Thursday, July 26, 2012

Those pesky assault rifles

Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:
That's the definition of "Assault Rifle", as provided by the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Act...otherwise known as the federal "Assault Weapons Ban" that expired in 2004.

Now, let's compare one of those evil black assault rifles to an antique deer rifle. You should be able to spot the difference...



In the top photograph, you will notice a few things about that rifle which make it a scary evil mass-murder machine. Let's start from one side to the other, shall we?

1) It has a threaded barrel with a "flash hider" installed. The purpose of a flash hider is to mitigate and dissipate the flash caused when a round's propellant charge explodes, so the shooter does not suffer from shock blindness in low-light situations. This is exceptionally useful for deer hunters, as it is well-known that the times surrounding daybreak and sunset are when white-tail deer are most active. It does not eliminate the flash, nor does it eliminate sound. See those little slits cut into the flash hider? Those slits redirect the exploding gasses, so as to have smaller multiple fireballs going in several directions instead of one giant fireball at the end of the muzzle.

Interestingly, the US government allowed the use of "muzzle brakes", which are sometimes identical to a flash hider except for one feature...the hole in the end of a muzzle brake is most often just slightly larger than the barrel bore, forcing more gasses outward in a direction perpendicular to the barrel as to create less felt recoil for the shooter. Muzzle brakes, of course, had to be either blind-pinned or welded onto a barrel prior to sale so people would have to use either a power drill or dremel tool to unthread them from their barrels.

2) The bayonet lug.
Notice that triangle-shapped thingiemajigger sticking off the top of the barrel? Well, that's not the bayonet lug, that's the front sight housing and gas block. The part on the bottom of it is the bayonet lug.

Bayonet lugs were not manufactured on civilian-issue rifles as a practical hunting or self-defense mechanism, they were put there because rifles with bayonet lugs have several interchangeable parts with their military-issue counterparts...the front sight base being one of them. It was left on because it would cost a metric shitload of money to remake a casting mold, and even more money to take a grinder to existing sight bases...but that's what happened during the ban years.


3) The magazine.
A standard 30-round magazine is included with most AR15 rifles, for the same reason as the front sight base. It costs money to redesign something. The average civilian AR15 owner enjoys the 30rd magazines for two very distinct reasons, and neither have anything to do with mass murder.

For starters, they're cheaper. A high-quality name-brand modern polymer 30rd magazine can be had for as little as $12. A bargain-basement brand aluminum 30rd mag can be had for as little as $7. Used military-surplus magazines that do not change the functionality of a semi-automatic rifle under any circumstances can be had for under $5. On the other hand, a decent 5 or 10 round magazine can cost more than $30. These magazines, in addition to the higher price, must also contain some from of "block" base, in order to allow their removal from the rifle because five double-stacked .223 rounds stand shorter than the height of the AR15's mag well.

Now, here's the other reason. When you're spending your time loading a magazine, that's time you aren't spending shooting a rifle. It takes an experienced person two seconds to dump an empty magazine from an AR and reload a readied magazine...if he's under pressure. In other words, it takes more time to reacquire a target after shooting than it takes to reload.

Given the fact that the average five or ten round magazine is roughly the same size as a 20rd mag and only slightly smaller than a 30rd mag, it would make sense to carry six boxes of ammo in four magazines instead of carrying them in 24 magazines. If one chose to only carry four magazines, he would load four times when he left the house...and then he'd have to stop and reload another 20 times while at the range, for those other hundred rounds. Considering that 120 rounds of ammo (six 20rd boxes) can cost as little as $30, it isn't exactly out of the ordinary for a man to shoot that much or more in a given trip to the range.

4) The pistol grip.

Yes, the AR15 uses a "pistol grip" that is separated from the stock. The reason for this is basic ergonomics. Every major new rifle design since the Thompson Carbine (the "Tommy Gun" made famous during prohibition, and purchasable via mail-order back then) has had a pistol grip stock, with the exception of the US M1 and M1 carbines, the US M14 rifle, and the Soviet SKS....and these rifles did not use multiple pieces of furniture.

The reasoning behind using one solid piece of wood for a "traditional" stock is that any furniture (the wood or plastic hand grips and buttstock) had to be mounted somewhere. Most early rifle designs used a single mounting point to mate the wood to the barrelled receiver, because it was far cheaper to find a long chunk of wood than it was to machine several holes into a firearm and tap threads into them. When these rifles were designed, most machining was done on manual machines ran by actual people, and tolerances were critical. Out-of-tolerance cuts rendered the entire weapon useless. It was far cheaper to employ a $2/hour wood carver than it was to employ a $7/hour machinist.

The pistol grip does not facilitate "shooting from the hip" better than a curved traditional stock, due to human physiology. To demonstrate, hold your right arm outward to your right side and parallel to the ground. With your arm extended, bend your arm at the elbow so that your forearm is parallel to the ground but pointing forward. Notice the angle of your fist. Now drop your arm and place your fist on your hip. You will notice that a traditional stock is, in fact, much more ergonomic when shooting from the hip.

