunt has been ... educational, at least.

A bit ago on the bookface I commented that employers would be wise to remember that an interview is a two-way experience. (Or words to that effect.)

That was reinforced over the weekend, and I withdrew my candidacy from a potential job this morning - despite having been told I was their top choice.

I've been through the various background and physical portions of my screening for $FireDept. They're waiting on the official results of my drug screen to give me a start date, which I desperately hope is soon.

Time off is great, the bank account is fine, but I can only vacuum the rug so many times in a week before it gets old.

Oct 4, 2014

Brief range notes

MODOC range was packed today. No shock - beautiful weather and deer season is around the corner. I wanted some zen time with the .22, but it wasn't happening. Guys in the lane next to me had a new AR with a shorty barrel and 4-inch permanent "muzzle brake" loudener. Painfully so.

They spent three mags just trying to get on paper at 50yd and then 25yd before one of the ROs took them over to the pistol range for even shorter-distance work.

Ammo notes at 50yd:
Federal bulk puts in a 2" group.
Winchester Super-X will do 1.5".
CCI Tactical shot real nice, one large ragged hole and a few fliers after thirty-ish shots.

Some of those fliers are undoubtedly due to the target frame swaying a couple inches left and right in the breeze.

My beloved Savage .22 needs some serious TLC. I can't remember the last time it was detail-stripped and scrubbed, and it's showing - the bolt is sluggish to close, I had half-a-dozen light strikes across the various types of ammo, and the trigger is feeling "not right". I suspect I didn't see this during summer because whatever wax and carbon has accumulated in the action was warm enough to not be sticky. Now that it's cooler out? Bad juju.

I'll see about tearing it down in the next couple days.

Oct 2, 2014

Another York Plug

I know most everyone that reads this already knows it ... but I'm going to throw out another plug for Wally at York Arms.

He just reprofiled a monstrous barrel I had - a 24" full-bull .223 barrel - to something MUCH more reasonable (0.95 chamber-shoulder, 0.750 at the gas port, and 0.740 forward), shortened it by three inches, re-crowned, and added 1/2-28 threads...

All for a very reasonable price.

Sep 21, 2014

CCW Class: the rest of the story

Now that I've had a bit of sleep and some food, etc, I feel like tapping out the rest of it.

I'm not going to ID the instructor publicly, because I have zero doubt that he does regular searches and wouldn't hesitate to send me a lawsuit for defamation. If you're looking for a class in the Metro KC area, drop me a note privately and I'll explain further.

That said, here's the rundown on the day:
Class scheduled to start at 8. It did, plus or minus a few minutes. The instructors (four) were well-groomed, wearing the de facto gun instructor uniform of cargo shorts and epaulet shirts with various patches affixed.

Instructor intros. Ex-military. Ex-cop. Ex-cop. Etc.
Head instructor... medically-retired cop. "FBI-trained sniper" draws oohs and ahhs from the class and an eyeroll from me. (Average distance of a police "sniper" shot? 51 yards.) Department armorer. Firearms instructor.

Class begins. Four rules.
Four rules again.
Range rules.
Four rules again.
Class is asked for "experienced shooters" to volunteer to go shoot quals. I and four others raise our hands; three more are added to the group, we go shoot quals. Pistol is a S&W M&P22, at the previously-mentioned 7 yards. I rapid-fire a forty-round tennis-ball size group on the left edge of the X-ring. A quick glance across the other targets suggests that's a pretty standard grouping.

Back to the classroom.
I kind of zone out as the instructor spends more time yammering on about parts of a handgun, ways to carry a handgun, and the like. I started scribbling down the little tropes he was throwing out and getting angrier and angrier about this clown wasting my time and money. I had to get the piece of paper to get my CCW though, so calling him out on it during class wasn't going to do any good.

So, in no particular order, here's a few of those chestnuts he placed in front of 38 students yesterday, without comment from me:
- Hornady Critical Defense uses a polymer insert in the hollowpoint because polymer is harder and stronger than steel (you know, like the frames of Glocks and Springfield XD9) and it makes the bullet expand faster.
- You should only carry hollowpoints because they'll limit overpenetration.
- Never buy a "Magnum" handgun because the prosecutor will use it against you. If you insist on buying a Magnum, only load it with .38s.
- Never load Magnum rounds in a long-barrel handgun because the velocity is too great and it will overpenetrate.
- Dry-firing is terrible for guns, will damage your .22 beyond repair, and will wear out the firing pin springs on centerfires.
- A shotgun is the ideal home defense weapon because 1) the sound of the slide will scare off bad guys. 2) You don't have to aim, just kind of point. 3) You should saw off the barrel as short as you can (pause ... legally) so it's easier to use. 4) Ladies should use a 20ga semi-auto so they don't have to worry about working the slide under pressure.
- Birdshot is the best home defense round because it won't overpenetrate. Buckshot will go through your target, the wall, the exterior wall, the house next door...
- Every student he teaches needs to buy a NAA Mini Magnum, and load the first two in the cylinder with snakeshot. He tested this load himself, at 21 feet, and, "I pulled the trigger and suddenly it felt like my face was on fire. I had to squeeze out three or four pellets that had embedded themselves in my forehead and chin. They'd gone 21 feet down, bounced back, and still had enough energy to embed in my face."
- A revolver is the best defensive gun because it doesn't have malfunctions, you just pull the trigger again.
- Open carry is stupid, bad tactics, and if you're in line at 7-11 and it gets robbed you're going to be shot first and the robber is going to have two guns to kill people with.
- .22 is the deadliest bullet ever because it bounces around inside the body and destroys multiple organs. (Like the .50BMG tumbler rounds the military uses that bounce around inside enemy trucks and kill everyone inside.)
- Anyone wearing body armor while they're out and about is obviously up to no good.

