Quick and Dirty Painting

I’d been meaning to get around to painting the rifle for a while.  I was waiting to get scope caps, but there don’t seem to be any that meet my criteria: 1. Don’t be Chinese junk, and 2.  Don’t break.  Oh well.

The method I use to paint my rifles is not meant to come out looking like a beautiful work of art.  That’s why the article says “quick and dirty”.  It’s just meant to be an expedient way to break up the outline of the rifle a bit.

The first thing I do is prep the surface.  That means remove the grease and tape any areas that don’t need paint.  I don’t like paint on or in the bolt body, the scope turrets and magnification ring, the lenses (I tested both ways, just trust me on this one), and the bore.  You can go full exacto when applying tape, but I like to make it easy on myself and an asymmetric pattern will be more effective anyway.  Here are some of the things I used.  If you’re a real man, forego the cardboard and just do it on the living room floor.  If you’re married, this could be dangerous (using the living room in the first place was questionable, but it was cold outside, and I didn’t want to wait a long time for drying).

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I thought that I had plenty of each Krylon camo color (there are only 3 colors for crying out loud), but it turns out that I only had multiple cans of 2 colors.  I think that someone other than me really likes OD green.  I would be tempted to say that there’s not much green in my environment this time of year, but we got this GLOBAL WARMING thing going on, which I guess means that there’s still some green and that we need to surrender total control to the Government to keep us SAFE.

The first thing I like to do after prep is to paint the entire thing with a uniform coat of tan, what Krylon calls “Khaki”.  Fight the urge to make it look all tan in one pass.  Keep the can at the recommended distance and make multiple passes to avoid runs.

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Once I get that uniform tan coat, I would apply sparing amounts of brown and green (if I had green, did I mention that I don’t?) to break up the rifle’s outline.  It’s important to avoid symmetry and uniformity.  There are a few ways to keep the randomness of the pattern.  Some use netting to give the colors a snakeskin look.  I prefer to go outside and collect a few twigs and branches.

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What seems to be a key, and what I tend to forget until I get going is to be very sparing with the colors.  Decide on a spot, hold the template material close so that the paint won’t just go around it, and make a small pass with sufficient volume of paint on the small area to make effective use of the template.  If you just mist it on, it won’t show the template, but if you make a large pass you’ll end up with huge ugly blotches.

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The first pass.  It was a little too big.

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I don’t know how well the paint will adhere to the Hogue stock.  I suspect it will come off pretty quickly.  Then I will finally get some green in the pattern.  The nice thing about Krylon is that it’s easy, quick, and adaptable to different seasons and terrain.

Have fun.  I’ll probably do my car next.

On Being Your Own Expert Authority

In my experience with people in life, most are willing to let others feed them information, skills, rationales, and opinions.  This is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself.  It would be foolish to go through every aspect of life without the benefit of the collective intelligence of our culture.  Some of what our forefathers have learned has been profound and sublime.

This method of undiscriminating integration of information and ideas becomes a problem in a number of situations.  The most obvious problem is, that included with the righteous aspects of our culture, there is also a ton of crap to sift through.  It’s not hard to become a discriminating consumer of information, but many of us, and probably most of the kids coming up through public school aren’t taught to do this.

I have a personal example that shows another way that information is mis-applied.  Some of my articles have videos that I use because I think they have a pedagogical use that text or still photos cannot convey as well.  I use Youtube to host these videos and seldom give much of an explanation in the “About” section.  In one of the videos I did a quick demonstration of how I work the bolt while shooting left handed in offhand.  This technique uses the firing hand to reach around and over the top to work the bolt, and would work well in a position or situation in which you would like to keep your support hand in place.  I did not present the technique as a “sniper” or military technique and was not portraying it as a universal “one best way”.

I don’t disable the comments of my videos, and I got some comments like this:

            #1 “Ummm…your hand isn’t supposed to come off the trigger.
                 It’s a big NO-NO in military circles!”

            #2 Actually that’s plain wrong. Snipers get taught to cycle the
                 bolt with their strong hand as their support hand is usually
                 whats holding the butt down, and moving that would lead to
                 your POa changing.

The people that commented above used a common method of bypassing a logical analysis.  It’s known as an appeal to authority, and is extremely common.  The authority can be anyone, but in rifle shooting some popular authorities are Jeff Cooper, any military sniper, but especially Carlos Hathcock, David Tubb, etc…   There is no problem learning from these people, because in most cases they have a lot of valid knowledge and wisdom to impart.  It would be foolish not to seek out their knowledge.  What is a problem is not scrutinizing what you hear from them, not completely understanding it, and not placing it in proper context.

Let’s take the military sniper example.  Most of us are not, never have been, nor ever will be, military snipers.  It’s just a statistical improbability.  Those people have specific job to do and are very good at doing it.  Their equipment and methodology is precisely tailored to efficiently and effectively complete their mission (in an ideal world, but there exists a thing called bureaucracy that tends to screw good ideas and people up).  Most of their time is not pressing the trigger.  Getting benchrest groups is not the top attribute they need to succeed.

If you plopped a military sniper on the firing line in an NRA Highpower competition with an iron sighted match rifle, the odds of him winning against a group of dedicated High Master competitors are extremely unlikely.  The sniper doesn’t practice those skills (known distance shooting with a jacket, sling, fancy diopter iron sights, the funny hats with the eye blocker dealios, etc…)  because they are not relevant to his ability to complete his mission.  The NRA High Master will outshoot him on the line with irons, but if you plopped the High Master in the field of battle and told him to complete a sniper’s mission objective, he will be unlikely to make it into a firing position, may compromise a larger mission, and will probably get himself or others killed unless he has the proper training, experience, and mindset.

The appeal to authority is one of the most common tools of misinformation and readily bypasses the logical filters of most people (so much as most people actually have working abilities of logic).  Turn on the news and you’ll see it.  They’re full of “experts” saying something.  I’m no longer impressed by the fact that someone did something once, used to do something, still does it, wrote a book, stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, or has fancy letters in front of or behind their name (and I’m not going to call you “Doctor” unless you have the power to compel me to cough by threat of force resulting in immediate and excruciating pain).  I will still evaluate what you say on the merits alone.

