On Sabbatical

In order to assure that I can continue to produce quality articles about substantive topics, I’m taking some time off from posting to work on shooting instead.  I expect to return to posting in May.  I will still check my email and answer comments periodically. 

Thanks.

Optimum Effective Range

In order to be more effective with our weapon system of choice, it’s necessary to understand its strengths and weaknesses.  A lot of folks would advise, “Use enough gun,” which tends to cause a lot of shooters to translate it to “Bigger is better”.  Some people think that because their system is good out to XXX yards, they are invincible against close range fire.  These are the people who scoff at the AR as a “mouse gun”.  A better measure of the cartridge would be, as Rawhider put it, “Adequate cartridge for the purpose.”

It would be wise before choosing a weapons system to consider its purpose.  What type of shooting does the terrain of my area dictate?  How much terminal effect does your target need?  How much distance can you make use of (or how much are you limited by your terrain)?  Do you have any possible applications in which over-penetration is a concern (home defense)?  All of these questions suggest possible niches.  A combination of factors suggests that some compromise is in order.

Here are some of the basic compromises that need to be considered:

Here are some of the basic compromises that need to be considered:
-Do I need a fast handling gun or one that’s more precise?
-Do I need the ability to shoot multiple rounds quickly, or slower, more powerful rounds.
-Is a standard type bullet in my cartridge of choice going to present problems with overpenetration? If so, are frangible bullets available?

My goal so far with this blog has been to spend as much time as possible with one rifle to get as good as I can with it.  Without the ability to specialize with an array of rifles, I will get to find out how I can adapt myself in an attempt to overcome my rifle’s weaknesses.  Using one rifle brings the implication that a careful choice of the weapon is necessary, as is making a careful compromise (I’m not sure if I did either.  I just like my rifle).

Every weapon or weapon system has an effective range at which it works.  Within the range that it is effective, there is also a range at which the system can function at its best, perhaps better than another system.  I’m going to ignore very close ranges, at which personal weapons (body parts) or edged weapons may be more appropriate.  I’m also going to ignore the possibility of handguns.  Why?  There are too many differences among people, their physical abilities, skills, personal traits, etc., that I think it would be reckless for me to try to tell you what’s going to work best.  This is just a blog.  If you want training, get some training.  I’m just going to share my opinions with regard to rifles.

5-25 yards:

I would choose a carbine (i.e., and AR) without knowing any more situational specifics.  This is a very close distance to be fighting with a rifle.  Speed is extremely important, in terms of gun handling, rate of fire, etc…  Even a shot on a small target within this range is not going to require a difficult amount of precision.  This distance is the carbine’s bread and butter.

I could make due with a battle rifle (e.g. 30 cal. AR, M1A, FAL, etc.) at this range.  I would consider the loss of speed barely significant (a minor, but noticeable change).  Indoors, the muzzle blast is going to be extreme and there is a high likelihood of the bullet going through walls, and more walls, and other stuff, and perhaps innocent people in the vicinity.

I have thought that an AR based on a .308 case (.308, 7-08, .260, .243) would be an ideal “one gun”.  Keep a mag of frangible rounds, possibly with lighter bullets for less recoil, for the indoor stuff and you have a very potent anti-personnel round that won’t go through much stuff.  Use a match round with decent/acceptable terminal ballistics for medium to long range open air work, and perhaps have a 3rd type of round if you anticipate any type of barrier work.  This is way over-thought for probably anyone who doesn’t do this for a living.

The bolt action rifles are going to be at a significant disadvantage, especially if follow up shots are required.  If you can get by with one shot, make it count.  The handling speed of the gun is something that can be worked on with intensive practice.  The overall length is a significant issue indoors.  A mitigating factor is that bolt action rifles are generally heavy and solid, and would probably work better as an impact weapon than a carbine.

Since I’m using a bolt gun, you might be wondering what I might do to compensate for the disadvantageous attributes of the rifle at close range.  I guess that depends on what the situation is.  If the situation is hunting in brush, or something similar, the rifle is fine.  I keep my scope zoomed down to the minimum power, in my case ~3.5x.  Follow up shots are fast enough (‘cause I’m like greased lightin’ on the bolt), and capacity should be adequate.

If I’m in a “social” setting within 25 yards, the first thing to remember is that incoming bullets have the right of way.  In other words, get out of their way!  Find cover, if possible, and evaluate.  If volume of fire is needed, consider transitioning to a pistol, but consider instantaneously (that means you should have it pretty much worked out ahead of time).

25-100 yards:

My first pick here is the battle rifle.  I think that for open air type situations within these distances, the AR and the battle rifle are pretty much a wash.  It’s basically a speed vs. power thing, and the situation would skew the advantages accordingly.  I would not feel under gunned with a .223 unless I had to shoot through something to reach my target, such as glass or a car.

The bolt action begins to become less of a liability.  Rate of fire isn’t a huge disadvantage with practice, but capacity could be an issue.

100-200 yards:

The AR is beginning to “feel” a little weak at this point, but in reality it’s probably still pretty decent out to 200 or further depending on the round if we’re still talking open air.  Since targets are a little harder to hit now, the advantage of rate of fire is no longer very significant.