At some point in the afternoon I tried to kill myself with the BlueGun on our group's table. It didn't work.

He has not maintained currency with MO law changes, and was giving advice in contradiction to just-passed state laws.

His case full of guns for show-and-tell? A dozen Taurii in various flavors (including a Judge), two NAA Minis, one Glock 36, an LCP, and an LCR. His taste in firearms is ... questionable at best. (He repeatedly talked up Taurus as quality guns.)

I'm going to be contacting the county sheriff this week to see what the process is to file a complaint about a CCW instructor. I don't want this clown giving bad info to more people.

On the plus side of things, our class of 38 was fully 1/3 female. That was good to see.

MO CCW class

Missouri requires anyone applying for a CCW go through an 8-hour basic class, including a live-fire portion. Annoying, but it ensures anyone applying at least has a baseline knowledge and proof of ... well, competency is a strong word.

The "qualification" is 20 rounds at a B27 target, at seven yards.

Passing? 16 have to be in the black.

Not center mass, not inside the 7-ring, just IN BLACK INK.

(I just did the math ... that's maintaining around 330MOA of accuracy.)

The rest of the class was an absolute train wreck, and I'll tap that out when I'm a bit less pissed about it. If you know me on the facebook, you already got some of the highlights.

Sep 18, 2014

Ammo notes

I could show you a couple pictures of targets but... why?

Short form: I'm suitably impressed by the ZQI 5.56, especially at its price point. It shot tighter and more consistently than the M193 I also tried.

Zero malfunctions, although it was a limited test (one box of 30 in three sets of ten).

Handily kept to sub-5MOA with iron sights (blame shooter, not ammo) and 2MOA with a 3x scope.

I'll be buying more every time I'm at Walmart.

Sep 16, 2014

Ammo "warning"

I put "warning" in quotes because I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, just something to be aware of.

I'm trying to stack up a bit of ammo again; my supply of .223/5.56 was getting uncomfortably low and it's starting to approach sane prices again. Accordingly, I picked up a few boxes of "ZQI" at WalMart yesterday. It's brass-cased, boxer-primed (and crimped), and sells in a box of 30 for $9.97. Even with sales tax pushing that closer to $11/30, it's still a hair cheaper than I can mail-order most other brass 5.56.

There's no specs on the box, and since this is intended to be stacked away for future use, it was worth buying a handful just to try. I did some digging into the actual specs when I got home, and found the ZQI info page.

Of particular interest:
Description 5.56 x 45 mm SS109
Bullet Weight (grains) ~62
Bullet Material:
   Jacket: Gilding Metal (Brass)
   Core: Steel and Lead-Antimony Alloy
Emphasis mine. What I had assumed was 55gr FMJ blasting ammo is instead NATO-spec 62gr penetrator. Curious, I decided to check it with a BuckyCube I somehow forgot to turn in to the CPSC:

Yep. It sticks.

Now, why does this matter?
One: 62gr ammo doesn't always stabilize well in 1/9 twist barrels, which many budget ARs have. (We're getting in to esoterica of bullet density, length, twist rates, and the like.) It might do fine in yours, so buy a box if you'd like to test. 1/8 or 1/7 should be absolutely OK.
Two: In regions with high risk of wildfire, steel-core ammo is often banned because it can spark on rocks or metal targets. Be aware.
Three: Many public ranges have restrictions on steel-core ammo because of damage to facilities. Some go so far as to check ammo brought in with a magnet. If it sticks, you're buying range ammo at range prices or not shooting that day.
Four: If you have your own gongs or plate targets, anything less than AR500 steel is probably going to be severely damaged (or simply punched through) by this. Even AR500 will take some damage from SS109 projectiles, as seen in this video from tnoutdoors9.

Is this Armor Piercing? Nope. AR500 steel or a Level IV SAPI plate will stop it. It'll go through a Level III/IIIA vest just like any other centerfire rifle round.

Box o' Truth tested it on an engine block: no significant difference between M193 (55gr ball) and M855 (62gr penetrator).

So which to get? Whichever is cheaper that your range/targets allow for AND your rifle will stabilize. I'm hoping to hit the range later this week, and I have ARs in both 1/9 and 1/7, so perhaps some comparison will be done.

Sep 14, 2014


Back in May I wrote about upheaval in life, not least of which was the announcement that I'd be out of a job in 90-120 days. Well, they came awful close to the 120 mark.

I walked out of work at 0700 after turning in my uniforms, ID, etc.

I haven't felt this good in a long time. I laughed all the way home, at absolutely nothing in particular. I had a Manhattan made with good rye when I got home, then slept for six hours, and feel like a new person.

I will be starting with another agency in the area soon (exact date is pending background check and drug screen), and I have a fair severance check in hand.

Most of it will be going in the bank with an eye towards house-buying in the near future... but part of it will likely turn into a bit of shop time for some barrels that need threading. :-)

I'd be lying if I said I was pleased with how the last year and a half has gone, at least on a day-to-day basis. The last four months of uncertainty and dead-man-walking mentality were miserable. Now I'm looking at what the future holds and things suddenly look a whole lot better.

Yes, I'm taking a pay cut for a year or two. Doesn't matter. New agency has a lot of opportunities for professional growth that look exciting.

I've got at least a week and probably three off now. I foresee some sleeping, a few range trips, and at least a few nights of backpacking.

Hunting beg

It's not often I'll beg to hunt... But now?