The problem may not be that the information that is adopted is bad or invalid.  In reference to rifle shooting, the problem is more likely whether or not the information applies in the context of your objective.

Some of what we learn in our lives is passed along to us without our conscious knowledge that we adopt it.  These tend to be foundational things that seem to squeak by without the thought ever crossing our mind to question it.  Steve Kent told me a story about this.  I’ll do my best to paraphrase.

Steve’s wife always cut the ends off of a ham when she baked it.  He couldn’t understand why.  When he asked her, the reply was, “That’s the way my mom taught me to cook ham.”

Steve was still curious about it, so he asked his wife’s mother why she cut the ends off the ham.  She told him, “That’s the way my mom taught me how to cook ham.”

Still being curious, during a family get together, Steve asked his wife’s grandmother about the ham.  She paused for a moment and said, “Ohhh.  When my daughter was young, it was during the depression and we were very poor.  We could only afford one roasting pan, and it wasn’t big enough to hold a ham.  I had to cut the ends off of the ham to get it to fit into the pan.”

The point of the story is not all that delicious wasted meat.  It’s the information we absorb and pass along without bothering to assess whether it is still valid for our purpose and circumstance.    Stop cutting the ham ends!

One of the main things I do on the blog is to evaluate ideas, philosophies, equipment and techniques to determine their value in relation to my needs.  That was one of the reasons I started the blog, because I had reached the point where I was learning contradictory information.  I wanted to learn enough to know which one applied best to me.

Sometimes all it takes is thinking and mentally evaluating something to discern its value.  Other times a test is necessary.  When testing something it’s important to make sure that the test is valid in reference to your needs.  Are you a sniper?  Are you a hunter?  Are you a competitor?  What makes sense for you and under your circumstances?

Another one of the reasons I started the blog was that the sources of contradictory information were both seemingly certain that their methods were the best.  This was presented without much information in the way of application, which raised some warning signals to me.  That’s when I realized for myself that “knowing” something can make learning about it impossible or nearly so.

The Youtube commenters above also suffer from “knowing” too much.  They’re so focused on bolstering their egos that, to them, latching onto any authority that will enable them to “win” a minor point here and there is more important to them than actually learning.   This is not intended to be derogatory.  I think any human has this weakness, and youthful immaturity (or adultful immaturity) seems to bring it to the fore.

What seems to work better and allow for continued learning is to embark under a spirit of inquiry.  Of course it’s necessary to take in enough indoctrination to be useful, but a constant spirit of searching will ensure that the information is always fresh and is being upgraded and renewed.

It’s not easy to give up the comfort of “knowing” and “winning” minor arguments to open up the prospect of learning and maybe gaining some wisdom.  You have to be willing to first accept the possibility that you don’t know.  This opens up your ability to be inquisitive and begin to actually learn.  Part of the difficulty here is that you have to be honest, and be willing to allow others to witness that that you don’t have all the answers.  I think that this is necessary even for someone at the top of their game.

There are times when your initial evaluation of something may cause you to dismiss it.  It can be good to suspend your judgment on some things until you really give it a fair chance to work.  Going to training is a good example.  Why go to all the time, energy, and financial expenditure if your own way is better?  I have seen people show up at Appleseeds who clearly could not shoot (the target doesn’t lie), but the person could not accept that truth, and refused to open up to any correction.  Unless the training is clearly bad, why not give it a try?  It will often enhance your own methods to do something slightly different for a short time.

I spend a lot of time thinking about things and testing things that could probably be more easily absorbed through other sources.  I have been accused of reinventing the wheel.  This doesn’t bother me.  I’d be thinking about those things anyway.  More significantly, rather than being able to regurgitate by rote, I have a good understanding of what I’m doing.  How much you start from scratch really depends on your purpose in learning.  If your goal is to become operational in the shortest time possible, just find someone who can spoon feed you (again, not being derogatory, just realistic).

Getting down to the point to what I’ve been trying to get at in way too many words…  There is no human expert that possesses perfect wisdom such that you should open wide your filters of discernment.  You have to compare information, methods, and opinions against what you already have experienced, what you can readily perceive, and what you can find out for yourself.  There may be people better than you at any given discipline, but there are also many people with an agenda, or people who are effective at posing.  Things are sometimes very different than they appear at face value.

More than just being a sophisticated consumer of information, to really be your own expert authority you have to begin to have the mind of being a producer of information.  This is primarily for yourself, like subsistence farming, but as your expertise grows, others will recognize that you have worthwhile knowledge to share.  Producing information through experience will also result in wisdom, which is unlikely to be gained through a book or Youtube video.

An Elegant Weapon, for a More Civilized Age

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I recently acquired a custom 98 Mauser that was customized 30 or so years ago.  It’s a family heirloom of sorts.  The gunsmith who did the work is no longer living.  It’s chambered in 6mm Remington, which seems to be an exceedingly underrated round given its attributes.

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I had never been a fan of the Mannlicher style stock, but it actually grows on you after a bit.  The extra room on the forend seems to give more freedom for the support hand to find its own sweet spot in snapshooting.  I don’t know what it is exactly about this gun, but I would say so far that it “points” better than anything else I have.  It made me think of what Rawhider said about the 1886 carbine that seemed to just come up on target for everyone who used it.  The length of pull on this is long like my Sako 75, 14 and a halfish or so.

The rifle seems light in comparison to my Model 70, but it’s a little heavier than my Sako 75.  The balance is nice.  It seems long, but the barrel is only 22”.

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Back in the day, a custom stock was a huge part of what made a custom gun.  This stock is definitely a work of art.

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The bolt handle is rather slender, and there isn’t much room to clear the ocular on the scope that’s on it.  If I decide to update the glass I’m going to have to keep that in mind.