The battle rifle is perfectly at home.  If you’re shooting at a pace to hit targets, you’re not losing much, if any, speed to a carbine.  You’ve got more power to get through barriers, turn more cover into concealment, and put energy into your target.  What’s not to love?

The bolt action disadvantage is lessening.  Capacity is still wanting, but the bolt gun is likely  starting to show better results at getting hits on target, even if only because it “costs” more effort per round.

200-500 yards:

We’re clearly out of the domain of the carbine, in my opinion.  I’m not saying it’s not viable, but there are some significant disadvantages coming into play… all related to the cartridge.  Yes, it will still hit.  Yes, the follow up shots are still a bit faster and easier.  No, I don’t want to be shot with one at any distance.  It’s still way better than nothing.  But, we want at least a mid-size (I’m thinking of something on the order of a .308 based cartridge here) round for the extra oomph.  A thoughtful selection of bullet will mitigate the .223’s propensity to run out of gas, but barriers are going to cause any .223 some trouble.

The battle rifles are still perfectly at home.  With a magnified optic, it would be even better.  I don’t run optics on my battle rifles.  M1A’s are best, in my opinion, as they were issued.  I can’t get over the height over bore of the optic on an M1A, and the resulting monstrosity called the “chin weld”.  Again, the big AR seems to me to be, in theory, almost ideal for the accuracy (I have seen them shoot insanely accurately).

A bolt gun like mine may offer a very slight advantage over the battle rifle, but not one I expect the target to tell the difference with.  The bolt gun will theoretically be more accurate, but semi autos are getting so good that it is no longer a given.  The bolt gun’s capacity is probably less of an issue, but that’s going to be situation dependent.

Are there any advantages to the bolt gun?  For me, since I don’t have optics on my battle rifle, the optic on the bolt gun is the big advantage.  The other is the simplicity of the bolt gun.  The system is more robust with less stuff to break.  The action is stronger, will take hotter rounds (and be more likely to extract them without issue), will likely handle inordinately high pressure better (more safely), is more tolerant of different loads, will likely continue to function better dirty,    The action can be lighter.

Malfunctions on a bolt gun will likely be easier to diagnose, not only because you can feel what’s going on better, but also because you probably caused it.  That brings me to something I didn’t really plan on addressing here, but oh well, here I am.

________________________________________

Is a bolt action really more reliable than a well-tuned semi auto (“well tuned” being a necessary qualification to approach the subject)?  I think that really depends on the operator.  Is there more error in the man, or in the man-made machine?  That’s not too clean cut, is it?  The bolt action will generally work if it’s operated correctly, but is it always operated correctly?

Even when operated correctly, I’ve had several failures to feed with my Savage .22.  The Remington I shoot has had some issues.  Occasionally when topping it off, the cartridge will get stuck between the left feed lip and the receiver (shooter error, yes, but the system is not too forgiving).  That’s a pain.  Sometimes after chambering a round with the 700, I find that it’s not cocked.  That’s probably not a good thing.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a malfunction with my Sako.  It does not get a lot of mileage before the action is returned to immaculate condition.

It took me a while to get my AR15 running right, but then it ran perfectly without cleaning for about 450 rounds before I couldn’t stand it anymore and cleaned it.  That’s not that many rounds for a semi auto, but I can’t imagine running that many through a bolt gun without cleaning it.  What I am saying with all that is that I don’t think it can be taken for granted that the bolt gun has the semi beat in terms of accuracy and reliability without qualifying the statement somehow.

So why do I shoot a bolt gun?  Because I like it.  Because I think it poses an interesting challenge.  I think the design is simple and elegant.  Because I can shoot a 30-06, or pretty much whatever I like in a bolt gun.  None of these reasons are really practical are they?  But when it comes down to it, the AR is what’s within my reach at night.

__________________________________________

Beyond 500:

This comes down not so much to system type or sufficient accuracy, and a quality, well-mounted magnified optic with significant resolution and perhaps power to see the target at a given distance.  Beyond that, the final limitation is the maximum effective range of your rifle’s cartridge and your ability to shoot it.

We all like to have more than we need with regard to one criteria or another.  The important consideration is to examine your own terrain and to make an informed choice on what you’re likely to need most.  Then train yourself to address any weakness in your system or unlikely events.

Beyond 1000:

I added this as an afterthought.  The cartridges that a semi-auto will likely fire will, in many cases, be able to get to 1000 with a well thought out load development.  Since the load has to function within the confines of the operating system, it’s a little trickier than loading a bolt gun.  This is the point the the bolt gun starts to overshadow the semi.  If we limit the discussion to .30 cal., the 30-06 is going to get past 1000 easy, whereas the .308 is stretching, and a .300 Win Mag is going to get quite a bit farther out there.  Taking the gas system out of the equation, and considering that the bolt action rifles are just so much stronger in terms of ability to handle pressure, long distances (past 1000 yards) favor the bolt gun.

What Do You Like About Your Rifle?

The importance of this question is largely overlooked.  Other aspects of rifles are expounded and debated on, such as action strength, rigidity, the theoretical advantages in accuracy over one rifle over another, etc., etc., etc…  Most of those aspects don’t differ enough among rifles of decent quality to make a significant difference.  What does make a difference to each person is that the look, the touch, and the feel of the rifle inspire its user.  Upon picking up the rifle, the rifleman should feel it “alive” in his hands.  The sum of the rifle and rifleman should equal more than their parts.