Interestingly, that's not why they made the curvature of an old-school stock in the shape most commonly used. In the early days of firearms, you'll notice that the stocks were almost entirely straight pieces of wood. The reasoning for this is that it was much easier to slightly carve into a solid tree limb than it was to intricately carve grips into stocks. Over the years, woodcarving and lumber harvesting techniques became more advanced, but the technology necessary to machine metals with precision still wasn't exactly available at Sears.

Today, most precision rifles have a much more "vertical" handgrip than a traditional rifle stock does, for the reason that a more comfortable rifle is a more accurate rifle...and aftermarket single-piece stocks with a more drastic handgrip curve are now available for older rifles.

5) The collapsible buttstock.

The AR15 shown above has a 6-position collapsible buttstock. From its most extended to its most collapsed positions, roughly five inches of difference are covered.

While the buttstock does in fact shorten the overall length of the rifle, it was not designed (nor is it intended) for use as an aid to conceal the rifle under clothing. The AR15/M16 Carbine's shortened barrel was designed to allow for varying choices of gear amongst special operations troops during the Vietnam War. Varying levels of body armor, rucksack shoulder straps, etc dictated that the LOP ("length of pull", or distance between the shooter's grip hand and location of the buttstock's end) should be adjustable to accommodate for both these differences and the differences in the length of the shooter's arm.

Amongst modern man, it is not uncommon to find a human being that is between the height of 5'6" and 6'6". Likewise, these same men can also be found in our military. As shown by Davinci's famous drawing depicting the proportions of the human body, the span of a man's outstretched arms is approximately equal to that man's height. Considering that an individual arm consists of roughly 35-40% of that armspan length, you're talking about a difference of several inches in arm length between a man who is 5'6" and a man who is 6'6".

When there exists such drastic differences in proper LOP, it would make sense to say that a single standard-size stock is not appropriate for every shooter. Considering that it was developed for men who were already hiding from the enemy, it would be just silly to suggest that the adjustable stock was developed for "concealment", considering that a standard legal-length AR15 is over 30" long with the stock fully retracted.

Ironically, under the AWB, it was legal to produce and sell an AR15 with a "look-alike" adjustable stock that was fixed in a single position...even if that position was in the fully-retracted state. Due to the ban on flash hiders, the barrel length that was 16" + an inch or two for the flash hider became a straight 16". Couple that with the fixed short stock, and you have a rifle that was a full 6" shorter than the one used by the Aurora theater gunman per the media photographs captured via helicopter over the crime scene.

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While we would all feel a lot more warm and fuzzy about the situation if placing a ban on so-called "assault rifles" actually had the potential to make any real changes, the fact remains that it accomplished nothing.

Proponents of the AWB like to point out that it quite literally cut the number of violent crimes committed with "assault weapons" in half, they will often fail to mention the fact that previous to the ban, only 2% of all violent crimes were actually committed by people with so-called "assault weapons"...and even further, the majority of these crimes didn't include a single round being fired.

On any given day, these United States averages over FORTY human lives being ended by an unjustifiable homicide. In my 33 and a half years on this earth, I have been fortunate enough to only have personally known three people who have died as a result of homicide. One was a classmate stabbed to death at a party, one was a former classmate suffocated by arresting officers while high on drugs, and the other was my former orthodontist who was ran over repeatedly by his jealous wife's Mercedes.

In the past year, there have been two murders that have occurred within half a mile of my home in the sleepy little town of Angleton TX. One was a stabbing, and the other was a shooting. Because only six rounds were fired during the shooting, and the other incident involved a knife, neither incident would have been prevented by an Assault Weapons Ban...even if it were to actually prevent people from getting the millions of such weapons and high-capacity magazines off the streets.

People like to talk about banning guns, but they fail to realize that there is one firearm for every sixth man, woman, and child in these united states. That's over 51 million firearms...and that's just an estimation. If even only 20% of these were so-called "assault weapons", that's more than ten million in a population of 311 million...or, roughly one for every 30 people. How many people live on your block?

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Now, let's get back to the pictures. That deer rifle you see in the other picture? That's a semi-automatic Browning BAR hunting rifle chambered in .243 caliber. It uses a larger and much more powerful round than my AR15. While the rifle pictured is not mine, it is identical to the one I carried on my first deer hunt.

It is a semi-automatic rifle, capable of spitting out every round in its magazine as fast as I can pull the trigger. While mine is equipped with a scope, you may notice that the rifle comes from the factory with flip-down iron sights for use at close ranges without the scope.

One thing it is not equipped with, interestingly, is any type of new high-tech design. It was manufactured by the Browning Arms Corporation, a company set up in Utah during the 1920s to market the civilian-oriented designs of one John Moses Browning. In case you've never heard of the man, he's the guy who designed the "Browning Machine Gun" (aka the M2, or "Ma Deuce", still in use today by our military). He designed the M1911 pistol, designed prior to 1911 but adopted by our military during that year, and also still in use a hundred years later when the 9mm Beretta M9 won't get the job done. He designed the M1918 BAR (the one Tom Hanks asked the Italian-American guy about in the invasion scene of Saving Private Ryan..."Bottom of the ocean, sir. Bitch tried to drown me!").