I walked out of work at 7 yesterday morning to crystal clear skies and the sun just starting to peek over the horizon, with my breath clouding in absolutely still 38-degree air. The leaves are still a little green but you couldn't ask for better hunting weather.

And then I read Brigid's latest hunting post.

I'm begging.

If anyone in the midwest - within a reasonable day's drive of Kansas City - has and is willing to share some private hunting land ... I'd be eternally grateful. Just a day worth of hunting is all I need. If timing was right, an evening, a day, and a morning. But I need to hunt. I'll bring good coffee. Or good beer. Or whatever bribes are needed.

Yes, there are public conservation areas around here.

The greater KC Metro area has 2 million residents. Public hunting grounds sound like Mogadishu on opening day. Not my cuppa.

Thanks in advance.

Sep 12, 2014

Blue collar community

Following up on "I built that barn", comes this time-lapse video of an Amish barn-raising. Incredible work, and as someone quipped, an OSHA inspector probably had a coronary seeing it:

(It's worth clicking through to watch full-screen.)

Put on the stupid hat...

From the land of flakes and nuts, a court has fined Lowe's $1.6 Million for false advertising.

The reason?

A piece of lumber advertised as a "2x4" is ... not. It's actually 1.5x3.5". And that's apparently misleading, because, "[M]isinformation could adversely affect building projects that more often than not rely on precise measurements."

I have never met a contractor (or most weekend warriors) that doesn't know a 2x4 is the nominal dimension of the lumber. And the few people who didn't know that (when I was stacking boards for some pocket money) learned why. (Shrinkage and mill finishing from the actual two-inch-by-four-inch green rough cut.)

So now apparently Lowe's in CA has to start re-labeling their lumber, with both nominal and actual dimensions... and the state has added $1.6 million in fines to its coffers.


Thought for the day

With a nod to DaddyBear and his movie quotes of the day, here's my literature quote for the day:
“Good God, Kellogg!—haven’t you understood? I’d give you any job you name!”“All right. Track walker.”“What?”“Section hand. Engine wiper.” He smiled at the look on her face.“No? You see, I said you wouldn’t.”“Do you mean that you’d take a day laborer’s job?”“Any time you offered it.”“But nothing better?”“That’s right, nothing better.”“Don’t you understand that I have too many men who’re able to do those jobs, but nothing better?”“I understand it, Miss Taggart. Do you?”“What I need is your—”“—mind, Miss Taggart? My mind is not on the market any longer.”
-- "Atlas Shrugged", Ayn Rand
I've been working "white collar" jobs for most of my life. Tech support. More tech support. Dispatch. More dispatch. Dispatch and tech support at one time. "Mind" jobs. I enjoy most of the challenges that entails, most of the time.

But you know something? Perhaps the highest compliment I've ever been paid was from a friend, who made an off-hand remark one day:

"You just present this blue-collar can-do attitude."

"Blue collar" work is honorable work. It's not always - not even often - glamorous. But it's good work. It's good to be able to do that work. It may be dirty. Hot. Cold. Wet. Dangerous. But it's the work that makes the world go 'round.

Business makes the world go 'round, you say? International trading? Commodities?
Who laid the sub-ocean cables that allow instantaneous communications between continents?
Who built the launch pads that put Ariane, Titan, and N1 rockets and communications satellites into orbit?
Who welds the pipelines that move crude oil from wellhead to seaport?
Who rivets the hulls that move that oil from seaport to refinery?
Who paved the roads that trucks use to move gas and diesel from refinery to service station?
Who maintains those trucks?

See my point?

My "day job" makes a difference in lives... but it's a little silly to point to a radio console and say, "I pushed that button right." There's a different kind of pride in saying, "I built that barn."

Sep 9, 2014

Adventures in reloading

This happened the other night and I forgot to post it up at the time.

I bought a case-lot of brass for the 300BLK - converted Lake City 5.56 brass. It was advertised as "trimmed, swaged, chamfered, ready to load". Well ... it was trimmed, at least.

It was decidedly not swaged, and this was clearly evident the first time I tried to prime one. It didn't. The crimp was very present. Fortunately, I already had a Dillon SuperSwage on the way for a pile of milsurp 5.56 I have, so I set aside the 300BLK for a while and fiddled with other gun stuff.

The swage arrived and I started swaging in batches of a hundred or so. If you haven't used a SuperSwage, there's a caliber-specific spindle that goes in the case mouth and supports the case head as the swager is cammed into the primer hole. Flip the lever back down, flip the brass out ... it takes a few seconds per piece and is super-consistent. I was chugging along at the bench, music playing and a beer nearby*, when I hit a case that wouldn't slip on to the spindle.

I pulled it off and shook it, assuming it had a few pieces of tumbling media stuck inside or something. Nothing came out, I tried the spindle again ... no luck. I got out a penlight and looked closer, and found that a .22 case was lodged inside the brass.

Now, this is deprimed brass, so I figured the case had slipped in during the final polishing tumble before this was shipped to me... and then I looked closer.

The machine-decapping process had punched right through the .22 and removed the primer. If this actually had been "ready to prime" I would have primed it and stuck it in the tray to load, never realizing there was a problem until I tried to dump *mumble*-teen grains of IMR powder in and overflowed the case. (The oval-ish shape is because I had started to crush this with pliers before thinking to snap a picture.) If I was mass-reloading on a progressive press, I might never have caught that little oops.

Lesson: Inspect your brass!

* - Yes, I know there are lots of people screaming about music and beer at the bench. Music is background noise to me, not a distraction. And beer? NEVER when I'm dealing with powder, or primers, or other sensitive stuff. Swaging (and de-priming, and resizing) are just mindless repetition. For me, a (ONE) beer is an acceptable risk during this process.