Start with the appearance of your rifle.  As it catches your eye, what is it that draws you to want to pick it up and handle it?  Is it the sleek, graceful lines of wood masterfully blended to machined steel?  Is it the aggression that is exuded from a black rifle of forged aluminum and polymer?  Is the blue wearing at the muzzle and bolt knob?  Is the wood worn where you handle it, showing the character given from the practice that makes the rifle part of you?

When you can no longer withstand the urge and finally pick up the rifle, does it feel like you just added the missing part of you?  Does the same curve of the pistol grip find the same part of your hand every time?  Does the balance of the rifle lend itself to use on an instinctive level?  Is it light enough to be handy, yet have enough heft to give the impression of solidity, strength and the steadiness that a bit of mass can offer?   

When you work the action is the feel of it pleasing?  Is there a conspicuous absence of grittiness, drag, slop, hollowness, sharp edges, tight spots waiting to grab and pinch your fingers, or compromises in workmanship?  No doubt some of that smoothness was imparted via thousands of dry fire cycles.  Some of it is due to careful maintenance and judicious use of quality lube in just the right spots.  But most of it was built into the steel from the start.  You can see it in the lines of the interior finish work that someone who cared put the rifle together from the start.

Does the finger find the trigger instinctively at just the right spot without interference from any other part of the rifle?  Does the trigger break cleanly?  When you let friends try the trigger, do they let out an involuntary, “Oooh” of appreciation of the fine quality and workmanship?

When you chamber a round, does it provide you with an inherently satisfying feeling?  Does the round feel as though there is absolutely no question that it will arrive at its destination without undue interference or friction?  Do you know that the feed lips will make a perfect offering of the cartridge to the bolt, and that the intricate geometry of the rifle’s inner workings will make the cartridge’s destination inevitable?

When the crosshairs settle perfectly on the center of the target, and the steady press of the trigger yields a sharp surprise of a jolt to the shoulder, are you blessed with the certainty of the knowledge of where the hole was created?  Does the smell of powder summon familiar and comforting feelings that are now only vaguely associated with actual memories?  Are you still amazed of the smoothness and ease with which the empty case is extracted and ejected, and the fresh round fed?  Perhaps most importantly, are you rewarded with the confluence of an actual hit just where you called it?

If you answered no to any of the preceding, you have some things to think about. 

A lot of what I like about certain gear is the transparency of it.  It’s that I don’t notice things like malfunctions, sharp edges, poor ergonomics, sight mounts coming loose, poor machining of parts, poor quality parts, action screws losing torque, uncalled fliers, or creepy triggers.  Some of the best rifles don’t show any signs of extravagance; their beauty is in their function.

What do I like about my rifle?  I like the quality of it.  I like the nice blend of the traditional and the modern, being generally based on a Mauser but with a shorter bolt lift and a very easy action to work.  I like that the extractor is sufficient to provide positive function; maybe not that of a Mauser, but superior to the Remington 700 in my observation.  I like the mechanical ejector that responds to how hard I work the bolt when kicking out the brass.  I like that I have a quality detachable mag system that allows a flush fit and the classy looks that could easily be mistaken for a floorplate.  I like the quality of the bluing, and the bare spot that grows on the bolt knob.  I like the safety location and function.  The trigger is everything I want it to be.  The balance is likewise very comfortable.  The stock is very well designed and very comfortable.  I like the dings on the stock, and the high polish on the underside of the pistol grip that comes from frequent handling.

What do you like about your rifle?

Book Review: Handloading for Competition, by Glen Zediker

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review.  All the previous books I’ve reviewed so far have been what I would consider “classics” when it comes to books about rifle shooting.  As I looked through my bookshelf, I found one that I think has a lot of good information that is typically hard to find, Handloading for Competition, by Glen Zediker.

Here’s “just the facts”:
            -7”x10”
            -Softcover
            -441 pages
            -Black and white photographs
            -Here are the main subject headings:
-Preliminaries
-Cases
-Tools & Processes
-Sizing & Seating
-Bullets
-Pressures
-Incendiaries
-Cartridges
-Testing & Evaluation
-Appendixes
-Tuning Out
There are multiple subsections within these main sections that are too numerous for me to want to type out here. 

This book is written for the NRA Highpower shooter, not necessarily for the “field rifleman”.  Luckily the processes used for loading rounds for an “across the course” highpower match are intended to produce ammunition that is a.) accurate as it can reasonably be, and b.) reliable.   
Zediker does a good job of explaining how ammo for highpower differs from benchrest shooting.  Benchrest is a sport in which human error is minimized by placing the rifle in a special apparatus and the competitors attempt to shoot the smallest groups possible.  They use special loading techniques and custom chambers that differ significantly from what “normal” rifle shooters use.  Benchrest, as Zediker puts it, could be thought of as the R&D team for reloading techniques.  Another analogy he uses is that they are like drag racers; they use special equipment that doesn’t translate to those of us who drive SUV’s.  Nevertheless, there are many rifle shooters who attempt to adapt benchrest handloading techniques to “normal” rifles and rifle shooting.
What the book does well:
Zediker discusses a lot of techniques in depth that it’s hard to find info on otherwise.  If you wonder about outside neck turning, inside neck reaming, what a “doughnut” is (why it’s bad and how to avoid it), the pros and cons of neck-only sizing, load development, etc., etc., you will find it here.  He not only discusses the how, but also the reason behind it, which in my opinion is more important.  If you read the book from cover to cover and retained it (a skill which is not too common these days), you would have a good grasp of how handloading works.  That is why I think the book belongs in your library.

