Category Archives: Editor’s Picks

Triple K Vintage Grips and Buttplates

From the later decades of the 19th century until the early years of the 20th, ornately figured grips made from “plastic” were an industry standard for revolvers pretty much without regard to the quality or price of the arm. In the pre-petroleum era, gutta percha and other tree-sap material were state of the art. They were very attractive but approached mother of pearl or blown glass in fragility. It is almost a given that vintage revolvers encountered in the present day will have some portion of the original grip missing. This was the case with an otherwise pristine H&R American Double Action I found recently, and I wanted accurate period proxies for my 1925-made Police Positive in .38 Colt New Police as an alternative to the well-worn walnuts original to the revolver. Both were readily available from Triple K Manufacturing at a very reasonable price.

The grips are made from molds directly copied from original grips and resemble the historic items exactly. The sets proved a perfect fit to the grip frames of my revolvers and the only departure from complete authenticity is the use of petroleum-based plastic that is virtually unbreakable under normal usage. The screw/escutcheon kits are separate items available in case the originals are not available. The set that came with my Police Positive grips were a perfect fit but the H&R grips required (careful) drilling for flush mounting of the escutcheons.

A wide variety of vintage pistol and revolver grips are available with more on the way as Triple K locates originals to copy. Another item on my wish list is a copy of the original horn buttplate on my Browning Sweet 16 that has, like almost every member of that family, been mined by boring insects. Not surprisingly, these are prominently displayed in the Triple K Online Store.
By Mike Cumpston

Triple K Manufacturing Co.
2222 Commercial Street
San Diego, CA 92113
(619) 232-2066
Colt Police Positive “C” Grips: $33
Screw and escutcheons: $13.50

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The Sightmark Pinnacle

An Optimized Glass For Today’s Tactical Rifles.

We black rifle aficionados were once a fairly disenfranchised mob. Nowadays, however, Americans ranging from teenagers to grandparents enjoy shooting AR-15’s all across our great republic. The gear to support such stuff is big business and the inevitable cross-pollination with the military drives the evolving state of the art to ever more rarefied strata.

There is certainly a place in this world for inexpensive stuff sold in blister packs at Walmart. I own a fair amount myself. However, there is also a niche for high-end mechanical art that embodies state of the art precision and borders upon optical perfection. Such is what we shall discuss today.

Calibers .223 and .308 feed the weapons of most tactical shooters in America. The mil-pedigree of these two cartridges means they will drive most of the iron encountered on shooting ranges today. However, in response to the exploding market for legal sound suppressors comes the .300 AAC or .300 Blackout. This unique 7.62x35mm cartridge utilizes a .30-caliber projectile mounted atop a modified .223 cartridge case. The liberal helping of awesome this brings to the table is that .300 AAC rounds can be readily had in both supersonic and subsonic loadings. When stoked with subsonic .300 AAC a suppressed AR rifle enjoys the many splendored benefits of a large caliber weapon adequate to take hogs, antelope, or deer while rendering conventional earplugs obsolete. If you haven’t already, run a magazine of subsonic .300 AAC ammo through somebody’s sound-suppressed rifle. It will change your life.

The rub is simply that while governments come and go, the dicta of physics remain immutable law. When you change velocity for a given bullet weight and profile the resulting trajectory changes predictably as well. For the dedicated shooter who is serious about his craft, Sightmark produces two pieces of combat glass perfectly optimized for these particular cartridges.


The Sightmark Pinnacle scopes are optimized tactical optics for
serious shooters. Packed with features and offering flawless
precision, the Pinnacle scopes are precision sighting tools.


Throw levers on the Sightmark CJRK 1-piece mount are long and handy.
AR rifles will need an extended charging handle latch for adequate clearance,
or the mount’s levers can be repositioned to work from the front.


The Sightmark Pinnacle TMD model scope is designed for today’s quality
black rifles. Interchangeable elevation turrets allow the scope to be
optimized for .223 or .308 platforms.

Efficiency And Compromise

Typically, compromise is like kissing your sister. The theory is sound but there is little satisfaction in the execution. In the case of combat optics, the challenge is divining some way to run the rifle up close as well as far away without cluttering up your rails unduly.

Pivoting magnifiers snap in place easily enough but they typically offer a fixed magnification and add yet another instrument to your rifle’s precious real estate with its commensurate weight and mechanical liability. In the case of the Sightmark Pinnacle, the goal is clearly to be all things for all operators nestled snugly within the same 24mm tube. After a little time spent turning ammunition into noise it turns out they did a simply splendid job.