Sep 3, 2014

What caliber for...?

A future build?

I have a sufficiency (MrsZ might say a surfeit) of 5.56/.223 AR-pattern rifles. A brace of 300BLK. A lone .22.

So, of all the oddball calibers out there available in the -15 frame, what to choose and why?


What else?

Sep 2, 2014

Tuna Croquettes

Dinner tonight was, as the topic suggests, tuna croquettes. They were ... pretty good, needed a slight tweak (less vinegar than what I used).

3 5oz cans tuna, drained
2 eggs
dash lemon juice
dash rice vinegar
1/4c. minced onion
tablespoon minced garlic
tablespoon coarse ground mustard
1/2c. italian bread crumbs
1/4c. italian bread crumbs
olive oil to coat skillet

An hour ahead of time, combine the garlic, onion, mustard, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Stir thoroughly. Cover and let it cuddle.

Whisk the eggs with the lemon juice.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the tuna, onion mixture, and egg mixture. Stir well. Add 1/2c bread crumbs and combine thoroughly.

In a skillet over medium heat, bring oil to shimmering.

Form the tuna mix into patties (1/4c. measure works well for sizing), press firmly together, coat in remaining 1/4c bread crumbs, and cook until golden brown, 3-4 minutes per side.

Serve with whatever pleases you.

Aug 27, 2014

Another Freedom Rifle complete:

I stuck this on the Pale Horse lower for the picture, because it adds one more naughty over the lower it's actually on. Let's count the New York no-no's:
- adjustable stock
- detachable magazine
- full-capacity magazine
- bayonet lug (with Ontario M7 sticker)
- A2 flash hider
- pistol grip

All of these things are E- and D-felonies.

Crimes with lower classifications include (penal code section):
- luring a child (120.70)
- possessing an obscene performance by a child (263.11)
- aggravated sexual abuse (130.65-a)
- promoting a sexual performance by a child (263.15)
- rape in the second degree (130.30)

There are several more, sourced here.

Because guns are worse than child porn and rape.

Aug 25, 2014

Quick thought

This popped in to my head today as yet another headline about Michael Brown scrolled by...

"He may not be the perfect case, but he's the case we need."

Let me expound a bit.

I don't think anyone will ever know exactly what happened in that street. Pathology reports will tell some, medical reports on the officer might tell more, but in the end, only two people know what happened - and one of them can't tell us anymore.

Michael may not have been an angel. It doesn't matter.

His death has opened up the conversation about policing, accountability, and drawn attention to something that's needed it for a long time.

Something we should keep in mind. Maybe it's time we, as gun owners, stop looking for the perfect case and find the cases we need. Kachalsky was turned down. Fine. There will be more. Open the conversation.

A few build notes

Regarding the AR pistol build from my last post, a few things that are worth mentioning:

- The PSA Pistol Lower Build Kit had an oversized bolt-catch roll pin that necessitated ordering a new pin after I mangled the first one. The trigger, however, is surprisingly good for a budget parts kit. It's no Geissele, but it's a tolerable single-stage.
- The AR small parts kit from Amazon is worth every penny and also included extractor O-rings (which are not pictured).
- The AIM Surplus NiB v2 bolt group is on par with the WMD bolt I have in another rifle, and $50 cheaper. The non-v2 version isn't quite as nicely finished but quite functional and another $30 less.
- The Brownell's upper receiver block is a great fit and will do both A2 and flat-top uppers. (Bought secondhand.)
- The Diamondhead VRS-T handguard is the cat's ass, but requires a low-profile gas block. Also, the barrel nut, while nice because it doesn't need timing to the gas tube, needs a 1-1/4" wrench to install. If you're going to torque to spec, get a crowfoot wrench. I didn't, I just got a big honkin' box wrench from Home Depot and cranked it down to "that's snug".
- The Kaw Valley Precision Linear Comp is a beautiful little piece of equipment and very fairly priced. Sure beats three times the price for a Noveske KX-3/-5.
- AR barrel nuts require a moly grease for installation. There are reasons not to use plain old bearing grease, something about graphite and dissimilar metals. You can buy an entire tube of AeroShell 33MS grease (meets the military spec) for $15-20 and have enough grease for a lifetime, or a 2oz tub of KG-11 Moly Grease for $18 and still have enough for lifetime. Note: this shit gets everywhere. Wear old clothes, put down newspaper, paper plates, whatever, and still expect to get some where you don't want it.
- CLP in a needle applicator is fantastic for small-parts assembly. And for $5, get a tube on your next Amazon order. Tip of the hat to Carteach for the original recommendation on that.
- A Primary Arms MicroDot/Fortis Mount combo is on the way to me. It's light, battery-efficient, and not terribly expensive. Also a plus, the mount is compatible with Aimpoint Micros if/when I decide to upgrade.

(All links are to where I sourced the parts for this build. It seems that several of them have gone out of stock since I ordered, which means either I got the last one or it's just that popular.)

Aug 23, 2014

Another notch for freedom

New York prevented me from owning an AR-pattern pistol even before the unSAFE insanity - magazine well outside the pistol grip and unloaded weight over 50oz - so I finally ticked that off the list.

It is (as usual) a York Arms lower, completed with a PSA pistol parts kit, ERGO grip, Diamondhead VRS-T rail, 10.5" 300BLK barrel, and KVP Linear Comp.

It'll be wearing a red dot soon, and a final picture should show up then.

When I have a bit of extra cash, I'll stamp-and-stock it.

Aug 22, 2014

Minor amusement: there are at least three or four firearms-industry companies close enough that their "cheap" shipping is still overnight or two-day.