A few ways in which the book is frustrating:
If you read my blog from beginning to end, it would probably be more coherent, have better flow, and sound more professional than Zediker’s book.  He has a disclaimer at the beginning of his book that explains it thusly: “I have a degree from Ole Miss in English (which certifies me to butcher the language as freely as I do because I know better)”.  Since I tend to sound harsher than I intend to be, I have to explain more.  The book is not poorly written.  He’s funny, and it’s a bit informal.  I ain’t got no prollem wit dat.
What is more of an issue is that the book is not organized as a user friendly reference.  Maybe this is because I don’t think he intended it to be a reference source at all.  I admit that it is more fun than a reloading manual if you’re looking for something to for a book to curl up by the fire with.  What’s difficult about it is that, much like a government policy manual, it’s well-nigh impossible to easily find the thing that you vaguely remember reading in it but can’t exactly remember what was said.
Since handloading is a process with a logical and repeatable sequence, it would be handy for those of us who tend to think logically and sequentially that Zediker wrote the book to follow this sequence and expounded on it accordingly.  Instead he tends to jump around from here to there.  On the gripe scale of 1-10, I give this gripe a 4, which means it is annoying, but not on a “deal-breaker” scale.
Zediker seems to have a definite gear bias, as do we all.  I think a lot of his comes from brand loyalty.  An example is his love of Doyle Gracey’s products.  He goes on and on about the Gracey case trimmer.  I don’t hate the Gracey.  I have never tried it.  I’m just saying that he spends a lot of time expressing his love for it.  There is another power case trimmer, the Giraud.  I’ve never tried one of these either, but of the people who have, they like it better.  The Giraud seems to be easier to set up, and the motor seems to be “beefier”.  On page 87, Zediker mentions the Giraud and says that it costs too much and isn’t any better than the Gracey.  This is just an example, but I think his gear preference is biased toward certain things that he likes for his own reasons, some of them objective and some of them that are probably emotionally based.  He likes certain dies, certain presses, certain bullets, and spends a lot of time talking about them, while other valid choices are unattended to.
To be fair in reference to the gear bias thing, no regular person has enough cash to buy every piece of reloading gear, nor the time to test it all.  I’m not saying I can think of an easy fix, or that I could have done better.  I’m just saying that I think it’s a minor weakness of the book, maybe a 2 out of 10 on the gripe scale.  What he does say can be used as a reference point for your own research of gear purchases.
Overall, I like the book and highly recommend it.  If you roll your own, I think you probably need it.                    

Problem Solving: The Unsung Attribute of the Rifleman

In January I identified 3 necessary attributes for the rifleman: skills, mindset, and problem solving.  Skills are so obvious that they tend to overshadow the other two, which unlike skills, don’t involve gadgets, gear, or “commerce”.  Mindset is given less consideration, but there is still a lot of material out there, and a lot of instructors who address it.  In my car analogy, skills comprised the engine, mindset the gas pedal, and problem solving was the steering wheel and brakes.

Don’t get hung up on the rifle in this discussion.  The rifle is just a tool.  The mind is the critical component to develop.  Tools can be broken, lost, compromised, and acquired with relative ease.  If the mind is broken, lost, or compromised, it is not likely to be restored.  If the mind is under-developed, the ability to effectively and fully use tools is weak.