J.M. Browning designed so many firearms that just about every war between 1900 and 1950 used his rifles on one side or the other...or both. He was born in 1855 and died before the start of this nation's "great depression". Aside from a very limited few advanced-technology designs, every firearm on this planet being made today is a modification of something that J.M. Browning designed a hundred years ago.

Even the AR15 shown in the photograph was designed by Eugene Stoner in the 1950s. Keep in mind, this was before automobiles had fuel injection. Radios didn't have an "FM" band. A great many American homes didn't have refrigerators, let alone a television set.

Like all other hunting rifles, handguns used for self-defense, etc, the AR15 semi-automatic rifle was based on a weapon designed for war. Your great-grandpa's old bolt-action deer rifle was likely based on the Mauser design, as most bolt-action rifles are to some degree...and it was the Mauser rifle that my own grandfather faced in WWII, as the Mauser was the standard infantry rifle carried by Nazi soldiers.

It's often been used as an argument against certain types of firearms, that the 2nd Amendment only applies to the types of firearms in use at the time...which were single-shot muskets that had to be hand-loaded with powder and ball. The thing is, at the time, those were the state-of-the-art military rifles of the day. Every man who had any interest in survival owned one, and it wasn't uncommon for him to own a pistol as well.

One may remember the Mel Gibson movie "the Patriot"...during the scene where he frees his condemned first-born son, he didn't use a high-capacity magazine. He instead used several pre-loaded rifles. Concept is the same, technology allowed for greater speed in a smaller package.

So yes, for the same reasons that the AR15 is an "assault rifle", so is your old bolt-action. Likewise, so is the reason for owning an AR15. Our God-given rights were never about shooting ducks or a paper bullseye, they included the right to personal defense for a reason. When our forefathers outlined this right within the constitution, there was never a thought to "sporting purposes".

A rifle, while it may be used for sporting purposes, was originally designed to kill another human being. I won't attempt to defraud you by pretending some sort of fa├žade regarding the intent of its design. A weapon designed to kill a 180lb man efficiently will also kill a 180lb deer efficiently. Every "sporting rifle", bow, crossbow, etc that is currently used to hunt game animals is utilizing a design that was originally intended to kill a human being.

Let us not forget, there have been several sitting US presidents assassinated with firearms in these United States...but not a single one of them was killed with what would have been banned by the "Assault Weapons" law. Hinckley used a revolver. Oswald used a bolt-action rifle. I don't know what the others used, but they happened so long ago that the technology isn't even relevant to the discussion.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Aurora, dissected

As you're likely aware by now, I'm a "gun nut", and I've never been all that ashamed of it. Sadly, I can't say I was shocked by what was going on in Aurora the other night...other than, of course, the fact that this guy was able to get off enough rounds to kill twelve people and injure 50 more, before he stopped shooting.

The problem with this is not a lack of gun control, a lack of cops out on the beat, CIA brainwashing, or anything else of the sort. Innocent people have died, and my heart goes out to their families, but there's no need use conjecture about what the root cause was. He could have very easily perpetrated this crime (and potentially killed far more people) without the use of firearms. It is what it is, it happened, and today I'm just looking at the known facts...

1) The guy was wearing a gas mask, and deployed smoke bombs of some sort. The smoke, in and of itself, is enough to keep someone away. Even if they weren't actual military issue, paintballers have been able to purchase similar gear for "simulation games" for years. Prior to this, two bucks at the fireworks stand will get you enough smoke bombs to do the trick. In an enclosed space, you get as far away from the smoke as possible, because without that gas mask you won't be able to breathe.

A full-face gas mask, often used by automotive painters, will stop the inhalation of smoke and can be had for relatively small change. $20 can get you a decent military-surplus model with brand-new filters. You can purchase them online, or even down at your local Sherwin-Williams store.

2) Even if he was using "high-capacity magazines" in his rifle and handgun, he could have very easily have used only his shotgun and accomplished the same results. Every cinema-chain theater I've ever been to has had only two doors. One main door people use to enter and exit the theater to and from the lobby, and one emergency exit near the screen. If the shooter were to deploy smoke near the exit door and start shooting at the the main door, you've got a bottleneck of huge targets. As fast as people may be climbing over each other to get out, it's a crowded theater and there's only so many people who can fit through that door. "Fish in a barrel" comes to mind.

An experienced shooter with a tad bit of practice can swap a magazine in less time than it would take to get off ten rounds, especially if there is smoke keeping people away from him. Anyone who's watched footage from the "Bank of America" robbery in California knows how little time it takes to swap a mag, and it takes less time when you've got them in a ready state strapped to your chest. When there's no one shooting back at you, I'm assuming there'd be even less stress involved.

3) I've never been to a movie theater where there wasn't AT LEAST one cop on the premises, typically standing right past the ticket-taker who directs you to the particular theater your movie is playing in.