Midway and Grafs are both within a hundred miles.
JoeBob's is perhaps 300 miles.
Brownell's is 200 miles as the crow flies, and 300 by road.

I can actually do same-day pickups from Midway or Grafs if I really want to - if I was ordering powder from both it might be worth it, but it is a four-hour round trip and gas ain't cheap.

Still ... it's nice to know that I can.

Aug 20, 2014

Now is the time...

It seems like the insanity of last year has finally calmed down. If you don't have an AR-pattern rifle and want one, now is the time.

You can buy a major-brand rifle for $800 (Colt, S&W) at friggin' Walmart.

Decent brass-cased ammo is running back in the $330-350/case range. Steel-cased is under $250/1000.

If you have an hour and a couple tools, you can build a complete entry-level rifle for $500:

PSA is running a "blemished" lower sale for $70. A lower parts kit is $50. M4 stock kit is $40. A middy stainless upper is $200, a bolt group is $100, and a charging handle is $20. Bam. $480.

Add either an inexpensive fixed-rear iron sight or a budget optic of preference and you're still under $600.

$250 will buy you a thousand rounds of blasting ammo.

$100 will buy you ten 30-round magazines.

Under a thousand dollars for a complete AR setup. Top of the line? Nope. Reliable? Should be. If you don't want to build it, or want the comfort of a warranty, it's real tough to beat this Colt 6720 price. Ditto the above, spend a couple hundred on a case of ammo and another hundred on a handful of magazines. Add an optic if you like, but you don't have to.

Aug 18, 2014

Accidentally recorded...

Half-watching CNN this morning to keep an ear on Ferguson happenings, and it is interspersed with other items of "news".

Breathless newsreader is aghast that Germany recorded calls placed by SecStates Kerry and Clinton. Germany is saying it was an accident. (Or at least it was an accident that they were caught doing it.)

In other news, I have a great price on a vintage bridge in the NY Metro area...

Aug 17, 2014


I've been pondering this tonight as I've occasionally clicked over to CNN to see what's going on in Ferguson - I'm nowhere near there but it's a fair barometer of what's going on in the minds of people.

And what I keep coming back to is this:

What's the difference between the questionable/intimidating actions of the various agencies in Ferguson MO and the questionable/intimidating actions of the various agencies in Bunkerville, NV in March of this year?

The population is angry.

In Ferguson, they're risking arrest (and a bit of tear gas) and staying out past a government-ordered curfew. There was a temporary no-fly (under 5,000 feet) the other night after a helicopter took some ground fire... All this as a result of a questionable police-involved shooting.

In Nevada, citizens were bearing arms against the perception of an overreaching government agency.

In both cases, we're not getting the full story - and probably never will.

But it's got me thinking about what the difference is, if any.

Aug 15, 2014

Layers on layers...

If the click-to-embiggen doesn't work, that caption reads, "[...] Pictured above, a bullet is loaded into an assault rifle."


Aug 12, 2014

Crème Brûlée

In the oven, right now.

I started with the recipe from Pioneer Woman. I've made it twice and it's just more than I want. Ten eggs and a quart of cream is a LOT of crème. It's also a hair sweeter than I'd prefer.

So I adjusted as follows:
1 pint heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup vanilla sugar
1-2 tablespoons good bourbon

Preheat the oven to 325F. Put a kettle of water on low to warm up.

Put the cream, vanilla caviar, and bean hulls into a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring regularly.
Beat the sugar and egg yolks together until it is a pale yellow consistency - this is key. PALE yellow.
Whisk the bourbon into the egg mixture.
Strain the cream through a sieve into a large (1qt) measuring cup or bowl.

Now the tricky part, and this is even more important than the color of the eggs and sugar:
With your mixer on medium, TRICKLE the hot cream down the side of the bowl into the egg mix. If you add it too fast, you're going to cook the eggs and end up with sweet scrambled eggs. Once you've tempered the eggs with about half of the cream (which should take one to two minutes), you can add the remainder a little faster.

Put your ramekins (this should make 4-5 6oz ramekins) in a baking dish with a towel underneath them.
Pour the egg mix into the ramekins evenly. Pour hot water in the dish to about halfway up the ramekins.

Bake at 325F for about 30-35 minutes, until just set.

Remove from the oven and the dish. Cool on a rack about 30 minutes, then cover with saran wrap and put in the fridge for 2-3 hours until completely firm.

When it's time to enjoy:
Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar on top, then torch it 'til it's brûlèe'd to your taste.

Aug 3, 2014

It's never Lupus... it's Ebola!

There are a ton of half-formulated posts rattling around in my head, but I haven't had the time or energy to get them banged out into something cogent. I still owe y'all a couple reviews of things.

Work has been insane. The rollercoaster mood swings associated with a mass layoff are tough and neither management or our union *spit* have been very helpful. Still no firm date.

And now ... Ebola on our shores. In chat last night, two People Who Know indicated that this is a Very Serious Concern. A direct quote was, "This strain of Ebola should scare the shit out of you."

I wrote a term paper on Ebola in high school. That was a long time ago, but the rough facts have hung out in the back of my head: short incubation, then a rapid spiral down with usual case fatality rate in the 90% range.

Apparently this new strain has a longer incubation and a slightly lower fatality rate ... which is BAD. With earlier strains, infection to symptomatic was usually 3-7 days. Short enough to be able to associate the early exposure with the present illness, and then death was quick. The pandemics burned themselves out in a hurry.