What do I mean by “problem solving”?  I’m talking specifically about making high stakes decisions and acting on them under stress and time constraints.  Let’s define high stakes as in relation to a situation in which survival could be affected, not necessarily life and death in and of itself (but possibly), but more likely a contributing factor to someone’s survival. 
Here are the reasons I think problem solving is not given its due.  It’s not easy in normal life to develop.  More significantly, it can’t be marketed in a week long class or as something that can be sold.  Buying stuff is the core of the modern shooting culture.  Problem solving, much like marksmanship, cannot be purchased. 
To learn effective problem solving requires a.) a significant amount of trial and error, which takes time, b.) someone to evaluate the decision making process, c.) to place the “student” in a position in which they make the decisions.  This sounds a lot like leadership development.  Those requirements could probably be accomplished by a devoted student on his own, but it would also be helpful to have a model of behavior as a frame of reference.  This implies an “apprenticeship” situation, which would be ideal.
A necessary component in solving a problem situation is to have an idea how to best solve it.  This is the easy part, because it’s taking place on an intellectual level.  This can be accomplished through book learning, visualization (what-iffing), discussion, or trial and error (which would provide feedback).  This type of work is crucial to speed up your processing time under stress (when thinking isn’t too easy).  Monday morning quarterback types seldom veer out of this zone.
Another component is the ability to implement the solution under stress.  Consider the problem of “buck fever”.  This is essentially a state of over-stimulation.  The novice hunter is overwhelmed with stress hormones.  His pulse rate is at a nice prestissimo and the heart feels like it’s going to beat its way out of the body.  His hands tremble.  He has difficulty forming thoughts that translate to speech.  His visual focus is extremely tight, with virtually zero peripheral vision (a condition commonly known as tunnel vision).  He may not hear what is going on around him.  He is essentially useless when it comes to solving the problem (taking a quick and accurate shot).   This is known as “Condition Black”. Controlling his level of arousal will enable him to stay out of condition black and take in new information as it becomes available and to act on it.
I’ve noticed the tendency with inexperienced people to waffle in their decision making.  In a high stakes situation, it’s normal to NOT WANT TO MESS UP!  It’s also easy to hung up on thinking that there must be one optimal solution that would be obvious if you could just figure it out, like in the movies.  In real life there are often situations that don’t have a set procedure to solve.  Often, each person would come up with something slightly different, yet equally effective.  The important thing in decision making is to just make a decision and act on it.  You may turn out to be wrong, but at least you stuck your neck out there and tried.  If you get a next time, which you probably will, you will have learned, whereas if you only waffled, you’ll have failed without learning much.  Learning is a good thing, huh?  Experience is what it takes to become experienced.
Particularly relevant to a discussion of decision making under stress is Boyd’s Cycle, aka the OODA loop.  The cycle describes the act of making and implementing decisions.  Boyd was a fighter pilot and military strategist, so the context is particularly applicable to the type of decision making I’m talking about.
OODA is an acronym that stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. 
Example 1: You Observe movement in the trees across a clearing.  You Orient to the fact that the movement is a big buck and legal to shoot.  You Decide to shoot it.  You Act, and shoot it.  The loop resets, and you Observe whether or not the buck went down, etc., etc, etc…

Example 2:  You Observe your front door being rapidly opened, the sound of a loud crash, and wood shards erupting from the frame.  You Orient to the fact that 2 burly looking dudes that you don’t know are rapidly crossing the threshold, one holding a machete and the other a baseball bat.  You Decide to stop them.  You Act, and draw your pistol, shooting them until they are no longer a threat.  

The OODA Loop is a helpful way to examine decision making because it breaks up the components for diagnosis and exercise.  Ideally the cycle can be completed almost instantaneously.  If it is not, you need to figure out what the holdup is and work it until it’s no longer a problem.
Watching a beginner in any field making decision is like watching the Plinko game from the Price is Right.  The ball gets diverted left, right, and meanders around for a seemingly endless amount of time until it finally clears the pegs and falls into a slot.  Watching an expert is like Plinko with no pegs- Bam! Done.
The OODA loop is usually discussed in terms of handling an adversary.  The tactic is to get your opponent caught in the phases of the OODA loop preceding the Act phase.  The method is to induce continuous changes to the situation, which cause him to have to constantly re-orient, and revise the previous decision.  This method induces a short circuit in the adversary’s decision making process, like a needle on a scratched record. 
Let’s modify example 2 to illustrate this: You Observe your front door being rapidly opened, the sound of a loud crash, and wood shards erupting from the frame.  You Orient to the fact that 2 burly looking dudes that you don’t know are rapidly crossing the threshold, one holding a machete and the other a baseball bat.  You Decide to stop them.  As you begin to execute your draw stroke, you Observe the sound of your sliding glass back door shattering behind you, and you Orient to the fact that someone’s entry is imminent.
See how your OODA loop was disrupted?  It’s easier to disrupt an inexperienced person who doesn’t have the ability to control his level of psychological and physiological arousal.  It could be something as simple as another big buck entering the clearing.  As the level of arousal increases, this puts him in a downward spiral.  The key to avoiding this downward spiral is to obtain experience and learn to work under stress.  It’s also easier to disrupt the OODA loop of a person who hasn’t encountered, or at the very least visualized, this scenario.
Continuing with the example, you Decide that the goons at the front door are a more imminent threat, and you Act, firing two rounds center of mass each, because you’ve done that in training so much that it didn’t take any thought or significant effort, and took less than a second.  You then Orient to a single intruder rapidly approaching a few feet from your right, Decide to check him with your support hand, and Act, which you Observe holds him at contact distance.  You Orient to the fact that you have room to fire from a braced position, and Act, firing rounds into his abdomen and pelvic girdle until he ceases assaulting you.  The whole encounter took maybe 5-7 seconds, yet you ran through the loop 4 times.  If you hadn’t prepared mentally for this encounter, you would not have completed one cycle before going down, but you probably would have evacuated bladder and bowels.
How does this apply to rifle shooting?  It applies to any activity in which split second decisions must be made under stress.
Figure out what to do ahead of time.  Learn to operate under stress and control your level of arousal.  That is all for now.

Slings Anonymous

“The mountain shooter looks like an interesting sling, but I can’t just go on pretending like I don’t have a sling problem forever. It has to stop somewhere. I will give the Ching a try though. Then I will go into Slings Anonymous the next day. Or maybe the day after that.” 1/14/12 http://artoftherifle.blogspot.com/2011/10/bipod-prone.html?showComment=1326596765413#c3079435954369844132

My name is Rifleslinger, and I’m addicted to rifle slings.