The Sightmark Pinnacle incorporates a first focal plane reticle and a battery-powered illuminated aiming point user-selectable in both red and green. A first focal plane reticle simply means the stadia lines move along with the power adjustments. Therefore rangefinding and holdovers are true at any setting. The Pinnacle is adjustable from 1X to 6X by turning the knurled adjustment knob. Turrets can be had capped or open.

As with all first focal plane scopes, when the power adjustment is turned down to 1X the reticle all but disappears. At that point fire up the illuminated aiming point and you have a both-eyes-open tactical solution maximized for those times when you are close enough to smell what the threat had for dinner.

Roll the power knob up for distance work and the reticle springs to life. The onboard Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) on both Sightmark Pinnacle models is meticulously calibrated for their specific loadings. The TMD version sports a reticle calibrated in mils and comes with two interchangeable elevation turrets. These turrets compensate for bullet drop for either .223 or .308 loads dependent upon the platform. Gross range estimation via the TMD reticle is based upon typical head size. With the appropriate turret the Pinnacle TMD can be swapped seamlessly between .308 and .223 rifles.

The AAC variant compensates for subsonic vs. supersonic .300 AAC loadings at a glance using nothing more than the etched reticle in the sight.
Holdover is determined based upon typical shoulder width, the aforementioned mantra of physics mandating bullet strikes for these two loads be markedly different at different ranges. Place the stadia lines on the left of the array across the shoulders of a target to range subsonic loads. Lines on the right side of the reticle accomplish the same end with supersonic rounds. Using nothing more than the reticle lines a skilled shooter can range either load with remarkable accuracy all the way out to 800 yards.


Sightmark scopes (above) maximize the effectiveness of these tactical rifles. Whether you
run .223, .308, or .300 AAC, the Sightmark Pinnacle line of premium rifle scopes can help
deliver precision fire from across the room all the way out to the maximum effective range
of the round. The Sightmark Pinnacle AAC (below) is designed around the revolutionary .300
AAC cartridge. Using nothing more than the reticle in the scope, an experienced shooter can
compensate for bullet drop for both supersonic and subsonic loads out to 800 meters.



The revolutionary .300 AAC cartridge maximizes the effectiveness of the suppressed AR platform.
Sufficient to take big game like deer and pigs, yet available in subsonic loadings, the .300
AAC mates beautifully to the Sightmark Pinnacle AAC tactical optic. Both subsonic and supersonic
.300 AAC rounds are comparably reliable in an AR rifle. The reticle on the Sightmark Pinnacle
AAC tactical optic facilitates instant bullet drop compensation between these two loads.

Unmatched Versatility

Up close with the aiming point illuminated and the scope screwed down to 1X makes for a both-eyes-open CQB solution to equal any dedicated close range optic. Addressing targets at longer ranges is as simple as turning the power adjustment knob. The actual minutiae of ballistics are unique based upon load and barrel length and it takes practice to match the particulars of an individual rifle and load to a scope. However, so long as you master your craft, the Sightmark Pinnacle will lob those big honking .30-caliber slugs right where you want them all the way out to the ballistic limits of the round using nothing more than the reticle for drop compensation.

Swapping the TMD version between .223 and .308 platforms showed the dedicated elevation turrets to be similarly effective for these two rounds. The TMD allows a single optic to be swapped between different rifles in either caliber, re-zeroed and then shot accurately to any reasonable range. Practical results are obviously a function of ammunition, barrel length, shooter skill and a half dozen other factors, but the Sightmark TMD Pinnacle is a precision instrument designed around these two popular military cartridges.

The Sightmark Pinnacle is an expensive piece of glass. However, its optical clarity approaches perfection and the mechanical aspects are simply superb. Workmanship is top flight throughout and the design is robust enough for hard use. The throw-lever mount allows the scope to be removed without losing zero. While the long levers on the mount make for easy manipulation they do stick out far enough to interfere a bit with the charging handle on an AR. Add an extended charging handle latch and you have plenty of clearance.