The bolt is more difficult to work than my Model 70.  It also has a distinctive sound and feel.  The smooth knob is larger, but more difficult to maintain contact with.  It would take me quite a while to learn to make this bolt sing.

I really like the way the bolt shrouds look on Mausers.  You don’t see intricacy like that much in modern manufacturing.

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The extractor is jeweled, but unfortunately, it doesn’t extract.  It seems like a little too much material was removed to get it to clear a “drop in” round, so it slips over the rim when opening the bolt.  I’m going to have to get a new extractor.  I may decide to learn to jewel the new one so it matches the established theme.

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As I mentioned before, the 6mm Remington seems like a very cool round.  I don’t know what the twist rate is on this barrel (all my rods are .30 cal), but I’m curious to find out.

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I’m looking forward to seeing what this rifle will do.

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The Company You Keep

There is a sort of unofficial theme to the posts this month.  I’ve been talking about non-shooting things you can do in the process of living your life that will help you improve as a shooter.  One of the most effective things you can do that will have possibly the greatest effect without seeming like a lot of work is to give some thought as to who you consider to be your peer group as a shooter.

Human beings are very adaptive.  We tend to assimilate to new environments very well after a relatively brief period of time.  Consider how immersion into a country speaking a different language typically results in a person becoming fluent in that language extremely rapidly.  Also consider how if a people were subjected to incremental restrictions on their freedom, they might not notice what is going on over the screen of their TV.

How does this apply to rifle shooting?  Consider the people you shoot with and consider your peer group of shooters.  Odds are that if you shoot with a group of people, the skill level tends to be somewhat uniform amongst the group, perhaps with a high and low outlier or two.   It’s just one of those traits that most of us are wired to rise to the level of our peers, but not much farther.

One of the nice things about the internet, is that it can bring you together “virtually” with other people that are geographically nowhere near you.  You can be exposed to people of exceptional skill just by wading through thousands of Youtube videos until you actually find something good.  You might not ever meet those people, but how hard would it be to think of that great shooter as a peer, someone just like you, rather than a demi-godlike persona?

If you ever meet a really great shooter, someone like Rob Leatham, I suspect you would find that he is a human, much like you.  You could learn from him, and he could learn from you.  Yes, he is farther down the road of pistol shooting, but he had to travel it from the beginning just the same as the rest of us.  He had a different blend of talent, opportunity, drive, etc., but each one of us has a combination of the same attributes that we can capitalize on to get a little farther down our own road.

If you see that the people that you think of as your peers are doing things to further their shooting, like competing, you will probably begin to take an interest in competing as well.  If you notice that your skills are feeble in comparison, you’ll likely place a higher priority on dry firing and getting to the range.  If you notice that your people make a plan for each range trip, you might start doing that yourself.

This doesn’t mean that you need to abandon your shooting buddies.  I’m talking about a very minor shift in perspective.  When you read about or see a person doing something great, instead of saying to yourself, “That’s amazing!  I could never do that,” you instead see that as a model behavior that you seek to integrate into yourself.  Instead of being in TV mode, which is simply taking in entertainment, you’re in learning mode, actively absorbing and learning what you’re observing.  You will begin to become more like the people you consider to be your peers.

Finding Out My Dope by Actually Shooting

I recently compared 2 very different ways of predicting my bullet’s trajectory, the Field Density Altitude Compensator (FDAC) and the “Shooter” iPhone ballistics app.  I wanted to see how they stacked up against each other, the former being very simple, and the latter being powered by a hand held computer.  I could have just sat in my living room and compared the outputs of both of them for given yardages, but that wouldn’t really have told me the whole story.  Instead I went out and shot with them.  Shooting is good, so this method must be good.

I used each of these tools side by side, one after the other on 2 separate outings to the range.  On the first trip I was concerned primarily with time; how long does it take to use each one?  I was shooting at steel targets.  On the second trip I was concerned with the numbers each device gave me, because on the first trip I didn’t hit very many of the steel targets.

On range outing #1, which was my Super Bowl party, my goal was to test my ability to hit steel targets at unknown distances and analyze how to do it as quickly as possible.  One of the weaknesses of my shooting practice so far is that I have had a bias towards group size.  I believe this happens any time paper targets are involved.  With paper, as long as I can find the shots on the target the first impulse is to see how consistently I shot.  If I’m out of the black, somehow it’s easy to overlook.  If I’m off the target completely, then it becomes imperative to make corrections to get back on paper (what you might call a hit).  With steel, there has to be the satisfaction of hearing the reassuring ping that lets you know you scored a hit.  Getting a hit is ultimately what’s more important.  This type of activity at the range should help reinforce that.

Day 1:

Temp: 45°
Humidity: 72%
Altitude: ~2500
Density Altitude: 2012
FDAC Density Altitude Estimation: 2000

1.  338 yards.  (Times include set up)
            Data from memory:    1.7 mils, 10 seconds max
            iPhone:                        1.9 mils, 1:23 (access and set up)
            FDAC:                         1.7 mils, 0:42 (I had to access it from a data book 
                                                  pocket, and initially pulled out the Mil-Dot Master, 
                                                  which looks very similar.)

2.  387 yards
            Data from memory:     2.3 mils, 10 seconds max
            iPhone data:                2.4 mils, ~27 seconds
            FDAC data:                 2.4 mils, 19 seconds

3.  456 yards
            Data from memory:     3.1 mils, 10-15 seconds
            iPhone data:                3.1 mils, ~15-20
            FDAC data:                 3.1 mils,  ~20 seconds

One would think that recalling dope from memory should be almost instantaneous if it is actually committed to memory.  That’s not necessarily the case.  There have been times when I have had data committed to memory by 50 yard increments.  This was basically generic dope that seems to be pretty close.