The state of Colorado, in general, loves its guns and provides "Shall Issue" concealed carry permits. Unfortunately, as a matter of city ordinance, private citizens are not allowed to carry any type of firearm (rifle, shotgun, or handgun) in public, regardless of whether the state has granted them a license. As a result of this, the only people with a firearm at the scene of the crime were the shooter and potentially one or two police officers providing crowd control at the theater.

I am hesitant to use the phrase "providing security" at the theater, as obviously there were about five dozen people wounded and/or killed there. This is not the fault of the officer, or the police department not hiring enough officers, or anything of the sort.

I am not familiar enough with the Aurora PD's internal policies dealing with "Active Shooter Scenarios", but it would make sense that one man not rush into an enclosed space while armed with nothing but a handgun after hearing a few dozen rounds being fired. Even if he wanted to, it's highly unlikely that he'd have even been able to, given the massive amount of people rushing out of the theater at the time.

Remember, there's only two doors. One leads outside the theater, the other leads to the lobby. The emergency exit door leads outside, meaning the officer would have to leave the theater and then hope the exit door hadn't been closed by the time he got there. The main door has a packed theater's worth of people trying to get out of it.

It would be more prudent to get backup and deal with the situation properly, than to interject yourself into a wall of bullets. The dead help no one. This statement isn't "pro-cop" or "anti-cop", this is common sense. It is not an act of cowardice, to not rush into the theater..."cowardice" would have been hauling ass out the front door with the rest of the movie theaters. If the officer runs in and gets shot, he can't say anything to dispatch.

The only anti-government statement I will make here is that the City of Aurora shares partial responsibility in this tragedy for refusing to allow its citizens the right of self-defense.

4) While the CIA has engaged in "mind control" experiments such as Operation MK ULTRA, I find it highly unlikely that this incident was the result of some sort of sinister government plot.

I will mention the fact that the shooter is known to have taken psychoactive prescription medications. Notably, so did the Giffords shooter, as well as the Columbine shooters. I'm not gonna come right out and say that prescription medications will turn you into a sociopathic murderer, or that they are even remotely the cause of the situation at hand.

I will, however, say that it's typically a bad idea to go messing around with the brain chemistry with chemicals specifically designed to alter the way we think or feel. It has long-since been known by our government, the pharmaceutical industry, and the medical establishment, that many antidepressants and other psychoactive drugs have very negative consequences and may increase ones' desire to commit suicide or commit other acts that would be looked upon as extremely "abnormal" for the rest of society. A person's brain chemistry is already screwed up when he gets on these type of drugs, and they seem to make matters worse.

Then again, there is always the chance that this guy was straight-up batshit crazy and just decided to kill a bunch of people because it sounded like a good idea at the time.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lead for breakfast?

For the past two nights, I've covered how to zero your rifle, as well as proper shot placement. Tonight, I'll cover a subject that is every bit as important and often overlooked even by experienced hunters.

I'm talking, of course, about ammunition selection. Remember when we discussed ammo types during the lesson about ballistics tables and zeroing your rifle? Well, the type and weight of ammunition a person should select is dependent upon three things...and must, as we learned earlier, be determined prior to zeroing the rifle properly.

By this point, you likely know that the term "rifle" comes from the grooves cut into your barrel that cause the projectile to spin as it flies downrange. This spinning acts as sort of a "gyroscope" effect, stabilizing the bullet more than a smooth-bore musket would. This is one of the reasons why those who hunt with shotgun slugs will often swap out a smooth-bore barrel for a slug-specific rifled barrel.

The "twist rate" of a barrel refers to the length a spiralled rifling groove must travel down the barrel before it makes a 360 degree twist. A 1:10 twist rate will provide one revolution of twist in ten inches of barrel. A 1:7 twist rate is said to be "faster", as it provides one revolution in only seven inches, while a 1:12 twist is said to be "slower" for the same reason.

Certain twist rates are appropriate for specific bullet weights. For instance, take a .223 rifle. "Varmint" rounds, used for killing small game and nuisance animals such as gophers, are typically found in the 40-45gr range, and used with slower twist rates. The standard military-issue infantry round (albeit in a 5.56 chambering, it's essentially the same cartridge for purposes of this discussion) is a 62gr round and is used with a 1:7 twist barrel.

While the 40gr round can be used with a 1:7 barrel, and the 62gr round can be used with a 1:12 barrel, the faster twist of the 1:7 has actually been shown to cause some light-weight rounds to disintegrate mid-flight due to centrifugal force. On the other side of the equation, a slower twist rate such as 1:12 will cause the heavier round to destabilize in mid-flight, and will cause the round to actually tumble end over end resulting in what is known as a "keyhole" (impacting on its side, rather than tip, causing an elongated entry).

Even if your round does not fly apart or start tumbling, an improper twist rate for a given bullet weight will cause issues with accuracy.

For the purposes of this discussion, let's take my HK91 and compare it to my Springfield M1A Super Match. Both are civilian-legal semi-auto variants of their respective select-fire military counterparts, and both are chambered in .308 Winchester/7.62x51 NATO (there are slight differences in case wall, but largely irrelevant with either rifle, as both are civilian models).