The reticle on the Sightmark Pinnacle AAC (above) allows instant bullet drop compensation
for both subsonic and supersonic .300 AAC loads. Stadia lines on the right side of the
reticle correlate with supersonic 125-grain loads while the lines on the left correlate
with subsonic 220-grain rounds. Orient the lines across a typical set of shoulders and
you instantly have the appropriate holdover. The illuminated reticle on the Sightmark
Pinnacle AAC optic is an easy-to-pick-up chevron. Illumination is user-selectable
between red or green at several different brightness settings.


The reticle on the Sightmark Pinnacle TMD allows manual range finding based upon
typical head size. Exchanging the external elevation turrets calibrates the scope
for .223 or .308 rifles. For up close work or shooting in low light conditions the
Sightmark Pinnacle TMD reticle is manually illuminated in either green or red.

The Sightmark Pinnacle is a refined tool for professionals. The illuminated aiming point draws the eye and is lightning fast for indoor operations. Additionally, the accomplished marksman can accurately estimate range, compensate for the ballistic personality of the individual round and accomplish the appropriate holdover to achieve first shot hits with these four specific loadings as far out as they might reasonably shoot.

My own gun collection is liberally smattered with cheap rifle scopes. A couple are impressive, most do OK and a few simply fell to pieces with their first hard use. If you are serious enough about your craft to spring for the good stuff, then the Pinnacle from Sightmark really is a Cadillac solution. The clarity is stunning, the illuminated reticle draws the eye for CQB applications, and the dedicated Bullet Drop Compensators fit the unique eccentricities of these four cartridges like your favorite pair of broken-in boxer shorts.

Perfection is expensive but some of us find ourselves dissatisfied with anything less. The Pinnacle from Sightmark is tailor-made for black rifle guys in that category.
By Will Dabbs, MD
Photos By Sarah Dabbs

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Gorilla Ammunition
3895 39th Square
Vero Beach, FL 32960
(772) 766-5805

Pinnacle 1-6×24 TMD & AAC
Maker: Sightmark
(817) 225-0310

Magnification: 1X to 6X
Objective Diameter: 24mm
Eye Relief: 4 inches
Internal Adj. Range: 144 inches elevation & windage at 100 yards (both TMD & AAC, Click Value: 0.1 MRAD (TMD), 1/2 MOA (AAC)
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Weight: 20.4 ounces
Overall Length: 10.24 inches
Reticles: Illuminated (TMD), CDC-300 (AAC)
Price: $1,439.99


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Smith & Wesson’s Model 52 .38 Master

This Classic Bull’s-Eye Semi-Auto Pistol Is
Chambered For The .38 Special Mid-Range Wadcutter.

It was a pistol target shooters could only dream about—a .38 Special autoloader that held its groups into 2-inches or less at 50 yards. Yes, there had been prior 1911-frame-based .38 Special automatics before the S&W Model 52’s debut in September 1961, but they were the handcrafted creations of gifted gunsmiths like James Clark with his .38 Conversion and the gunsmiths of the US Army Marksmanship Training Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., working with their unique .38 AMU ammunition, a semi-rimless, .38 Special round designed for enhanced stacking and feeding from an autoloader magazine.

The introduction of the Smith & Wesson Model 52 chambered for .38 Special, mid-range, wadcutter ammunition was a stunning first—the first successful, factory, .38 Special target autoloader ever launched, and it took the target shooting community by storm.

The story really begins in 1946 when C.R. Hellstrom took over the reins as President of Smith & Wesson. Hellstrom was intrigued by Germany’s P-38, double-action, 9mm pistol. Sensing there might be large military and a police market interested in an American-designed, American-made, double-action, 9mm pistol, Hellstrom assigned the design task to master mechanic, Joseph W. Norman, head of the Experimental and Product Development Department.

Norman designed what would eventually become known as the Model 39. Interestingly enough, two lines of 9mm chambered prototypes were made for distribution and testing by the military and law enforcement communities—a single action, designated the Model 44, and a double action, given the Model 39 moniker. The Model 44 single action failed to generate any market enthusiasm. The Model 39, on the other hand, was enthusiastically received, and the alloy frame model was put into full production in 1957.

In 1960, the US Army Marksmanship Training Unit requested that S&W build them both steel and alloy framed Model 39 ’s chambered for their .38 AMU cartridge for testing and evaluation as competitive target arms. S&W complied, but the USAMTU decided not to go ahead with the wholesale adoption of the design.


The Model 52 had to pass an accuracy spec at 50 yards before it was shipped.