The new strain? 15-20 day incubation during which time you're not contagious, then a few days of low-grade fever, aches, chills ... you know, a summer flu. How many of us have gone to work with a minor case of the blahs, and then sneezed and coughed all over our cube, break room, restroom, etc? That's where this strain is going to be a problem if it actually manages a foothold here. On top of that, its lower mortality actually increases the potential number of deaths - because people won't associate the symptoms soon, will think they're getting better, and infect more people.

Just for comparison sake, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 had an estimated mortality rate of 3-5% (and a case fatality rate of 10-20%).

I'm not panicking - but I am sure as hell going to be more aware of what's going on around me, and an extra bit of food in the larder might not be a bad thing.

Jul 29, 2014

Reloading Bench

Back when I started reloading, my "bench" was a 20" square butcher-block table. I had enough room for the press, powder measure, a reloading tray, and a scale if I was doing precision loads. All my powder was kept in a nearby cupboard, along with primers and bullets. Dies and brass and other small bits were kept in a small filing cabinet. It worked, mostly.

When we bought the house, I had long-term plans to build a larger bench (right after closing and insulating the third bay of the garage to become a workshop, and refinishing the deck, and replacing the garden shed, and...), but that never happened. With the move last year, that turned out to be a good thing.

Now that we're mostly settled for the time being, and with the new .308 in the stable begging for precision loads, I decided it was time to start reloading again. I ordered a 2x4basics workbench kit from Amazon ($70 to my front steps) and picked up a dozen eight-foot 2x4s, a sheet of 3/4 B-C plywood cut 24/24/24/12/12(x48)*, and a 24x48 piece of 1/8" hardboard (Masonite).

I took things home and cut the following lengths of 2x4s:
12 - 48"
6 - 21"
2 - 39"
4 - 30"
1 - ~48.5"
(I ended up with a full 8' and a 40-odd-inch chunk leftover, which is fine.)

Then I screwed all the boards into the brackets following the handy pictorial "directions" included with the kit, and ended up with a nice 2'x4' bench. A handful of 1" drywall screws anchored the hardboard on top, and I built the shelving up on top of that, with the heights adjusted so I could get kegs of powder on top, and have plenty of room to work underneath.

Initially the bench felt wobbly - not weak, just that it was teeter-tottering on the legs. That changed in a big hurry when I started loading it up with equipment and components. It's now rock-solid and not going anywhere.

I picked up a couple architect-style LED desk lamps from Walmart and discarded the base in favor of drilling a 1/2" hole in the top shelf I'd built. A power strip on the side of the bench feeds those and an RCBS electronic scale, plus the tumbler as needed.

A few 2" lag screws hold the press down, and tonight I'm going to grab a small bench vise from Home Depot to mount on the other end.

End result? A pretty solid bench for a minimal investment (about $200 including the lights and power strip), no fudging around with building corners, and a great space for me to work on reloading or other gun stuff:

* - If I was cutting this again, I'd make it a 30" deep bench instead of 24". It doesn't take up a tremendous amount more space and would provide a LOT more space for storing things.

Jul 17, 2014

The Greatest Generation: A Missed Chance

MrsZ had some bodywork done today, patching up a dinged wing that's been an issue for a while. She's home and resting as comfortably as can be expected.

While GfZ and I were in the waiting room killing time before being called back to retrieve MrsZ, there was an elderly gent sitting with his young grandson on the far side of the room. He was any of a hundred older men you might see holding court at the local barber, or diner, or on the bench on the town square... right down to the "NAVY" ballcap.

I didn't get a close look at it until he shuffled by us... underneath "NAVY", in smaller print, was embroidered the legend, "WWII - VB-20".

The nurse called us in to find MrsZ then, so I didn't get a chance to give him more than a smile and nod. I just looked up VB-20. Here's a brief history of the squadron, courtesy Wikipedia:
On October 15, 1943, the squadron was redesignated Bombing Squadron TWENTY (VB-20), and on November 15, 1943 the squadron started to receive its first SB2C-1C Helldivers.
From August 16 through November 23, 1944, VB-20 flew the Helldiver from USS Enterprise (CV-6) for the first of two World War II Pacific Theater combat cruises. The squadron's first combat action occurred on August 31, 1944 and involved an attack on the Bonin Islands. In September 1944, VB-20 participated in pre-invasion strikes on Palau Islands and provided air support for landings on Peleliu Island. In October 1944, the squadron participated in air strikes against Okinawa, Formosa and Luzon. On October 24, 1944, VB-20 participated in the Battle for Leyte Gulf. Squadron SB2Cs flew sorties against Japanese surface force in the Sibuyan Sea, these attacks contributed to the sinking of the Musashi, one of the two largest battleships in the world. On October 25, 1944, VB-20 aircraft were part of the Fast Carrier Task Force that attacked the Japanese carrier force in the Battle of Cape Engaño. Four Japanese carriers were sunk during this engagement.
From November 23, 1944 through February 2, 1945, VB-20 embarked aboard USS Lexington (CV-16), for the second of two World War II combat cruises. Squadron Helldivers struck Japanese positions in Ormoc Bay, Leyte, Luzon, Formosa, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and Okinawa.
On November 15, 1946, VB-20 was redesignated Attack Squadron NINE A (VA-9A).
 If those links above don't ring a bell for you... well, go back to History class. That stooped and shuffling old man has seen the elephant.

I wish I'd had made a moment to shake his hand.

Jul 9, 2014

"In the zeroes"

I'm not a true precision shooter. Never have been. Probably never will be. Things like rail guns just don't appeal to me. From a mechanical standpoint, they're amazing pieces of work. From a shooter standpoint? They have no soul. (Say what you will. Sometimes the rifle and the shooter just click. Those rifles? They have souls.)

