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Cleaned

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Shot my first clean in a club practice match last weekend, during rapid prone (10 shots, 70 seconds, prone). First of hopefully many more to come…

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A while back, I was looking for steel targets to set up on my property, and randomly came across ShootSteel.com (note: I have no affiliation with them, other than as a customer). They have reasonably priced steel targets made of AR500 steel in various sizes, shapes and thicknesses. I picked up a few of their round targets in 3/8″ thickness, which is supposed to be good for most handgun and rifle cartridges (up to 308 Win).

If you’ve shot at softer steel targets before, you might be skeptical that a 3/8″-thick plate would stop rifle cartridges, but having put hundreds of rounds into my targets, I can attest to their resistance to 223 rounds. I’ve shot my plates with steel-tipped M855 (5.56×45 62grain) from a 100 yards, which barely made a dimple on the plate. ShootSteel.com recommends shooting rifle cartridges from a minimum distance of 100 yards, but I’ve also shot my plates with 55gr M193 from as close as 25 yards, which also left no more than a dimple. I also haven’t observed any ricochet with 223 — as far as I can tell, the bullets just explode into tiny fragments upon impact, and most of the fragments spread sideways. (This may not be the case with other bullets/cartridges/targets, so, needless to say, take appropriate precautions when shooting at any hard object.)

For two-holed targets, heavy chains are probably the best way to hang these targets. I made the mistake of hanging my targets with some nylon rope which didn’t work too well, mostly because the 3″ and 5″ targets are light enough to get blown around like a kite in a hurricane when hit. Using heavy chains should help weigh them down.

For single-holed targets, ShootSteel.com also sells dedicated hangars that can be bolted onto a 2×4. I liked the idea of these more stationary mounts, but I didn’t feel like shelling out $16, so I improvised a similar contraption using a few dollars’ worth of materials from the local hardware store (see pics below). All you need is a bolt (I used 3/8″ bolts), couple of washers, a nut (nylon nuts would work best), and a spring. The one downside of this type of mount is that the spring may dampen the “ring” you hear on impact.

All in all, I’m very happy with the targets, so I give them two thumbs-up. I’ll be getting more plates to set up around my property for sure.

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I was recently in Beijing, and visited the Military Museum of the People’s Revolution of China. In addition to wonderfully delightful propaganda, the museum includes an impressive array of weaponry from around the world, including many US and Japanese arms “liberated” by the People’s Liberation Army over the course of the past several decades. Their collection of modern small arms is quite impressive, perhaps second only to the NRA’s National Firearms Museum (at least, that I’ve seen).

One particular item, though, caught my attention. It was an M1 Garand, but the plaque next to the rifle said it was made in China. What? I looked carefully, and noticed unusual markings on the oprod and gas cylinder. That made me wonder what was on the receiver, so I got my camera up as high as I could to get a shot at the receiver heel, and here’s what I got:

Anyone know anything about these?

BTW, that is not a Nazi symbol (the “arms” on the Nazi symbol point clockwise). The original symbol co-opted by Nazis has a deep root in Asia, and is often seen in Asian cultures in contexts completely unrelated to Nazis (for instance, in Japanese maps, they used to be used to mark temples and shrines — not sure if they still are).

According to popular mythology, firearms were first introduced to Japan in 1543 by a couple of Portuguese men shipwrecked on the island of Tanegashima. Other theories place firearms in Japan even earlier, via illegal trading routes with mainland Asia. Either way, firearms were first widely adopted in warfare in the mid-to-late 16th century, and played a significant role during that period of conflict in which the entire nation was consumed in a civil war, as feudal lords competed for the position of Shogun (a political and military leadership position sanctioned by the emperor).

The firearms used in this period were predominantly matchlock arquebuses. Since Japan at the time was under a self-imposed trade embargo and few foreign goods entered the country, craftsmen reverse engineered the few arquebuses that were brought into the country, and within a few years, a local industry appeared from the ground up to supply war lords with locally made copies. With centuries of sword making under their belts, craftsmen at the time were likely very skilled metal workers, making high quality steel available for forging barrels.

What’s interesting about the history of firearms in Japan, compared to the rest of the world (namely Europe), is that there was virtually no further development on this technology for three centuries after they were first introduced. When Matthew Perry showed up in the Gulf of Tokyo in 1853 demanding that the Japanese open its ports, the few small arms the Japanese possessed at the time were the same matchlock arquebuses used in the 16th century. Europe and the US, in the mean time, had seen the rise and fall of flintlock muskets, and was on the cusp of transitioning from percussion caps to metallic cartridges (the 22LR was invented in 1855 or so).

Why did Japan get left behind? There are three primary reasons that I’m aware of, and they have to do with the Tokugawa Shogunate, which took power in 1603, unifying the country and ending decades of civil war. Firstly, the Tokugawa shogunate, fearing rebellion, imposed heavy restrictions on the manufacturing of firearms and gun powder. Secondly, trade with foreign countries continued to be banned, so new technologies out of Europe rarely entered Japan. And lastly, under the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan saw a period of peace lasting over 250 years, and feudal lords saw little reason to invest resources in weapons development.