I have not kept up on the dope memory game as well as I should have.  I was actually pretty rusty during this range session.  I was able to remember my comeup for 100 yards!  In addition to that great feat, I was able to remember my comeups for 200, 300, 400, and 500.  Estimating yardages in between involves knowing that the trajectory curve will become steeper towards the latter half of each known increment, and more dramatically so as the ranges increase.  This is also necessary with the FDAC, albeit with 50 yard increments, and creates a mental estimation step.  My iPhone is set up to be able to input any number, or “spin” the heads up display at 5 yard increments, which gives it the advantage of skipping the brainpower part of the game.

Range trip 2:

Temp: 40°
Humidity: 87%
Altitude: ~2500
Density Altitude: 2015
FDAC Density Altitude Estimation: 2000 (so far the FDAC has a good record of accuracy)

The second range trip, not quite a week later, focused on the accuracy of the numbers I was getting from the FDAC and the Shooter app.  The density altitude on this trip was basically the same as the previous trip, which was odd to me because the weather seemed so much different (moisture was falling out of the sky in various forms).

I developed a methodology to check my zero at regular yardage intervals with regular checks of my 100 yard zero.  I also included a subjective barrel temperature rating to note before each group.  I figured that this would be a good thing to do monthly for a while, just to keep track of what the bullets actually do in different conditions.  That way, I get all my nerdy testing done to satisfy my curiosity on one range trip, so the rest of the month I can focus on actually shooting from positions.  I’ve been getting stuck in data collecting phase too much lately.

The test was to include a three shot group at in the following sequence of yardages: 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 100, 50, 150, 250, 350, 450, 100.  Add a cold bore shot in prior to starting the test and it’s just under 40 rounds.  A couple things conspired against me on this trip, those being the falling sun and the falling snow/rain/slush.  I ended up cutting the test in half, eliminating the 50’s.

One thing I haven’t done so far is to keep track of my elevation in terms of an absolute elevation in reference to the scopes total travel.  To say it another way, clicks from the bottom of the scope’s travel.  I have recorded the times that I have reset the scope’s knob to change the zero, but it seems more precise to have a constant reference to compare apples to apples.  My zero setting on this range trip was 63 clicks, or to say it properly, 6.3 mils from the bottom.

On this trip my numbers put my groups a little high.  Last time they were low.  The difference was last time I took everything 0.2 down because I started out about that much high.  This time I just wanted to be consistent to avoid confounding the results by chasing a shifting zero.  I ended up totally confused trying to get the results from both range sessions to jive anyway, so I’m just going to go with what I got on the second trip.

Here’s what I got:

Cold bore and shots 2-4:

Cold bore and subsequent shots

Shooting at 100:

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100 Yard 4 shot group:

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Posting stuff like this earned me a reputation for honesty, and it seems to make readers feel good about their own shooting, so I like to intentionally throw a few now and then.  I still have that bridge up for sale too…

Using the “tools” in my inclement weather shooting office:

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200 yards. 
            Data from memory:    0.7 mils
            iPhone:                        0.6 mils
            FDAC:                         0.6 mils

200 Yard 3 shot group:

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Comeup that would have centered the elevation: 0.5

__________________
300 yards. 
            Data from memory:    1.5 mils
            iPhone:                        1.5 mils
            FDAC:                         1.5 mils

300 Yard 3 shot group:

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Yoda’s voice in my head, “Trigger control, trigger control, you must learn trigger control!!!”

Comeup that would have centered the elevation: 1.5, the estimated data was good!!!

__________________

The 400 yard line:

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It was muddy:

400 yards:

            Data from memory:    2.5 mils
            iPhone:                        2.5 mils
            FDAC:                         2.5 mils

400 Yard 3 shot group:

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Comeup that would have centered the elevation: 2.2-2.3.  Windage?  Don’t worry about it.  I wasn’t, but should have been.

__________________
500 yards. 
            Data from memory:    3.7 mils
            iPhone:                        3.7 mils
            FDAC:                         3.6 mils

500 Yard 3 shot group:

Comeup that would have centered the elevation: 3.4-3.5

__________________
Enhanced camo:

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Final 100 yard 3 shot group:

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If I just throw one flier intentionally will it still serve to make y’all feel better about your shooting?  And will you finally buy that oceanfront property I have up for sale in Arizona?

 
What there seems to be is some wandering of my elevation, especially based on the 100 yard stuff.  It has been clearly and consistently starting out high.  The last group shows that it gets low.  What happens in between is not clear to me.  I’m going to work on cheekweld consistency some more, because that probably would be good anyway.

What does seem to be clear is that the low tech and the high tech devices agree for the most part on the proper course of action.  The low tech is easier to manipulate with regular gloves (there are special gloves for smartphones, but new stuff costs money).  The high tech takes less brain work.  The low tech is generally faster, especially when my brain is working, but the difference is minor.  I’m told that the batteries on the FDAC will last longer.

To reconcile the data with the results, the devices must be recalibrated.  For the FDAC this involves putting in a different slide.  I ended up changing from the 2550 feet per second card to the 2600.

For the iPhone, I put in the actual numbers to “true” the data, which also put my muzzle velocity at around 2600:

One solid tip I can bring out of this is to stay away from Chinese rain gear.  The snaps tear out of the fabric and the zippers choose not to zip at the most inopportune times.  I’m sure they have a built in camera to laugh at my misfortune in real time.  Buy American.

The second solid tip I can bring out is that coyote tan is very high in the running for my favorite color sling.  I had compacted, caked on mud in the material.  I took it off, rinsed it and it looked like new.  Buy American, preferably from me.

"Shooter" Ballistics Application for Smartphones

It used to be that if a shooter wanted to shoot long range and hit stuff while doing it, he had to actually go out to the range and figure out how much his bullet dropped when shooting at several distances.  Then he needed to do some range math to figure out how many minutes to adjust his scope to compensate for that drop, then write it down in a quaint piece of equipment that was called a “data book” using a “pen” (United States, 1.5 million $) or “pencil” (USSR, 2¢).  The shooter would have to repeat this process in varying conditions so that he could draw on this experience to get repeatable results year round.  Long range shooters were rare and highly respected people in the shooting community.