The Ching Sling

If you’ve ever read this blog before, you may have an idea that I’ve tried a few slings.  That would be correct.  I’ve tried the simple nylon sling, the Brownell’s Latigo sling, the 1907 sling, the USGI web sling (both cotton and nylon), the regular TAB gear sling, the TAB sling with no buckles, and the TIS Slip Cuff Quick Release sling.  It seems like there should be more on the list, but I no others come to mind at the moment.  Not only have I used them, but I have a bit of experience shooting looped up with most of them.

 

I have been getting a lot of recommendations for, and requests for me to review the Ching Sling.  I first heard of the Ching sling from reading Jeff Cooper’s book, Art of the Rifle.  When I read that book, I had never used a sling, so the information was nothing more than trivia.  As I learned how to use a sling, the idea of having to mount a third stud sounded a little “overly fancified” to me.
Early in February, I got an email from Andy Langlois at Andy’s Leather advising me that someone (unknown if one or more people) purchased a sling to donate to me.  “WOW,” was my first thought.  This kind of thing has never happened to me before.  I worked out some personal preferences for color and the like, and about a week later I got a package in the mail.
This is as good a place as any to describe a Ching Sling. The Ching is made of 2 separate pieces of leather. The first is mounted just like a regular sling, at the front and rear swivels. There is another, shorter section of sling which is used to form the shooting loop. This section connects to the center stud, and then to the main section of the sling. On the main section, there is a stopper, which halts the travel of the short section to the rear thus determining the tightness of the loop when in shooting position. The stopper is adjustable to set the loop length. There is a simple, classy, solid brass buckle to the rear of the main sling section which is used to set the overall (carry) length of the sling. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ching was invented by Eric S. H. Ching (who else?) in about 1986.  Mr. Ching was attending a rifle course at Gunsite.  After Mr. Ching got fed up with having to constantly loop up with whatever they were using back then (maybe a C.W. Sling?) he spent some time devising something that was more user friendly.  He showed his invention to Col. Cooper, who endorsed the sling.  It became standard issue equipment on the Scout rifle.  Mr. Ching had contacted Mr. Langlois at some point to request that he make the Ching Sling.
The leather on the sling is nice, thick, and sturdy. My wife was immediately impressed at the quality of the leather and hardware, which is a bonus. What’s nice is that it’s made in America by one set of hands. 

 


          Olde Worlde Craftsmanshipe! (The extra e’s are for linquistic authenticity)

 

 

I wanted to give the sling a fair review, but wasn’t sure about drilling into the walnut stock on #1, so I figured that I would install a third stud on the Remington 700 I shoot, which has a Freeland rail.  Instead, I got a call from my friend Mark, who said that he was going to be in the area working an Appleseed shoot where some other friends were likely to be.  I told him I would try to make it.

I got to thinking, “What would be a better format to shake a sling down than the second day of an Appleseed?”  I got out my trusty Savage Mkii bolt action .22lr, pulled the action out of the stock, and saw that the flimsy stock offered only one place to insert a third stud forward of the bottom metal.  A few minutes with a drill and I had a third stud and the Ching Sling all mounted up.  A few more minutes worth of trial and adjustment, and I had it ready to shoot.  A few minutes of dry practice, and I was sold on the sling.
Without trying a Ching, I think it is only natural to have doubts about its effectiveness as a shooting aid.  “How could it be as steady as a 1907 or USGI?”  Mounting up a Ching is similar to setting up with a hasty sling, and about as fast, so there is a temptation to think of the Ching as a compromise between the loop sling and the hasty sling (and I personally don’t get much out of a hasty).
Let’s get something straight, the Ching is every bit as stable as a loop.  I would not have believed it if I would not have tried it.  This is what is known as a “game changer”.  I have been trying to figure out how to make a loop practical to use in the field.  With the TAB, the TIS, and the 1907, I had gotten to the point where getting the arm in the loop would take about 5-6 seconds.  It’s really not that long, but in a hurry it can seem like a long time- long enough to let an opportunity slip.  The Ching is for all intents and purposes instantaneous.  In the time it takes to get halfway into rice paddy prone, the arm is in the loop.  Miraculous.
How does the Ching stack up against the others I have used…?
I liked the Ching well enough to put it on my Sako 75, aka #1.
The first group I shot with the Ching on my .22 was as tight as any I’ve ever shot with that rifle.  I quickly encountered a problem.  The Savage Mkii uses a detachable box magazine.  It comes with a 5 round mag, and also uses 10 round mags, which I generally use.  Both the 5 and 10 rounders have a curve (like an AK mag), but the 10 round mag is more pronounced.  The bottom front corner of the mag was getting caught under the second portion of the sling.  This made reloads difficult, because I had to break position completely.  Be aware of this if your rifle has a mag that protrudes.
By the time I got home, there really wasn’t any decision to be made.  Of course it was going on #1.  I just wanted to make sure that I would be able to change mags freely with the Sako, which uses flush fitting detachable mags.
I decided to consult an expert in the field of Ching Sling usage, our very own Colorado Pete.  Pete has a wealth of shooting knowledge, but you have to beg him to share it.  I finally got the advice I needed from Pete, which was that mounting the center stud a bit farther forward than normal would probably not be at all disadvantageous, provided the stud placement did not interfere with my support hand.  I had taken some photos of the sling mounted on the Savage, checked the angles, and the distances from the crucial points, then estimated the necessary clearances on #1 for the mags.  I estimated that the stud would need to be 1.5” to 2” forward of the forward edge of the bottom metal.  Pete said 1.5” should be good.  Well, if Pete says 1.5”, you go 1.5”.  It worked out perfectly.
The only downside to the Ching is having to put in the 3rd stud.  Putting anything extra on the rifle is definitely something to give me pause.  I don’t like extra weight.  I don’t like extra stuff unless it’s really going to give me a significant advantage.  This sling is a significant advantage.
Rating the Ching
I give the Ching a 9.8 out of 10.0.  I’m a very tough evaluator, and a perfect 10 probably isn’t going to happen with anything.  I was tempted to give it a 9.9, but had to consider the issue I had with the Savage’s extended mag, which I blame more on the Savage, but still is an issue.  There is also the necessity to add a 3rd stud, which is something of a sacrifice, albeit a small one.  Here are ratings for the other slings I’ve used.
USGI Sling*:                                      7.0 (because it’s soooo sloooowwwww)
TAB Standard Sling:                           8.0
TIS Slip Cuff Quick Release:                8.5
TAB with no buckles*:                         9.2
1907 Sling:                                        9.3 