The German has a 1:11 twist rate just like its' military brethren, intended for use with the standardized 7.62x51 NATO 147gr FMJ ammunition. The Springfield, on the other hand, has a "match" barrel with a 1:10 twist designed for 168gr rounds. Using either round in either rifle is acceptable from a safety standpoint, and both will provide decent accuracy.

With the proper ammo, however, shooting the HK off a bench will put three rounds into a quarter at 100yds. The Springfield will put them into the same hole. Needless to say, proper bullet weight is everything, and you need to know your twist rate before you can determine your proper bullet weight. After you determine your proper bullet weight, you can then move on to step 2.
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After determining proper bullet weight, you must next look at the actual design of the bullet. With the exception of an extremely small selection of purpose-built rounds for the military, bullet types are typically relegated to Full Metal Jacket ("FMJ"), Jacketed Hollowpoint ("JHP"), Pointed Soft Point ("PSP"), and Ballistic Tip ("BT").

FMJ rounds will provide the greatest degree of penetration, but the least degree of bullet expansion/deformation. JPH rounds provide less penetration than the FMJ round, but more expansion than FMJ and more accuracy than PSP. PSP rounds offer a greater degree of expansion, but sacrifice accuracy and velocity due to the oft-blunted soft tip that is typically deformed prior to even being taken out of the box.

Ballistic-tip rounds, such as the Hornady A-Max and Winchester Ballistic Silvertip, are boutique hunting rounds that use a hollowpoint bullet whose tip has been filled with a pointed section of ballistic nylon or other plastic. While the plastic tip does not necessarily aid in expansion of the bullet, it does aid in aerodynamics, which provides greater accuracy and velocity than a same-weight JHP. The biggest downside to the ballistic tip round, of course, is that it typically costs $30-50/box of 20 rounds.
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The biggest determining factor for you and your rifle is "how much is enough"?

Are you a hunter who feels most comfortable taking torso shots? Do you use a large-caliber rifle? Are you an experienced marksman and hunter that feels comfortable knowing that you can put a round up a flea's ass at 500yds?

John Taylor, experienced African safari hunter, developed what is known as the "Taylor KO" index. It calculates bullet weight, bullet diameter, and velocity to provide a "Knock Out Factor". A .454 Casull (for a long time, the largest standard-production handgun caliber available) gets a KO of 30, while a .22LR round gets a KO of 1. By comparison, the 5.56mm NATO 62gr round used by the M16/M4 rifles of our military get a KO of 5, while the 7.62mm NATO 147gr round gets a KO of 19.

The higher KO factor of your round, the less reliant you are upon expansion. Expansion, of course, is what creates a larger channel of wound or bodily destruction. The higher your KO factor, the more hydrostatic shock you will produce. Hydrostatic shock is caused by sudden blunt force trauma upon liquid-filled tissues found within a mammalian body. Essentially, it's the impact shoving your blood and other bodily fluids elsewhere at such a high rate of speed that the movement of fluid in and of itself causes damage. "The bigger the thump, the bigger the pump".

A light-weight .223 PSP round may expand to the same diameter as a .308 FMJ round, thus creating essentially the same wound channel. Now let's look at the difference. A baseball weighs about five ounces. Imagine Nolan Ryan just hit you in the chest with a 5oz lead fishing weight...weighs about the same as a baseball. Now imagine that you got hit in the chest with a 15oz steel hammer, roughly the same diameter, at the same speed. Harder material, and a lot heavier. The fishing weight is going to knock you down. The hammer is going to knock you out of your boots.

Is bigger better? Not necessarily. If the round is so big that it's overkill, there's no point in it...it's going to be big, expensive, and good for nothing more than showing everyone that you're compensating for your small penis. On the other end, the .223 round is so small and light that many states have outlawed its use, forgetting the fact that the same round used to hunt 170lb deer is also used all over the world to kill 170lb men.

My first deer kill was with a 55gr .223 Winchester Ballistic Silvertip, shot placement put the animal out of its misery before the muzzle blast faded. I had good shot placement, and all went well.


If you look closely, you can see the entry wound a few inches below the ear. The deer had its head down while feeding, and was shot from 80yds. While the round disintegrated upon impact, fragments did exit the top of the head, slightly visible in the photo. Good shot placement and a lot of luck killed that deer. I still prefer headshots on the grounds that they don't spoil meat, but my next kill will be with a heavier round. As my uncle says, "I've tried everything...but I just can't make those horns taste good!". A heavier round will do a better job of covering my ass in case the deer flinches, I jerk my shot, or anything else that puts me slightly off-target. If it happens to blow off one of its horns, I'm not that concerned! For the "trophy hunter", using a heavier round against the vital organs has its obvious benefits.
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What round is best for you? Well, that's something you're gonna have to figure out for yourself. Every rifle is different, even rifles that are made to the same exact specs. You'll have to experiment. That's why we do this in the off-season. We figure out what works best, and we use it.

A good start to this is to determine the twist rate on your rifle, and then make use of the interwebz to find professional recommendations as to what weights are best for it. Look for online reviews of your rifle by well-known gun magazines.