There also may have been a couple of other factors that are cultural. The Japanese were (and still are) a conservative people, and there was relatively little scientific or technological advancement during those 250+ years in general. It is also possible that the ruling-class samurai saw firearms as a necessary evil at a time of war, but otherwise a threat to their status, as it allowed low ranking and relatively untrained foot soldiers (who might even be “lowly” peasants during times of peace) to mow down high ranking samurai mounted on horseback from afar.

This all changed when Perry showed up. His visit acted as a catalyst for internal shifts in political thought that placed greater emphasis on the Emperor, ultimately leading to a civil war between those loyal to the Emperor (who decided to take political power away from the Shogunate), and those who were loyal to the Shogunate. Overturning the long standing embargo, both sides rapidly imported the latest in weaponry from Europe, and while often outnumbered, the Imperial forces lead a successful coup, ousting the Shogunate in 1858, thereby ending a reign lasting 264 years, practically over night. Also abolished, was the caste system, ending the era of sword-wearing samurai; replacing the sword as the primary weapon, was of course the modern firearm.

Image Top: mounted samurai with a shortened arquebus, or essentially a carbine of the day. Check out other photos here.

So, now that I’m back from the woods, I can go to the range (I never got around to setting up a range on my property, though I did spot a perfect spot for a 100yd range) and actually focus on shooting again. As part of that, I’m going to try and start a shooting journal, so that I can record (and share) some findings, and my progress. Note that I will primarily be shooting my AR-15, since my goal is to advance my NRA classification in the Highpower/Service Rifle category (my goal is to make Master (95%+) in 2010, which is a bit a stretch but attainable since I was shooting Expert (89%+) earlier this year in unregistered matches at my club — without a shooting coat).

Nov. 21

Range: Los Altos Gun Club, 100yd range
Conditions: clear/sunny, chilly (40-50F)

Yesterday was the first time I got to shoot with the Creedmoore shooting coat I bought this summer, and boy, what a difference that makes. I can’t believe I’ve been shooting for close to 3 years without it. I shot 70 rounds total, 20 off-hand standing, 30 sitting rapid, 20 slow prone, on reduced highpower targets. I focused mostly on finding comfortable positions with the jacket.

For off-hand, finding a comfortable position wasn’t hard at all. I found that if I rest the SLED (which has the same profile as a 20-round magazine) on my left palm, I can then rest my left elbow on my hip really comfortably (and the non-slip padding on the coat helps a ton too). I also found that I can rest the rifle butt much higher up on my shoulder than I can when I’m shooing without a coat, and I can also tuck my right elbow in for a firmer grip. When shooting without a coat, I had to place the stock much lower on my shoulder, and stick my elbow out to get the stock firmly square against my shoulder. So the higher placement also allows me to keep my head straighter, which is generally good.

Once I felt reasonably comfortable, I started off spending an entire firing session (usually about 15 minutes) dry firing. I focused on my NPOA (natural point of aim), doing the whole exercise of closing my eyes, simulating recoil, settling down, then opening my eyes to see where my rifle was pointed. I’d then shift my feet slightly until I settled down with the sights on-target. It took a while, because my NPOA seemed to shift from time to time.

After 15 minutes of dry firing, I moved on to live fire. By this point, my position was so comfortable that my front sight post generally stayed in the black, which was not something I’d been able to do before without a coat. Since my position was stable, I was then able to focus on the other fundamentals, like breathing. I generally take two or three deep breaths, exhale half way, then try to make a shot. I then have 6-9 seconds before oxygen depravation begins to have an adverse effect. The hard part is to remember that I don’t have to take a shot, especially in slow fire. If I don’t break the shot within that narrow timeframe, it’s much better to take a couple of breaths and try again, than to rush a shot. I’m also working on trigger control, and disciplining myself to be patient and wait for a good shot. Arguably, this sport is more about not taking bad shots, than it is about making good shots.

After my first string of 10 shots, I couldn’t believe what I saw through my scope. I’d scored a 93, beating my previous record of 88, and I hadn’t even shot my AR since April! My second string was even better, at 95, with 7 of the 10 shots in the 10-ring. In fact, I “lost” a couple of shots to the 8-ring because I couldn’t believe I was getting so many into the 10 ring.

Since I wanted to get some shooting in in all 3 positions, I moved on to sitting. Although my sitting scores have been decent (90-97) in the last several matches I shot late last year and early this year, I’ve had trouble finding a stable position. I can’t seem to decide between placing my left elbow in front of my knee, on top, or somewhere in between. With the coat on, I found a position that just felt comfortable. Comfortable is generally good because it means there aren’t any weird forces at play. I shot a few strings, but I mistakenly used reduced 300-yard targets (again, haven’t shot since April :-P) so I don’t know what scores they would’ve been, but judging by the fact that all the shots were in the black, it would’ve been up in the 90s. In general, though, my groups seemed much smaller than when shooting without a coat.