 

*Not previously reviewed or rated.  Note: Mrs. Rifleslinger asked what a “1” would be. Leave it to her to actually make my brain have to function logically and rationally. A “1” would be a sling that did not effectively function as a carry strap, was not pleasing to the touch or eye, would potentially damage the rifle, or was a total rip off (I have an image of a pink leopard print fuzzy job covered with faux chrome spiky pyramids that cost $75 and came with zip tie attachments). I would say a “5” would be a nice, functional carry strap that did not offer a provision for looping up. Did I do a decent job of making sense of my arbitrary rating system after the fact? 

 

I don’t understand why the Ching is not on tactical rifles everywhere.  It’s the most practical thing going for “practical shooting”.  The Ching offers such an advantage that I’m flabbergasted that it’s not the sling for all serious rifle shooters (except Kaiser- he marches to the beat of his own drummer.  Just kidding Kaiser- I’m picking on you unnecessarily and I’m sorry.  OK, not really).
If you are someone who has to have your sling in nylon, then get a Ching in nylon for crying out loud.  Last year, I was a nylon guy all the way.  I very much appreciate that it’s pretty much indestructible and maintenance free for the hard user.  After I put the 1907 sling on my rifle, I started to appreciate the qualities of leather.  It’s stiffer, which makes the sling easier to work with, keeps it in a more consistent shape, and offers the ability to use the rear portion as a field expedient “bean bag”.  Also, it is just “nice”, which is to say it offers a bit of class and comfort (and I like the way it smells and tastes).  Just maintain it and it should take care of you.

For more information on the use of the Ching Sling, click here.

I think I can finally put the long and convoluted sling evaluating phase of my career to an end. 

 


Note the chicken (Barred Rock).  Like many meats, it tastes like chicken.

2/2/13 note:  The Ching really is a good design and light years ahead of most of what is out there in terms of ease of use.  In August I got a new rifle and really didn’t want to drill the 3rd stud.  Instead I invented a 2 point sling for traditional rifles with only 2 studs that would work like a Ching.  More details can be found here.

Acceptable Sight Picture

As rifle shooters, it is normal for us to be focused on group size and hitting bulls’ eyes- group size because it means we have an impressive rifle, and bulls eyes, well, because it’s the middle of the circle, where our eyes are naturally drawn.  It’s ingrained into our culture, good or bad.

What’s hard to get the hang of is taking an “acceptable” shot to get a hit under time constraints.  If all you do is practice taking perfect shots under perfect conditions (do you go to the range in the rain, wind, snow, etc…?), with all the time you need, being in a hurry with a less than perfect position is likely to result in a miss.  Misses are bad.  What we need to do is become accustomed to the idea that a shot that hits the part of the target we need to hit is good enough. 
IPSC shooters know exactly what I’m talking about.  Their game comes down to points divided by time.  You want a lot of points and a little elapsed time.  The “A” zone on the humanoid target (USPSA Metric Target) measures about 6”x11”.  An “A” zone hit is worth 5 points.  It makes no difference at all whether you hit the dead center of the “A” zone or just touch the edge.  The whole thing is 5 points.  That means if you index the firearm on the target, and the sights are slightly misaligned, but in your experience will still put the bullet in the “A” zone, you should press the trigger and roll on.  Note the implication that you have deliberately practiced at some point with varying degrees of misaligned sights and therefore know how to interpret what you see.
If your goal is to hit steel, then any hit on the steel is a hit.  Hitting the center of the steel might be nice, but is it worth anything in a Steel Challenge match?  No.  It’s only worth the extra time and effort if you define it as being worth it.  If your goal is to hit an animal’s vital zone, then theoretically any hit there should do the job. 
If your goal is to score 250 on an AQT, all you need to do is make sure that every shot lands in the “5” zone (easier said [or imagined] than done).  In standing there’s a ton of leeway.  Somewhere in the vicinity of the center of the target will do.  In sitting, you can get away with a bit of imperfection and still get all 5’s if you don’t get crazy.  In rapid fire prone you better have each sight picture looking pretty much the same every time, but there is a little wiggle room side to side on the bottom and up and down in the middle.  On the slow fire prone, you need to have the darn thing just about perfect.  For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned stages 2 or 3 yet.  Yet!
If you’re shooting a hostage taker holding a gun to a hostage, forget darn near, it just has to be perfect, regardless of what the target is doing, how far it is, how you feel, or what the time constraint is.  Everything comes down to one moment in time, one perfect sight picture, and one flawless trigger press.
Hopefully this illustrates that an acceptable sight picture varies on the specific target and that there are different levels of skill and focus required to get that hit.  In Brian Enos’ classic work on pistol shooting, Practical Shooting: Beyond Fundamentals, he discusses the types of shooting focus necessary to hit targets of various sizes at various ranges (pp. 64-73).  He identifies 5 types of shooting focuses, type 1 being “extreme high speed shooting”, and type 5 being “anytime a shot is considered extremely difficult” (65).  He discusses specifically what he needs to see to get a hit at each focus.
I came up with a different take on the shooting focus types.  Instead of describing shooting situations and specific types of targets, let’s just think of them in terms of apparent size with an angular measurement that we should all be used to by now, the minute, aka MOA.