Once you've figured out what weight works best for your rifle, figure out what round works for you, through trial and error. In this day and age, modern manufacturing techniques should allow for 2moa accuracy using any off-the-rack rifle when used with appropriate ammo. That's 2" grouping at 100yds. When properly zeroed, that's within 1" of your target in any direction. Experiment with different types, different brands, etc.

One of my biggest recommendations is that you should not equate price with accuracy when it comes to ammo. Obviously, with a firearm, a $1,000 rifle is going to typically shoot better than a $200 rifle. The same cannot be said with ammo.


To give an idea of what's happening here, let's look at the target above. It was posted at a standard 100yd range. The green dots were fired at "center mass", using 55gr PSP. As you see, there's a pattern of several inches. Those are standard name-brand "hunting" rounds. The blue dots are USA-made Federal 55gr FMJ rounds, and they span a pattern of a little over one inch. The red dots are the cheapest brass-case Monarch-brand ammo my local Academy had to offer, manufactured in Serbia by the Prvi-Partisan.

As you can see, a particular brand of ammo plays as much of a part in your selection as the type.

Practice and experiment, and remember what your Little League coaches taught you. You're gonna play how you practice!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Learn anatomy, kill efficiently, hunt ethically.

In yesterday's post, we discussed how to properly sight in your rifle in preparation for deer season. Tonight, we learn how to put that round to work.

Shot placement is critical. Step into the WayBackWhen machine for a moment, and think back to the children of the Great Depression who lived "in the sticks". I am lucky enough to have many relatives who lived it, including an uncle who remembers being able to go into town and buy a single shotgun shell because most people were too poor to buy the whole box.

That was back in a time when every round fired potentially meant the difference between eating dinner, or hoping you got another shot at it tomorrow. Now that hunting has become more of a hobby than a necessity, the art of shot placement has been lost on folks who think a 7 Mag instantly turns a person into the Great White Hunter.

The amount of deer killed with a cleanly-fired .22LR is just about the same as deer who have been wounded and lost in the woods due to a poorly-placed shot from a .300WM in the hands of an overzealous dentist-turned-wanna-be-hunter.

On the interwebz you'll find all manner of armchair killers whose knowledge of hunting comes from a combination of Call of Duty and the sporting goods section of Walmart, and they all have their opinions about the "proper" rifle to use, the proper type of ammo, the proper place to aim, etc.

Of course, it's all bullshit. Within 300yds, there isn't a centerfire rifle on the market today that won't drop a deer dead in its tracks with proper shot placement.


There are three general "kill zones" on any animal...head, neck, and chest. They aren't supernatural, it's just basic mammalian anatomy. There is not a game mammal hunted in America today that does not have a brain, spinal column, heart, or lungs.

1) Head.
Don't get it twisted, you're not trying to take out the brain. Even if the brain is severely damaged, an animal still has the ability to not only live but also run like hell. Also, if you're aiming for the center of the head when facing an animal broadside as pictured in the diagram above, you're likely going to do nothing more than blow the deer's jaw off and watch it run back into the woods where it ends up bleeding to death two hours later in a spot you'll never find.

The headshot has the benefit of providing an instant kill when performed properly, but has the downside of being the smallest target area. The reason for this is the actual portion of the head you're shooting at. You're trying to destroy the base of the brain, where it meets the spinal column. If done properly, you will quite literally separate the mind from the body without spoiling any meat.

The brainstem is what connects the brain to the rest of the body, and tells the heart, lungs, muscles, etc what to do. Shutting down the heart instantly halts the flow of fresh oxygen to the brain, which kills the brain in a matter of seconds. In reality, it's no different than literally severing the head.

In the diagram, you'll see where the spine meets the skull. Just above that union is where the brainstem is located. No matter what direction the deer is facing, aim for the brainstem. Any centerfire round, within typical hunting distances, will slam into the head with enough force to drive the bullet into its target. If you are facing the deer head-on, as opposed to a broadside position shown, be conscious of where the neck meets the head. For instance, if shooting at this deer from a tree stand at a 45 degree angle while head-on, you would go in through the top of the head between the antlers. If facing the deer while on the ground, you would aim between the eyes. In a similar position, with the deer looking straight at you, you would aim directly for his nose.

2) The neck.
Much like the brain stem, the spinal cord housed inside the spinal column is an integral part of the nervous system that will shut down vital organs. Ever hear of someone being killed instantly because his neck was broken? This is why.

The two major benefits of the neck shot are being able to preserve the skull if one wants to mount the head & antlers, as well as preservation of meat. If you're able to get a broadside shot, find the center of the neck and put a round into it. Even if you don't actually impact the spinal cord with your round, you will more than likely destroy enough of the spinal column that the shattering of bone will sever enough of the cord for you.

3) The pump station.
Imagine that the deer is a car. The head is your ignition switch, the neck is the wiring, the lungs are your intake manifold, and your heart is the carb. If you turn the key off or sever the wiring, you're going to kill the engine. If you crack the manifold or smash the carb, the engine is still gonna die...it's just gonna take a bit longer, depending on how bad you smash it.