Something happened that opened the floodgates of long range shooting to people like… me.  That something is the pocket sized computer that millions of people around the world carry in their pockets… the smart phone.  Ballistics is one of those things that is sufficiently established that given good information, a computer can predict the path of a bullet with a surprising degree of accuracy.  People like Bryan Litz test bullets and come up with the information that is needed to make these ballistic programs so surprisingly effective on a wide range of applications.

There have been ballistics programs for computers for a number of years, but up until fairly recently, they were specialized, hard to find, and had to be run on computers or PDA’s.  That made it an expensive proposition.  Now a smart phone owner can download a very capable ballistics program for free in minutes.  For just a bit of money, you can get one that has more features and, in my opinion, a more intuitive interface.

The program I have been using primarily is called Shooter.  It’s easy to use.  It has a library of bullets and ballistic coefficients that have been experimentally determined by the aforementioned Mr. Litz.  It has been reasonably accurate for me.  For what it cost me ($10), I can’t complain.

When you open the Shooter app, the first thing it will want to know is what firearm you are using.  You can store a number of rifles and their pertinent data.  You can input your barrel twist, the direction of the twist, the sight height, sight offset if any (like a side mounted M1D scope), the type of elevation and windage units your sight uses (MOA, Mils, or Inch Per Hundred Yards [IPHY]).  I’m not sure how many rifles you can store in the program.  I currently have 8, most of which I have never used the program with.

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The next thing you will input into the program is the type of bullet you are using.  You can input the bullet diameter, the bullet weight, the bullet length, the muzzle velocity, velocity variation, the powder temperature at the time of zeroing, and a G1 or G7 ballistic coefficient.  This information, like the rifle information, can be stored in the program and summoned with a touch.  The bullets are saved only for the rifle that is selected when you input the data.  This makes it easier because your .338 loads won’t be mixed in with your .308 loads when you go to look for them.

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The next thing the program will want to know is target information.  The most obvious thing is the distance to the target.  You can put in any number you like.  Next it will ask for a “Look Angle”.  This will compensate for shooting up or down at steep angles.  You can utilize the phone to get this number by sighting over the screen to your target.  The next thing you can put in is the target speed, if it is moving, and the angle that the target is moving at in relation to you.

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Next comes the all-important atmospheric information.  I have Shooter configured to allow me to use density altitude.  This saves me from having to put in a bunch of different numbers, though the program will still ask me for the temperature.  Next is the wind speed and wind angle.  This brings me to one of my criticisms of the program.

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I put in the wind speed at 5 mph.

Inside the wind angle function, you can open a clock diagram for a more intuitive interface.  This is a big potential strength of a program like this in a platform like the iPhone, it can boil a bunch of really complicated stuff down to a graphic representation that you can manipulate.  You touch the direction of the wind and an arrow will appear.  You’re supposed to set up the arrow to indicate that the direction the wind is blowing.  Most shooters who shoot long range have been trained to convey wind direction as the direction the wind is coming from.  A 3 o’clock wind comes from 90° right, and tells you that your sight correction will be to the right.  So when I open the wind clock and put in my rendition of the wind direction, which using the example would be to point the arrow to 3 o’clock, it gives me the wrong direction to dial in.

Also, there are times when I’ll put the wind speed in from the “home page” prior to using the clock to input the direction.  The arrow however, is set up to represent both direction and speed, which is manipulated by the length of the arrow.  So by manipulating the arrow, I not only get the opposite wind call of what I actually need, I may unwittingly alter the wind speed input.  I think that using the arrow to indicate speed is actually counterintuitive, and one of those times when the technology was probably used because it was available and “neat” rather than simple and easy.

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I would call that 3 o’clock.  Shooter insists on calling it 9 o’clock.  Note that it has altered the wind speed to read 19.5.

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The next two functions are real “snipery”.  These are “spin drift” and “coriolis effect”.  For the spin drift function to work, you need to have inputted your bullet length, which as far as I know does not come with the info supplied by the bullet library.  For the coriolis you need to input your latitude and azimuth to the target.  These factors are comparatively minor, probably minute as compared to most shooters’ abilities to shoot and account for the effects of wind.  But since they are available functions on the phone, it makes sense to account for them if there is time.  These things also become more important at extreme long range (past 1000).

The easiest way for me to use the program is to get the info that will remain static, such as the rifle, ammo, temperature, etc…, into the program.  Then I hit “Calculate” which brings me to a heads up display.  This give me three “wheels” to manipulate for distance to target, wind speed, and wind direction.  This interface is much easier than trying to punch in numbers for every shot, and easier for me than using the wind clock.  If you have multiple targets from one location you can just manipulate the wheels to get your data.  This is probably the best reason that Shooter is worth the extra $10 over the free program.

It still thinks I have a 19.5 mph wind from 9 o’clock.  Note the windage adjustment that it recommends.

IMG_0855Luckily, it’s easy to set the wind speed and direction from the heads up display.

A nice feature of the program is that you can “true” the data by inputting a few data points of your actual results.  This will produce a modified muzzle velocity. 

I have used the program several times with mixed results.  On one hand, I’m amazed that I could show up to a competition and shoot at distances that I’ve never shot before with a given rifle, and get some really surprising first round hits.  The first time that happened was not in competition, but I got a first round hit on a steel coyote at 770 yards in April of 2012.  On that occasion, I had only shot a few rounds of that ammo through that rifle before and I guessed at the muzzle velocity.

In August of 2012 I took a new .308 with a 20” barrel to a competition and got 9 out of 13 first round hits on small targets between 96 and 544 yards using the Shooter program.  Later in the day I got a 1stround hit on a larger target (I think 18”) at 1060 yards.  Usually the data has been very close.  It seems as though most of the time I have to adjust to it being slightly off, but this is probably due to a slightly incorrect muzzle velocity.  Like all computers, you have to know how to tell the computer what it wants to know, and the information you put in has to be correct in order for the results to be valid.  As the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.