I may fine-tune a load for the Savage. I expect I'll spend more time reloading each round for that than I have on any other cartridge I've done, because the rifle can use that level of detail. I may well sort bullets and cartridges by weight. I don't foresee myself doing things like turning cartridge necks. I wandered off when the guys at my club's F-class match started discussing the pros and cons of trickling an entire powder charge vs dipping and trickling to final.

That said, there's an article I have read repeatedly over the years that is unlike anything I've found in the gun rags in the last decade. It was printed in 1993 by Precision Shooting, in a "special issue". The article was titled, "Secrets of the Houston Warehouse". It has been reprinted (reportedly with permission) in various places.

It literally was a benchrest shooter’s dream come true, the Camelot of shooting ranges. Here, the breezes never blew, the mirage never shimmered, the sun never set and the rain never fell. Even the harshness of the weather, either heat or cold, was moderated by the insulating properties of the walls and steel roof.
And so began perhaps the most insightful, revealing experimentation into practical rifle accuracy ever conducted. Over a period of six years, the levels of accuracy achieved in the Houston Warehouse went beyond what many precision shooters thought possible for lightweight rifles shot from sandbags and aimed shot-to-shot by human eye.
“Day after day, week after week”, Virgil recalled “it would NOT shoot a group in the warehouse bigger than .070".

There is a text-only version here, and a reconstructed pdf here (pictures are not the same). Read the whole thing if ballistic witchcraft is your thing. It's fascinating stuff.

Jul 7, 2014

Range Report: Model 12 (again)

I won't keep dumping target shots in here forever... With that said:

Shot 1 was a called flyer that I knew I pulled, so I took it out of the mix.
Shots 2-5 were the remainder of that string, single-loaded with no particular attention to barrel cooling.
Shots 6 & 7 were taken later, finishing up the box of ammo after another shooter had put several rounds through on a separate target.

I put this through OnTarget.

Shots 2-5 measured 0.55MOA.
Shots 6/7 measured 0.59MOA.

Combined, it's a 0.92MOA group. Six shots. 100yd. Factory rifle. Factory ammo.

If I decide to get crazy about chasing groups, glass- and pillar-bedding with tuned handloads could get interesting.

Savage Model 12 BVSS .308Win
Remington Premier Match 168gr BTHP
86F/light wind varying direction
front bag only

Jul 2, 2014

Rifle: costs

I started wondering what this would cost if I was paying cash out of pocket for the whole kit, instead of horsetrading wherever possible.
Rifle: Savage 12 BVSS .308, from Bud's: $850.
Base: Nightforce-Savage Short Action, Brownell's: $120
Rings: Warne Maxima 1", BassPro: $60
Scope: Bushnell Elite 3200 10x40, Midway: $190

Total: $1220.

It would be entirely possible to go lower-budget on the base and rings and knock another hundred off ... but for a precision rifle, why would you? This particular setup may not be worthy of a Schmidt-Bender or Nightforce optic, but it is entirely capable of effectively reaching 750+ yards. It's worth spending the money to do that properly.

The New Rifle

This rifle has been on my "need to get it" list for a while. Not THIS exact rifle, but a rifle fitting the right niche. I've got .22s. I've got .223/5.56 autoloaders. I've got a 300BLK autoloader. I've got a .270Win bolt gun.

What I didn't have was a ≥.30cal precision bolt gun. My .270, while perfectly serviceable, is a Remington 710 I bought very early in my hunting days. With 130gr handloads, a good bench, and proper planetary alignment it'll shoot 2MOA*. The scope is ... well, "budget" is probably generous. I think I spent $300 on the rifle with scope in a package deal. I don't want to knock the rifle too much - it's killed a few deer at ranges that made me look good (the best being a kneeling 260yd shot) - but it's no great shakes.

My pusher has been trying to sell me a Savage .338LapMag (Model 110BA, if you're curious) he has on the counter. It's a beautiful rifle with a monster scope on top, and I'd love to have it. I am NOT, however, willing to shoot it to the tune of $5/bang. Nor do I have access to a range that will really let me use the reach of a .338. No, I wanted a .308 bolt-action.

I've been perpetually trolling the classifieds looking for something that suited my fancy, and found a "want to trade" that caught my eye. I tossed a trade offer at the guy, we haggled back and forth a bit, and reached an agreement.

The rifle showed up at my dealer last week; I looked it over carefully and pronounced it good. There's a couple tiny dings in the stock, a tiny scuff in the barrel - but it certainly appears to be new/unfired. I grimaced and ordered up a few more things I needed:

- a keg of IMR 4895 powder: IMR 4895 is a classic and well-known powder for both .308 and .223 loading, and a full keg will guarantee consistency as well as provide enough for loading about 800 rounds of both those calibers.

- a set of Lee .308 reloading dies (used), plus a length gage: I have used Lee dies consistently since I started reloading, and have had no issues whatsoever with them. I think I have a set of RCBS .223 dies in the drawer that I have yet to use - but that will change in the near future.

- a Nightforce 20MOA tapered base: I hope to reach out and touch things with this rifle. 500+ yards, even a thousand if I can find the right range. With a 200yd zero, there's a 50" drop at 500yd, or 10MOA. Going out to 1000yd results in drop in the 40MOA range. That would pretty much max the internals of the scope I chose - so tilting it down 20MOA to begin with gives me a lot more wiggle room at longer distance. Nightforce because they're known for top-notch quality and aren't significantly more spendy than other reputable brands.

- a set of Warne Maxima rings: These are bare-bones simple split rings. Four screws hold them together. No little slidey bits to clamp on a rail; they just clamp down evenly from both sides. Medium height seems to have been a good choice. With a shorter rail I might have been able to use low rings. As it sits I will need to invest in a cheek riser of some kind.