We all remember Arnold in Predator..."If it bleeds, we can kill it." An animal requires oxygen as its most basic need, cut off oxygen and it begins to die. Oxygen is, of course, carried in the blood. If you destroy the link between the brain and the heart, the heart stops being told to function and stops pumping blood. If you wound the heart, the heart's ability to pump blood to the brain is inversely proportional to the severity of the wound.

The downside of the heart shot from the broadside position is that you will likely screw up some meat on the shoulder. As shown in the diagram, the heart is located behind and below where the deer's front leg meets the spinal column. Aiming through the front leg will result in a more severe wound, with more severe meat spoilage. Aiming behind the leg will wound the lungs and save the meat, but will be a less severe wound. Either way, it's highly unlikely that the shot will result in an instant kill or completely immobilized deer, and you will likely be tracking the deer after the shot.

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One other thing I would like to add here is proper post-shot behavior.

Use the "cigarette rule". After the shot, don't immediately go after the deer. Wait a few minutes, about the time it takes to have a smoke. The purpose of this is to not spook the deer any more than necessary. Even though the deer may have dropped in its tracks, there exists a strong possibility that it is still very much alive. Waiting gives the deer a chance to die in peace, slowly bleeding out where or near where it was shot, while minimizing the distance you'll have to track it.

When you get to the deer, you'll likely notice that it's not quite completely dead. It is probably mortally wounded and will die on its own if allowed to, but it's just been shot and is suffering. This is where you slit its throat. Don't shoot it again. It's messy, and excessive shooting scares away animals that someone else may otherwise get a chance to shoot. There's no need to be cruel to the animal, you're just cutting off its' blood supply so it dies a bit quicker. Use a sharp knife, and do it quickly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Getting prepared for hunting season...

If you're anything like me, you've learned the basics of firearm safety, maintenance, and proper shooting position. If you haven't learned these things, GO LEARN THEM before bothering to do anything else related to your hunting rifle. Deer season is months away, you have plenty of time to learn.

This posting is for the person who has experience shooting his rifle, but may not quite understand the science behind getting the rifle properly zeroed or "sighted in". While there are numerous variables behind it, the process is fairly simple once you understand the basic theory. Now that we have the interwebz at our fingers, it's even simpler than ever.

The use of a ballistic calculator is one of the greatest tools to use for the purposes of determining what range you should zero your rifle at. For demonstration purposes, I will use the HK91 as an example to show the variables you will need to plug in. I know most hunters are "traditionalists" and use bolt-action rifles with the standard-curve stock, but the fundamentals here are the same and I just like using my HK...so enough about that. Here's the picture.

Now for the variables...

1) First and foremost, you're going to need to know what kind of ammunition you are using. Ammunition will have a specific bullet weight and type, plus a specific nominal muzzle velocity. This is typically marked on the ammunition box, but can easily be found online when looking for different types of ammunition to compare.

2) Sight height is another necessary piece of information. See those two red lines in the picture? The top line represents the centerline of the scope, while the bottom line represents the centerline of the barrel's bore. Scope and bore, under 99.44% of circumstances, will be parallel to each other. The exception to this is when using a long-range setup with a very heavy projectile, such as a .50BMG...needless to say, you're not likely to encounter this when hunting white tail or elk.

3) Maximum range is also important. First, discover the maximum distance of any shot you are likely to take on your individual hunting grounds. For example, in the Piney Woods of East Texas, tree coverage makes it next to impossible for most people to take a shot farther than 80-90yds. In the deserts of West Texas, an open line of sight for up to a mile or more is not necessarily uncommon. You need to determine not only the maximum range allowable by your environment, but also the maximum range allowable by your equipment and individual marksmanship skills. Determine the maximum length of shot you're likely to take, and then add an extra hundred yards just to get an idea of what the bullet is going to do.

4) Other variables that will be plugged in are atmospheric conditions. Altitude, barometric pressure, temperature, etc. affect the path of the bullet. Thankfully, at the relatively short ranges most hunters are shooting, these variables aren't nearly as important as the others. Guestimations of what the weather will be like during hunting season should be good enough here.
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Now comes the mathematical portion of the lesson. The rings and mount used to affix the scope to my HK rifle place the sight height at exactly 3" over the bore of my barrel. I use the standard 7.62x51 NATO 147gr FMJ ammunition the rifle was designed for (it's cheaper than boutique hunting rounds, and did I mention it's CHEAP!?). I plugged in my weather and altitude variables.

For a given ammunition type, rifle, and atmospheric condition, the trajectory arc of the bullet will remain constant. The goal is to determine A) what the trajectory arc is, and B) where your scope's line of sight will intersect with the trajectory. In the diagram above, the bullet's trajectory is the black arc, and the scope's line of sight is the green line.

Theoretically, it is possible to have the line of sight intersecting the trajectory arc at any distance between the muzzle and the maximum range of the ammunition. The tricky part is to determine where it is most usable. In the diagram above, notice how the line of sight intersects the trajectory arc twice...the bullet passes line of sight in one direction, arcs downward, and then passes line of sight in the opposite direction.