Overall, the program has been handy to use, even taking into account my disdain for hypnotic gadgetry.  I decided to compare this gadget with the FDAC for accuracy, speed and ease of use at ranges from 200 to 500 yards (what I had handy at the time).  I’ll get to that in a few days.
  

Shaking the Technology Monkey: The Field Density Altitude Compensator

To say I’m not enamored with high tech gizmos would be an understatement (kindly overlook the fact that I write a blog).  They seem to cause people’s brains to shut down and to love tyranny.  The fact that I’ve been getting my ballistic data from an unconnected smart phone has bothered me a bit, although it seems to work alright.

When I saw a product that could allow me to access trajectory data while taking account for density altitude, without batteries, I became intrigued.  That product is the Field Density Altitude Compensator (FDAC).

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As you can see the FDAC is similar in construction to the Mil-Dot Master, which happens to be another cool and useful piece of gear.  It would have been nice if they had made the FDAC more strikingly different than the Mil-Dot Master in appearance.  It can be confusing to pull out gear that looks just about the same and choose the correct one every time.

Density altitude simplifies several different atmospheric factors that affect how easily the bullet travels through the air and it brings it all down to one number, which I believe represents the theoretical altitude at which the air density at the observed location would be considered a “standard atmosphere”.  What’s nice about density altitude is that you don’t have to keep track of all the atmospheric factors separately and try to somehow “average” them into some kind of voodoo elevation setting.  You have one number to mess with.  I’m not a science guy so I’m glad that paragraph is over.

You might wonder how you figure out the density altitude at any given location at any given time.  One way I have used is a Kestrel meter.  I love my Kestrel.  It’s a portable weather station.  It does about 50 things in addition to calculating density altitude and wind speed.  It looks really cool because it is OD green and has a red backlight and hangs on a lanyard loop.  I’ve had my Kestrel 4500 NV for 4 or 5 years now, but I think it cost me about $300.  It takes 2 AAA batteries and the battery life seems pretty good.  It takes a few minutes for the unit to get a steady reading.

The folks who came up with the FDAC, Adaptive Consulting, came up with a shortcut to calculate density altitude.  It probably isn’t as precise as the Kestrel, but they say that the battery life should be better.  To use it you have to have an idea of your location’s actual altitude and the temperature.  That shouldn’t be too tough.  I like having to pay attention to my environment.  Here’s how the FDAC inventors came up with a way to come up with density altitude:

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Find the number at the bottom that is closest you’re the temperature in your location, which in this example is 15°.  Follow the vertical line up until you reach the diagonal line that has the number that is closest to your actual elevation, which in this example is 5500.  Follow that line horizontally to the left and it will indicate your approximate density altitude, which is 4000 in this example.

Here are the rest of the instructions from the FDAC itself:

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Following our example, here’s how you’d read the dope for your conditions:

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A closer look:

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Here is what the entire card looks like when removed from the FDAC body:

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You have a couple questions that I am able to predict by the use of a complex artificial intelligence algorithm.

What if my load is not the same as whatever load they came up with?

That’s a good question, since all the slides are made for the 175 grain .308 Sierra Matchking.  What they did was figured out what other combinations fit the dope for various muzzle velocities of the 175 grain Matchking.  They put out a compatibility matrix found here.  They list 16 other .308 bullets other than the 175 Matchking at a range of velocities.  They advertise that this data should get you within 0.1 mils (about a 3rd of a minute of angle) of your bullet’s actual trajectory.  They offer a different version called the Milspec XR FDAC for more efficient long range cartridges.

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Your second question was “What if I don’t use milliradians?”

Oh yeah, I forget about you people sometimes.  If you flip the card insert over, it reads in MOA:

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One nice thing about having all the dope data on a card is that you can compare the data for different density altitudes and get an idea of how much the dope changes.  As you start to remember your dope, your ability to “fudge” the standard dope and apply it to the elevation setting for your current altitude and temperature will improve.

My first impressions of the FDAC were that it makes what can seem overly complicated about as simple as it should be.  It’s just reading dope off a chart in a familiar way, rather than doing a scientific experiment every time a shot is fired.  I was impressed at the ease of use.  As I said before, I wish it looked more different than the Mil-Dot Master.  I have a lead fishing weight hanging off my Mil-Dot Master and I still get them confused.  I wish they had used a 10 mph full value wind rather than a 5 mph, because I think it makes the math just a little easier.  I wonder how well it works to use a generic load and a generic scope height to come up with the number needed to get a hit.

I like the concept of the FDAC and will be sharing my experiences with it in the field later in the month.

Purpose

There are times when it feels like it’s hard to come up with a plan for what to do.  I recently found myself better than I ever have been in a lot of ways and basically wanting for what to do next.  I was busy with stuff other than shooting, and just didn’t find the energy or imagination to find a decent and worthy use of time and ammo.

It’s funny how one thing can provide fuel and inspiration.  One component can make you hungry and motivated, and the lack of it will lead to complacency.  Once again, if you happened to look at the title of the article, you might have seen a clue as to what I believe that component is.  If you guessed “winning the lotto jackpot”, then congratulations, YOU WON!!!  Send me a handling fee of $500 to release your winnings of $100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  (Note for those with no sense of humor: the preceding was a corny joke, not an actual attempt at fraud.  Pay no attention to the fact the I live in Nigeria.)

When I was hungry to clean the AQT at the full distance Appleseed I practiced every day, had a plan for my advancement, tended to the care and proper function of my equipment, thought about shooting all the time in a focused way, and made it to the range once or twice a week.  When the Appleseed was done I started practicing for the precision match the following week.  When that was over I decided I liked being warm, inside the house, beer was enjoyable (beer doesn’t help one’s dry fire routine much), and I liked being warm (I know I already mentioned it, but it was cold outside [those italics are meant to convey my whiny voice]).  It took a while to even make it out to the range to check my cold bore shot.