I finished with a couple of strings (one of 7 shots, another of 13) in slow prone. It actually took me a while to find a comfortable position, especially finding a good place for my left hand. I’ve heard it said that your left hand (supporting hand) should go as far forward as your sling allows, but that simply doesn’t work for me (the muzzle ends up being waaaay too low). Unfortunately, that means I have to pull my left hand in closer, and it’s not as well supported as it would be if it were up against the sling swivel. I guess that’s why match rifles have adjustable hand stops, but I shoot Service Rifle, so I have to do the best with what I’ve got. In any case, after some shuffling around, I found a reasonably comfortable position, and squeezed off some rounds. The range was closing, so I didn’t get much time to actually work on things. My group was ok, though nothing special.

Nov. 22

Range: Los Altos Gun Club, 100yd range
Conditions: foggy, then cloudy, then sunny. chilly (40-50F)

Since I got to the range kind of late, I only did 3 strings of 10, off-hand. I worked on the fundamentals again, but made a little progress on diagnosing my inconsistent NPOA issues. As it turns out, I need to do some leg work. The inconsistencies I was seeing (basically, where my NPOA would appear to shift even though my feet haven’t moved) were caused by my knees, and whether they were slightly bent or locked. Locking my knees seem to be more stable, but it’s only comfortable to do so if my feet are oriented just so, in relation to my body. And in the process of shuffling my feet to adjust my NPOA, they may or may not settle in an orientation where locking my knees is possible or comfortable. It seems more often than not that having my knees slightly bent is more comfortable, but I just have to remember that and not lock it. The general remedy seems to be to just check my NPOA regularly, and remember what state my legs were in when I found my NPOA.

I also noticed that when it was foggy and cloudy, I was shooting high. I think this is because I use a six o’clock hold with a line of white (basically, my front sight post is under the black, with a little bit of white showing in between). I generally like this because with a true six o’clock hold where the front site post touches the black, I have a hard time judging whether they are just touching, or the post is slightly in to the black. Leaving a line of white allows me to judge more precisely how close or far my front sight post is from the black. Unfortunately, this also makes my hold more susceptible to variations due to lighting conditions. When it’s sunny, that line of white will appear brighter and thicker than when it’s foggy or dark.

I don’t remember my scores from today, but they weren’t anything too special. The first two strings were solidly in the 90s (I think one was 95, the other slightly lower). But then, on the 4th shot of the 3rd string, I flinched. I think I was thinking too much, and for whatever reason, I flinched, and the shot went off the paper. But, what was more significant to me, was that I managed to not let that affect me, and put the subsequent 6 shots all in the 9 and 10 rings. Of course, if I were shooting in an actual match, I might not have recovered from that bad shot quite as well, but it’s good to get practice in screwing up too.

AccurateShooter has an article about a couple of ways to protect your guns from rust, for instance, when storing them away for the winter. I had to put all my guns into storage for a few months earlier this year, and although I live in a relatively dry climate (California) I didn’t want to take any chances, especially since I wasn’t sure I’d get them back out before the wetter seasons. Personally, I’m too lazy/busy to coat every single metal component on every single one of my guns with some protectant, but I’m too cheap to buy nice gun socks for them all, so I ended up getting ZERUST gun bags from Creedmoor. At $4 a bag, they seemed to strike the right cost-performance point, although they are not perfect either. My main complaint with these bags is their size. They were too short for my Swedish Mauser (I ended up using two bags), and too narrow for my AR-15 (I left the butt stock sticking out). Nonetheless, if you’re lazy and cheap like me, they may be an acceptable solution.

A call to arms… er, phones

In my previous post about AB 962, commenter “glen” pointed out:

There’s a very active grass-roots effort underway at Calguns.net to contact the Governor urging defeat of AB 962 (and SB 585, the Cow Palace gun show ban). Please write the Gov. Schwarzenegger and urge him to veto this bill — he’s our last chance to avoid another huge insult to our Second Amendment rights.

In one of the mailing lists I’m on, someone pointed out how easy it is to call the governator and voice your opinion. In fact, you don’t even actually have to utter a word, which is great (if you’re like me and am slightly apprehensive of talking to people over the phone).

Step 1: Call 916-445-2841 (Governor)
Step 2: Press 1 for English
Step 3: Press 2 to comment on a bill
Step 4: Listen for AB962 option
Step 5: Press 2 for Oppose (VETO)

When I tried, the line was busy the first time, but went through the second time. You might need to try a couple of times to get through, or call “off hours” when other people are asleep (it’s automated, so your call will still go through).

As I mentioned in my previous post, you can also write the Governator a letter online at this link too: http://www.gov.ca.gov/interact

Oh, and don’t forget to pass on the word.

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