The goal is to determine the flattest arc possible within your maximum usable range, by zeroing your rifle at a distance that will provide the least variation in point-of-aim/point-of-impact. The reasoning behind this would be the ability to know that no matter what distance within your given hunting area the game may be, you can aim for the vitals and still hit your target within a few inches without having to do any type of guesstimated field corrections in your head. It's a lot easier to remember to breathe and shoot properly, when you're not having to simultaneously do math on the fly. Do your math in the off-season, and you don't have to do it in the deer stand!

Using the rifle and ammuntion I described above, I have determined that a 60yd zero will result in a bullet trajectory that is within 1.6" of my point of aim, from 45 to 250yds. In other words, so long as the wind doesn't get stupid and my aim is good, I can hit a baseball at that distance if I am for the center of it.
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Changing any of the three main variables I've listed will have dramatic consequences on point of impact (POI). For instance, changing the zero distance from 60 to 70 yards will drop the POI almost an inch at 250 yards. Using the same zero distance of 60yds, ammo, and a rifle such as a bolt-action (or semi-auto with the barrel over the gas tube and/or cocking tube, such as the Browning BAR, M1A, FN/FAL, etc) that drops the sight height to 2" will drop the POI down several more inches.

This is why it is absolutely important to know your rifle, your ammunition, and how far you anticipate being able to take a shot.
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After you've figured out the variables on your particular setup, and determined what your optimum zero range is, you need to field-test. Unless you happen to own (or know someone who does own) several acres of land outside of city limits where it's legal to shoot, you'll likely be going to an actual shooting range to shoot during the off-season. One of the easiest and least-expensive methods I've found is using a laser bore-sight prior to going to the range.

They are available in two different types, one mounts inside the muzzle and one mounts inside the chamber. While the chamber bore sight has the advantage of being more accurate, it is limited by the fact that it is only useful for the specific round and the child-rounds derived from it. For instance, a .308 chamber sight will work for .308/7.62 NATO, as well as the .270, .243, and all other "necked down" rounds using the .308 as its base. A muzzle-mount bore sight, on the other hand, is typically universal and comes with caliber-specific arbors to fit a variety of different calibers. Universal muzzle-mounts can be purchased at Walmart and other big-box retailers, while chamber-mounts can be purchased at gun stores, Academy, and other sporting-goods stores. I personally recommend the NC*Star brand, because they are inexpensive and they work. Here is an example of the .308 chamber sight.

Start by using a known range. For example, let's use a 20yd range set up in the back yard. Using your ballistics table for your particular rifle setup and zero distance, determine where your POI should be at 20yds. Using my HK91/Winchester White Box ammo/3" sight height/60yd zero, my POI will be at 1.8" over my point of aim.

After marking the bullseye of the target (I recommend using a standard paper plate and a Sharpie marker), I need to also measure a point 1.8" above the center of the bullseye. My laser dot should be dead center of the bullseye, while the crosshairs of my scope should be dead center in the dot I've made above the bullseye.

Now that you've adjusted your scope with the boresight, you need to do some *actual* field testing, just to ensure that you're where you need to be. The back-yard boresighting is just enough to get you "close enough". Going back to my ballistics table, I see that my POI at 100yds is 1.2" below my point of aim. To test your sights, you can either aim for bull and measure the distance of your impacts, or aim above bull and see if they hit bull.
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When accuracy testing on the range, I recommend repetition. People speak of firing 3-shot groups, but experience shows me that five-shot groups are where it's at. Shoot at 100yds, giving you the benefits of both extended-range over your backyard bore sighting and the ease of knowing that 100yds isn't an extremely long shot. Between shots, mark off two minutes, allowing for a small amount of "cooling off" for both you and your barrel. Make sure you use a bench rest, bipod, sandbags, or whatever else you feel comfortable with, to ensure that your shots are not influenced by anything other than the rifle and ammo.

After each five-round group, take the opportunity to see where your POI is. Look for the center of your group*. If your grouping isn't where your ballistic table says it should be, now would be the time to correct your scope and try again. It's generally good to wait 15-20min between strings, to allow proper cooling of your barrel.

Another thing to remember is that if you are going to be hunting during the winter and range-testing during the summer months, run two calculations...one for each temperature. Run your cold-weather table to determine where your zero point should be, and run your warm-weather table to give you proper POI measurements. Remember high-school math? For a given equation, the constants remain the same, the solution is determined by the variables.
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Online ballistic calculators are available from a variety of sources. One of the best available is the Winchester Online Ballistic Calculator, as it provides a graphic output of the bullet's trajectory in addition to the ballistics tables. Unfortunately, it has two drawbacks. First, it will only calculate Winchester ammunition. Second, it runs on Microsoft Silverlight, and users of Ubuntu and other Linux-based operating systems are not supported.

For those of us who do not run a Windows machine, or who want the ability to plug more intricate variables into the calculator, there is the JBM Ballistics trajectory calculator.
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Good luck, and good hunting.




*If your five-shot groups are patterning more than 2" at 100yds, there is a serious problem. Either you are using a defective rifle, you are using defective ammunition, or you are a defective shooter. If it ain't the ammo or the gun, disregard this and start putting in more range time...