The events that you plan for will give you a framework for your advancement.  If you don’t plan for things to challenge yourself, or at all, what tangible reason will you have to be motivated to improve?  It’s all about priorities.  Most of us have busy, complicated lives.

The time we spend on any one aspect of our lives comes down to the significance, or priority, that it holds.  Comfort is immediate, and immediacy tends to be very significant in human decision making.  Hedonistic pleasure has a powerful lure that is basic to the human condition.  Modern living places consumption on an extremely high plane, generally obstructing the development of character or skill.  These are all powerful forces that work to the detriment of the character advancement of modern humans.   They typically don’t work to further the pursuit of genuine happiness, if happiness as a long term attribute can be properly discerned as distinct from the feelings of fun and pleasure, which are transitory.

I wrote recently of having a plan.  Written plans offer the greatest benefit in terms of logical flow and power of influence.  Bringing pen to paper in a deliberate way is powerful.  After taking notes, make a final draft and place it in a conspicuous place.

Part of the plan should include significant events to further your motivation to improve.  Hopefully you can find an event in which an outstanding participant would embody the attributes that are implicit in your written goals.  The key to optimizing the event to your advancement is to find something that brings you out of your comfort zone, but not to the point at which you’d be disoriented.  Once you get too comfortable or familiar with what you’re doing, you run the risk of stagnation or boredom.  At a certain level it will be difficult to improve by leaps and bounds.  At that point you will likely have attained a significant degree of skill.  Then you can stop reading my drivel.  But for now, you must continue (those italics were meant to convey a grave voice that points out an inescapable destiny).

My Super Bowl Party

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Stats:

-Cold bore shot was 0.3 mils high (1” at 100 yards)
-32 rounds fired
-3 shots fired at steel from 338, 387, and 456 yards.  One hit of three shots taken.
– I won!!! (was shooting alone, so I lost too)
-Temperature: 45 (degrees, not ACP)
-The snow has been melting.  It was muddy.  I had an interesting “shooting mat”

The objectives for this range day were to function test 2 Glocks, test my ability to hit relatively small targets at intermediate distance (200-450 yards in this case), practice reticle ranging, and begin testing of the Field Density Altitude Calculator (FDAC).  The FDAC is going to be a separate article and I don’t know if I’m going to elaborate on the Glocks in the future or not.  For now we’ll cover the shooting and the ranging.

I was able to get out of work a little early.  That went something like this (imagine the deep “boss” voice from the 1940 Donald Duck cartoon, “The Riveter”  [my voice sounds pretty much like Donald’s]):

“Say boss, would it be okay if I left a little early today?”

“Have a big Super Bowl party do you?”

“No, I need to get to the range.”

“Hmmm…”

“Just kidding, uh yeah, big new flatscreen and, um, chicken wings or something, and, um (four second pause, eyes looking up and to the right), a keg of Bud Light.”

“Oh, well that sounds fine, just fine.  Sure, you can leave a little early.”

I had about an hour of daylight/dusk-light.  That’s not very long to get in any meaningful shooting.  That means I had to be quick, efficient, and still not get in very much shooting.

I made a worksheet to streamline my shooting and data management process.  I was gathering data on my ability to gather and handle data.  I guess that makes this shooting session meta-data-tional or something.  Sounds relaxing, huh?

I’m particularly interested in how different methods of range estimation and ballistic data compare in both accuracy and speed, since both are important.  I used several methods of range estimation and retrieval of trajectory data.  I haven’t had time to go over the results yet to see which ones were most efficient, but I’ll try to unravel that as I go.

On a side note, I found a really cool use for that damned unconnected iPhone that I also use for a ballistic computer.  I hooked a 3.5mm plug into my MSA Sordins and listed to music the entire time I shot.  It was Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, SRV, and Freddie King, for those who keep track of such things.  RF was right about listening to music while shooting, it keeps the mental processes working nicely.  My only complaint is the tinny treble and lack of bass altogether in the Sordins.  They also translate sounds poorly in terms of direction.  Other than that, they are great.

I started by shooting a dot drill just to get myself dialed in.  I had created a 20 round dot drill target.  I initially called it “20 Bucks”, but the cost of ammo seems to be in flux, so I called it “$$$ Dot Drill”.  It was a typical dot drill, a nice blend of misses, misses, bad misses, and hits.  My cold bore, as I said, was 0.3 mils high, but nicely centered.  I shot 3 more with the same settings to see what happened, then adjusted 0.2 down (my best guess from distance).  The shots that I fired before adjusting down 0.2 mils were the top four.  File that sight correction away in your memory for a bit.  I had significantly less of the far right miss phenomenon.  I think it was trigger finger related.

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After that I got on with my shooting.  The setup was steel set on the berm and paper targets set up approximately 5 yards in front of that.  One shot on steel, call a hit or miss, then 3 on paper to see what the ballistic data yielded.  I have been avoiding groups, but I’m looking for data, so I couldn’t really avoid these.  I had 5 steel targets.  There were circles, 5.25”, 6.25”, 6.5” (x2), and a rounded rectangle, 9” x 10.5”.

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The target setup.

I was going to follow the paper target with 3 additional attempts on steel from other positions.  I wasn’t getting spectacular results from prone so I skipped that step this time.  I’ll try it again.

On each target I would start my stopwatch, make a visual estimate on the distance to target, record the time, use the rifle scope to take a reading on the target size in milliradians, note the time, use the Mil-Dot Master to calculate distance based on my mil reading, note the time, take a laser reading, and note the time.

After the distance was established I would attempt to recall the elevation correction from memory and note the elapsed time.  Then I would use the iPhone to provide a correction, and note the time.  Then I would use the FDAC and note the time.  I’ll go into more detail on this when I write about the FDAC, but actually I did a pretty good job of going from memory.  I was consistently within 0.1 mils of one of the other methods on every shot.