Now for a little collector’s story. The initial model designation given those USAMTU prototypes was the Model 39-1, but then it occurred to S&W that the unsold Model 39-1’s chambered for the unique .38 AMU cartridge might one day become confused with the standard Model 39 in 9mm Luger. The alloy frame Model 39-1’s still in inventory were then stamped with the designation, Model 52. In 1964, three years after the successful introduction of the Model 52 .38 Master, S&W decided to release the Model 52 (formerly the Model 39-1 in .38 AMU caliber) into the marketplace. Once again they had to differentiate the USAMTU Model 52 from the Model 52 .38 Master so they stamped an “A” after the USAMTU model number, making them Model 52-A’s. If you ever find a Model 52-A in the serial number range 35,850-35,927, it’s a very rare bird since less than 87 were ever released, but it could be worth up to $3,000 if authenticated.

Their experiences with the US Army Marksmanship Training Unit and steel framed Model 39’s in .38 AMU caliber certainly galvanized S&W to develop a commercial, target grade, centerfire, autoloader as a companion piece to their highly successful Model 41 rimfire target model. The qualities they were pursuing in the new autoloader were high accuracy, functional reliability, balanced handling, a competition grade trigger and target quality sights.


A micrometer adjustable target sight (above) matched up with a Patridge front
sight (below) provided high definition and zero backlash.


The decision was made to chamber the new pistol for conventional, mid-range, .38 Special ammunition featuring a wadcutter bullet seated flush with the end of the case. The initial Model 52 .38 Master, introduced in 1961, used the lockwork of the Model 39, which was modified to single action only by the addition of a setscrew.

S&W’s claim for each Model 52 released was 10-shot, 10-ring accuracy at 50 yards from a machine rest. The 50-yard pistol target’s 10-ring measures 3.39 inches. In his book, The History of Smith & Wesson, Roy Jinks, the official S&W historian, states, “… to insure the accuracy of the pistol, extra-rigid inspection was incorporated by having the Model 52 machine rest tested at 50 yards to assure that the pistol would shoot 5-shot groups having a maximum spread of two inches. Any pistol that could not meet this standard was returned to production for reworking.”
Five-shot, 2-inch-or-less groups at 50 yards from a factory autoloader are simply otherworldly.

One of the secrets of the Model 52 is in the fit of the barrel to the model’s unique barrel bushing. There is an enlarged ring at the muzzle end of the barrel, which is closely fitted to the barrel bushing by tightening and locking the notched barrel bushing in place with a special spanner wrench. Another secret is a target trigger measuring only 2-3/4 pounds on my Lyman electronic gauge, and another secret is the competition quality target sights fully adjustable and without the least hint of backlash.

Because of tight tolerances and rigid inspections of the Model 52, only 90 pistols were built in 1961. Production in 1962 was only 1,078 for this flagship model. Total production for the original Model 52 made from 1961 to 1963 was 3,500 units.


The Model 52 magazine (above) held only 5 mid-range, .38 Special flush-mouth wadcutters.
Over-travel of the light, crisp trigger of the Model 52 (below) was controlled by a stop screw.


Because of tight tolerances and rigid inspections of the Model 52, only 90 pistols were built in 1961. Production in 1962 was only 1,078 for this flagship model. Total production for the original Model 52 made from 1961 to 1963 was 3,500 units.

Complaints about the M-39 double-action trigger modified to single action poured in from competitors and, in 1963, S&W designed a completely new and dedicated single action, target trigger and hammer. The newly configured model was designated the Model 52-1, which was produced from 1963 to 1971. In 1971, the factory installed an improved, coil spring tensioned extractor developed originally for the Model 39, giving it the new designation of Model 52-2. The Model 52-2 was the last variation of the Model 52, and it was the last of its breed, being discontinued in 1993.

The last retail for the Model 52-2 (with two, 5-shot magazines, its unique barrel bushing wrench, cleaning rod and brush) was $908. It was always an expensive handgun.

Model 52’s are not uncommon on the used market and on Internet auction sites but be prepared to pay $1,000 or more for a gun in good condition with two magazines and that ever-essential Model 52 barrel-bushing wrench.

The development of the S&W Model 52 .38 Master is one of the great stories in the world of competition handguns. In the hands of marksmen like Bill Blankenship, it went on to win world championships, and it is as competitive today as it was 54 years ago.