- a Bushnell Elite 3200 10x40 mil-mil scope: I've never owned a mil-dot scope before. For known-distance targets they're not needed, but using a mil-dot for ranging is on the "I should know this" list. (Height in yards times 1000, divided by height in mils equals range in yards.) This particular scope because it is relatively inexpensive yet enjoys a great reputation as a fixed-power budget scope. It seemed a good way to try out mil-dot. If I like it, I will start saving pennies for a premium variable power first-plane mil-dot scope.

- a case of Remington Premier Match .308: This doesn't have quite the repute of Federal Gold Medal Match, but is excellent ammo. Also, since I am going to be reloading, this gives me 200 pieces of brass that I know are from the same batch and I can track firings carefully. (Still available at $180/case, btw. Excellent price!)

- a Sightmark laser boresight: Because I hate boresighting by wiggling back and forth between the bore and the scope, and when you're zeroing with match ammo at a dollar a shot, it's worth spending a bit for a tool that can be used again (and in other calibers).

Everything has arrived. The scope is mounted and mechanically zeroed. It's advertised as having 23.5mil (80MOA) of windage and elevation adjustment; I got 19.5mil (66MOA) of elevation and 22.2mil (75MOA) of windage. I am not thrilled with missing 20% of the elevation travel, but if I can zero it at 100yd with enough travel to come-up to a thousand I'll call it good. If not, I'll ship it back to Bushnell to correct or replace.

But wait - the rifle!

It's a Savage Model 12 BVSS, which means a laminate stock and heavy stainless barrel - and in this case, fluted. I ran a dollar under the barrel to check float - and it's free and clear all the way to the recoil lug. It's a heavy rifle; tipping the scale at ten pounds without sights or accessories. I'll be adding a short segment of Picatinny rail to the forearm for a quick-detach bi-pod, and looking for the aforementioned cheek riser.

I'm an unabashed fan of Savage rifles. Their budget rifles have a great (and deserved) reputation for accuracy and the Accutrigger is amazing. I won't make any bones about it: they don't have the fit and finish of some of the big names... but DAMN they can shoot. This is my third Savage rifle and I expect there will be more in the future. My ONE gripe is a personal preference: the muzzle is not chamfered. There's a recessed target crown, but it's a sharp edge at the bore. I'd prefer to see a 45-degree chamfer there, for no good reason other than, "I like it that way."

Now ... why .308? Why not .270, since I have all the equipment to reload for that? There are certainly those who will tell you that .270 is a better cartridge, flatter-shooting, more power at range... and they're sort of right. .270 is flatter-shooting. If you're hunting with a 'plex scope zeroed at 200yd, the maximum point-blank for deer-size game on that rifle is about twenty yards further. At 500yd, the .270 is hitting about six inches higher than the .308. On the flip side, it's shed more than half its muzzle energy - and at 500yd, six inches is 1.2MOA, or about five clicks on the scope. Ballistic coefficient matters when you start talking about long-distance shooting.

Beyond that, .308 has a reputation for being a very tune-able cartridge and components are (usually) readily available. .270 is relatively limited in bullet selection: I just eyeballed Midway and they list 86 different .277" bullets... and 258 different .308".

On to the range report. This was done on an outdoor range with sidewalls and sky baffles, so minimal wind effect (and it was mild and straight downrange anyways). Temperature was 70F. I scrubbed, oiled, and dry-patched the bore at home. Four shots of ZQI .308 were fired to foul the bore and go from boresight to rough zero. A front bag only was used for all shots.

Here's the first four shots of ZQI. I laser-boresighted at 25yd and then single-loaded the first shot. It hit at 10 o'clock on the very outside ring. A second shot to confirm was on the same line but the inside of the 7-ring. I made a few sight adjustment and ended up on the outside of the 9-ring at 3:00. A few more clicks and it drilled the x-ring.

I pushed the target back to 100yd and started in again with the ZQI for a rough zero. Unfortunately, this stuff pretty much fell apart at that distance. It's a lighter bullet (147gr); in fact it's supposed to be a clone of M80 Ball. The Savage has a 1:10 twist and I was warned by NFO that it would probably like heavier ammo. He was right. I made four shots and only two were on paper. I swapped to the Remington Premier Match 168gr BTHP and tried again. If you can read my chicken scratch, it says "Rem P/M 168gr 100yd 2min b/t shot 70F 6:00wind". The first shot was at 10 o'clock on the outside ring. I made a few clicks of adjustment and made the next four shots as pictured. Run through OnTarget it comes out to 0.93MOA:

I made a few more adjustments and then made the mistake of trying to chase my zero instead of getting a group and then adjusting. Whoops...

I let that go, switched to a clean target, and instead of single-loading and waiting between shots I loaded a full magazine (4+1) and shot as quickly as I had a steady sight picture:

I am not displeased by this in the least. Through OnTarget that comes out to 1.45MOA, and I know I can settle it down some with a bit of effort and a better front bag. Also, this is factory ammo, "match grade" though it may be, and once I start neck-sizing and tuning loads I can probably drop another half-minute. I fully expect to see 0.5MOA groups from this rifle in the future.

And the scope... I am now in love with mil-dot reticles. Even without ranging, I love being able to very easily count mils I'm off from zero and dial in that correction at any range. No need to convert to MOA based on range, then count clicks ... just "I'm two mils high; twenty clicks down; done." Brilliant.

Last but not least, whenever I start thinking about these multi-hundred-yard shots, I remember this article: "100 Yards is a Long Way". S'truth.