I was only able to take shots at three targets due to the falling sun.  The first was at 338 yards.  My visual estimate was 320 yards (approximately 5 seconds).  I measured the 2.5” wide target board at 2.2 mils and used the Mil-Dot Master to get an estimate of 319 yards (total elapsed time of 2:40- I had to get set up and find things in my gear).  Used the laser (47 seconds- it’s old and I had to get a calculator to divide the number of feet by 3).  I missed the 5.5” steel.  My paper target looked like this:

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0.2 mils up and 0.1 up would have put all the shots in the black.

 

b2t1 338 yards

2.94” at 338 yards is approximately 0.83 MOA.  My worst group of the day.

 

I learned that the engine vibrations make the reticle vibrate.  It’s better to shut it off and deal with the wear of constant starting of the engine.  Don’t ask questions.

I drove to the next shooting location (not a lot of daylight, remember?) and this time turned off the engine. My visual estimate was 390, again in about 5 seconds.  My initial mil reticle measurement of the target board was 2.0 (1:36 elapsed) which gave me a Mil-Dot Master range estimate of ~340.  I’m pretty familiar with the range, so I knew that couldn’t be right.  I re-measured and came up with 1.8 mils and 380 yards (2:01 elapsed).  The laser told me 387 (2:46).  Did the data thing and got a hit.  I didn’t hear it, so I assumed I missed until I saw this:

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Here’s what it looked like on paper:

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0.1 mils up would have centered this group nicely.  0.2 up would have still all been in the black.

 

b2t2 387 yards

2” at 387 yards, approximately 0.49 MOA.  Smallest size group, but second best.

I drove to the next position.  My visual estimation of 460 was complete at 0:30.  I don’t know what took so long.  I was possibly wrangling gear around or something.  I measured the same target board at 1.55 mils (elapsed time 1:00). The Mil-Dot Master told me 439 yards (elapsed time 1:30).  The laser told me 456 (2:20).  I missed the steel.  The paper looked like this:

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0.1 or 0.2 mils up would have corrected the elevation.  Same for windage.

 

b1t2 460 Yards

2.13” at 456 yards, approximately 0.45 MOA.  I seem to shoot more precisely at a bit of distance.

 

I use this range a lot, so obviously my visual estimations were based on more than just a visual estimate alone.  What is clear is that I need to work on the accuracy of my mil readings for range estimation.  Next time I will try from 200-350 yards.

What I noticed by looking at the numbers at the end was that the visual estimation is  pretty quick (of course!), but at the range I’m familiar with it would have been sufficiently accurate to get me a hit, assuming that my data and zero were both correct, which of course at least one of them was not.  The mil reading took significantly longer than using the laser (also pretty obvious).  It would be nice to try it with a rangefinder that a.) read in yards, saving me a division math problem, and b.) gave me a quicker reading.

One thing I’m curious about is the 0.2 mils down I put into my zero before I started.  0.2 mils up would have corrected all the impacts at the longer ranges I shot.  Was it the zero correction that was faulty or that data that I inputted?

Thanks for reading about my Super Bowl party.

Discouragement

Any long term effort to gain proficiency in a discipline is bound to have its share of disappointment and discouragement.  Shooting is not an exception.  There are times when I spend the drive home from the range feeling completely disappointed in myself.  Sometimes a skill has degraded.  Sometimes I don’t meet my own expectations.  Equipment breaking is always a downer.  Having shoddy equipment makes for a constant struggle.  There are also very infrequent occasions when I just completely doubt whether I should just get rid of everything and do something easier to handle, like writing a popsicle eating blog.  It would be cheaper and easier to master.

It’s important to have a strategy for dealing with discouragement.  To allow it to take hold would further degrade the state of the skill, which would be discouraging in and of itself.  Even stagnation is discouraging.  As someone once said, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”  The plan is to get better, so part of the plan should be to minimize the effect of setbacks in the overall scheme of things.

One of the things I have found helpful to keep me from wallowing in negativity is to have a plan for improvement.  It’s a lot easier to get thrown off track if you were never really on a track to begin with.  Forward momentum has a tendency to plow through smaller obstacles.  This is dependent on the strength of the momentum and the significance of the obstacle.  To me, forward momentum means a written plan, budgeted time, short and long term goals, and deadlines for the goals.  I think that actually taking a pen to paper is more effective than typing when writing this stuff down.  The greater the significance you place on your goals over time will increase the likelihood that you accomplish them.

Another tool in the box to keep things progressing is to make sure that the way forward is fun.  Even if part of the reason we undertake shooting is to further our ability in a professional capacity, the reason that we put so much energy and effort into it on our own is because we have passion for it.  If the dry fire routine gets boring, take a day off or change it up.  Sometimes I practice offhand for accuracy and sometimes for speed.  Sometimes I want to focus on the bolt work.  Sometimes I use a metronome, sometimes a timer, sometimes both.  The reason I spend so much time working offhand is that it is fun.  I can always find a way to pique my interest.

Part of what will give you the ability to keep your shooting practice interesting is to make use of your curiosity and imagination.  If you aren’t making use of those things it will be hard to make it out of mediocrity anyway.  If you find yourself hitting a wall, take a hard look at just why that is.  Don’t always look to an authority for an easy answer.  Examining things for yourself will give you genuine authority in your own right.  I can’t overemphasize that.

Finally, put discouragement in its proper context.  The first step to get better is to recognize a deficiency.  The act of recognizing a deficiency is a prime moment of opportunity.  That makes it ironic that it’s likely to coincide with a moment of discouragement.  When you experience discouragement, realize that what you’re experiencing is a growing pain on the path of improvement.  Don’t let the transitory discomfort cause you to stop at that moment and give up.  If you miss the window of opportunity you will likely find that when you do come back you’ll be in the same predicament or even worse off.

Don’t take that to mean that you need to power through a range session when you’re doing poorly.  I think it’s good advice to shoot a lot when you’re shooting well and to stop if your performance is sub par for you.  Just make sure to address the source of discouragement and get back to work as soon as possible.

Have a plan, keep it fun, and take discouragement for the opportunity it presents.  And smoke Camel cigarettes.  4 out of 5 doctors recommend Camel.