History of Smith & Wesson by Roy Jinks, hardcover, 290 pages ©1977, out-of-print.
By Holt Bodinson

MAKER: Smith & Wesson
2100 Roosevelt Ave
Springfield, MA 01104
(800) 331-0852

Action: Single-action autoloader
Caliber: .38 Special, mid range wadcutter
Magazine Capacity: 5
Barrel length: 5 inches
Overall length: 8 5/8 inches
Weight: 41 ounces
Sights: 1/8 inch partridge (front)
Micrometer adjustable (rear)
Sight radius: 6 15/16 inches
Stocks: Checkered walnut
Finish: Blue
Value: $950
(35th Edition of the Blue Book of Gun Values by S.P. Fjestad)

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Big-Chassis AR’s

Here Are Some Expert Tips On How To Make A
“Powered-Up” Platform Run Reliably.

Once there was one, the ArmaLite AR-10. That created quite a stir. Then there was another, the Knight’s Armament SR-25. That one created even more of a stir. Today there are many.

What I’m referring to is what is perhaps best termed a “big-chassis” AR. The popularity of the upscaled platform seems to increase yearly, along with the options in manufacturers and in available variations. The good news is, prices have dropped. It’s pretty easy these days to spec-down a custom configuration sheet and assemble a collection of quality parts if you’re a do-it-yourselfer. So I’d like to offer a few of my takes on the big guns, and share a few ideas that could help increase your happiness.


Big-chassis rifles haven’t set NRA High Power Rifle competition on its ear like some hoped.
Building a viable competition gun on a big chassis requires considerably more work compared
to its little brother. This one (below) was built on a milled DPMS component set and chambered
in 6XC. It is the best Glen has seen, and the main reason is the cartridge—a radical evolution
of a .250 Savage with considerably less volume than a .308 case, but still delivers equivalent
velocity. Less propellant, less gas and more room in the magazine box for bullet seating
flexibility. Reducing inherent accuracy detriments required a good deal of machining
modifications to action components, most notably the bolt (above), carrier assembly
and barrel extension.



Truth is, big-chassis rifles have their issues, and always have had. I don’t have room to cover them all, so I’ll go with—and define—those I think need the most attention.

The whole appeal of the big-chassis is pretty simple to grasp. That would be power. A main objection to the AR-15 series is its lightweight cartridge. Few would classify the 7.62 NATO or .308 Winchester as “lightweight.” So it stands to reason if you put the time-honored battle-rifle round into an AR configuration, it’s going to provide more appeal. (The original Stoner design, was, in fact, the AR-10.)

A scaled-up bolt and bolt face, bolt carrier, and upper receiver makes it possible to accommodate the .308 round. But right there is the source of most issues. The bigger bolt face and lengthier receiver means there’s a whopping chunk of reciprocating mass being fueled by a correspondingly whopping dose of propellant gases.

Most factory-made big-chassis rifles use (essentially) AR-15 gas system configuration specs, and that creates a problem. Gas-port pressure—not chamber pressure—is the issue. Gas-port pressure is the propellant pressure at the at the actual port location. The higher the pressure, the more gas enters the operating system.

When too much gas gets into and through the gas tube, there is then too much thrust passed on through to the carrier. And the carrier gets hit too hard—resulting in what some refer to as “over-function.” While this isn’t a precise description, it simply means there’s way more juice than there needs to be. The bolt unlocks too quickly and the carrier assembly slams back against the buffer and spring with an overabundance of force.

Premature Unlocking

Then a few bad things can happen. The first is when the bolt unlocks prematurely, wreaks havoc on cartridge cases, and can create functional ills. All semi-auto’s can succumb to premature unlocking (M1A’s, for example, are notorious for it). If the bolt starts to unlock when the cartridge case is still swelled up against the rifle chamber walls, the extractor yanks away at it, trying to remove it from the chamber. The extractor can yank off a portion of the case rim, or lose its hold on the rim and slip right over it. Then the case doesn’t extract.

Premature unlocking allows excessive expansion of the case. In an extreme instance the case can rupture in the head area. At the least, inspection will usually show evidence of excessive stretching in the case-head area, and measurements will show additional cartridge headspace growth. When there’s an instant where the case is not fully encased by the chamber, it can blow out to bigger dimensions. None of that may matter to anyone who doesn’t reload.