Focus Types:

1.    Point shooting (~60 moa)
2.    Snapshooting (≥ 12 MOA)
3.    Quick but deliberate aimed fire: offhand to kneeling (~8-12 MOA)
4.    Deliberate aimed fire: rice paddy prone, seated, improvised support (~4-8 MOA)
5.    Careful aimed fire: prone, seated, improvised support (~2-4 MOA)
6.    Precise shooting, prone with rest (≤ 2 MOA)

The numbers above represent, to me, what a reasonably “dialed-in” shooter should be capable of.  Some of them (Type 1 and 2) represent to me what I probably could do if I could get to the range.  Most of the others are well within my holding capability as far as group size is concerned, although group location may still need some work. 

Ideally you would have enough time to get in the steadiest position possible regardless of the target size.  Since ideal situations are not often encountered, this system should give you an idea of not only the appropriate way to engage your target in the shortest amount of time based on the size, and therefore difficulty of the target, but  also of your limitations, i.e., what targets would be more prudent not to take a shot on.  You might be wondering how you’re going to figure out the angular size of the target within the allotted time.  You should practice enough that you don’t have to think about it.  

Type 1 Focus:
Point shooting is not universally accepted as a valid tool.  It is definitely a compromise in comparison with sighted fire.  I include it because there is a range of target sizes that if I were to shoulder my rifle with the intent of hitting, I could do so without verifying the sights.  60 MOA is the smallest I would think of doing this with at this time.  60 MOA at 10 yards is about 6.3”.  Maybe with intensive practice I could improve.  Without verifying sight picture, the time from start signal to a shot (a hit) should be easily less than a second.

 

Type 2 Focus:
I’ve written in detail on multiple occasions about snapshooting.  Keep it under 1.5 seconds.

 

Type 3 Focus:
Most hunting would likely fall under this category.  Rushed, but not demanding reflex-like speed.  The target is not going to wait for long.  Under 4 seconds.

 

Type 4 Focus:
Similar to type 3, but demanding just a little bit more steadiness and precision.  Another way to think of it is type 3 with a steadier position.  You’ll need to try your best to achieve NPA, relax and breathe.  A nice compressed trigger press is what you’re looking for, as well as follow through.  It’s all done very quickly.  Add 2 seconds in addition to Type 3 for getting into position for a total of 6 seconds.

 

Type 5 Focus:
You have the initiative.  Your target is probably not going anywhere in a hurry and is probably sufficiently far away that a.) you aren’t likely to be detected, and b.) the target is not easy to hit.  If not using a steady rest such as a bipod or bag, the sling will be necessary (in my opinion) for maximum steadiness.  Under 10 seconds.

Type 6 Focus:

A target under 2 MOA is not as easy to hit as it sounds.  Grouping under 2 MOA may not be a big deal, but as I alluded to above, group location can be a little tricky.  Conditions, minor changes in technique, and the “gun gremlins” can cause the zero to drift.  If you could do as Rawhider does, and get the rifle to the range once a week and fire at least one shot, how much more certain of your zero would you be than you are now?  For me, at this point in time, that would be what they call a “game changer”.
Back to type 6 focus, the position has to be just right.  Given any distance, you should be aware of environmental factors.  You want to make sure that your eye relief, head position, scope parallax, etc… are “just so”.  If using a bipod, make sure you load it the same way you always load it.  Your grip should be the same as always.  This is a big consistency game.  You should be very deliberate, and if necessary, follow a repeatable sequence of firing.  If firing a shot for something that matters “for real” you would have liked to already fired at the same distance and under similar conditions recently.  A little traction in the chaos-adding factors in my life would help me greatly in this respect.
I’m not going to put a time limit on Type 6.  In fact, all the times listed may change depending on other factors, but especially with long range shooting the situation will dictate what you need to do beforehand to accomplish a hit.

 

To sum it up, acceptable sight picture to me means that you see what you need to see to get a hit in as little time as possible, whether it’s a half second on a huge target or 30 seconds on a little target waaayyyyy out there.