It’s worth noting here, we are talking about milliseconds, but these scant ticks of time have a huge effect on the function of any firearm.
If the additional velocity imparted to the bolt carrier assembly doesn’t abate during its rearward cycle, the assembly can change directions too quickly and rebound rapidly enough so the bolt may override the next cartridge waiting in the magazine. These are all also symptoms AR-15 carbines can exhibit, and they stem from the same essential cause—too doggone much gas. A stouter buffer spring helps here.


One solution to taming a big chassis AR is to relocate the gas port forward. At right
is a competition gun built for NRA High Power Rifle champion Carl Bernosky. At left is
a standard configuration DPMS .308 LR. Carl’s gun is chambered in .243 Winchester and
has a 4-inch displacement forward in the port location.


If you’re loading for .308, replicating Lake City Match ammo will give your big chassis
gun the required port-pressure characteristics and reduce the chance of over-function.
There’s a discourse on handloading for M1A’s on Glen’s website,
Follow it if you’re a big-chassis rifle owner. And stay away from heavy bullets over 175 grains.

The ultimate fix to excessive port pressure is relocating the gas port forward toward the muzzle. Try to picture the flow of gas through the bore, like an ocean wave that swells and then diminishes. We want this “wave” to crest away from the gas port area, reducing the amount of gas entering the system. Of course, this can only be done on a custom-barreled project. To get a clearer picture of just how much extra pressure is being dealt with, it’s routine for a custom builder to relocate the gas port 1 inch farther forward on an AR-15 Match Rifle (a .223 with a 24- to 26-inch barrel). The routine change for a custom big-chassis gun chambered in, say, .260 Remington, is 4 inches farther ahead. There’s that much difference. There’s that much pressure. For a .308 with a 24-inch barrel, 2 or 3 inches makes a big difference.

Smaller calibers increase port pressure due both to diminished bore volume and also to the slower-burning propellants that normally back up most smaller-caliber .308-based derivatives. Slower-burning propellants produce their peak pressures farther down the barrel, nearer the gas port. On top of it, many big-chassis rifles are going to have 24-inch barrels, and that by itself increases gas pressure contained inside the bore.

Propellant selection (which also includes your factory ammo choice) is the most readily available way to tame the pressures. A handloader should choose a propellant that’s on the faster-burning end of suitability, which in my estimation is anything this side of Hodgdon Varget. And know your factory ammo! Mil-spec 7.62 NATO rounds will have a more suitable port pressure peak than factory hunting loads. Mil-spec rounds are developed for gas guns. Again, this is even more an issue with the .260 Remington and .243 Winchester since both these rounds respond so well to relatively slow-burning propellants.

Delaying bolt unlocking, again, is the goal. Other means to attain it include increased carrier weight via aftermarket inserts, a stouter buffer spring and incorporating some means for gas bleed-off in the gas system. It’s not that difficult to install an adjustable gas tube or gas manifold. Both are effective and provide a means to alter the volume of gas entering the gas tube.

The bolt carrier assemblies on big-chassis guns weigh around 20 ounces, almost double that of an AR-15. When that much metal moves back at that much velocity, you’re talking about a “hit and a half.”


If it will fit your barrel configuration, this Armforte adjustable gas tube provides
easy means to restrict excess gas from getting into and through the gas tube. An
adjustable gas manifold or gas block is another option.


A big-chassis bolt carrier (top) is nearly double the weight of an AR-15’s (below).
Forces imparted by the reciprocating mass means taking precautions with trigger function
with a big-chassis gun. Many aftermarket AR-15 triggers can be shocked into malfunctions.
Of the 2-stage competition triggers, the Knight’s and Geissele are good choices. JP
Enterprises makes a single-stage specifically for this rifle.

Extractor Woes

Polishing the extractor so it slides more easily over the cartridge rim helps reduce the all-too-frequent experience of the case shoulder taking a hit upon chambering. Compounding this problem is the tendency for many to install the “D-ring” style inserts to increase spring pressure in the extractor to remedy the extraction failures mentioned earlier. A good chamber polish also works wonders for extraction ease. As I hope is now clear, extraction failures are a result of premature bolt unlocking, not a weak extractor spring.

Bolt-stop breakage is another sore spot. The stops break because they get hit so hard by the behemoth bolt-carrier assembly. Shortening bolt-stop overrun—which is the amount of clearance between bolt face and stop at the limit of the carrier assembly’s rearward movement—is the solution. Get it set to about the width of a nickel. I use those adhesive-backed phenolic pads intended to cushion buffer impact.

Pierced primers plague the big-chassis platform. The reason? The firing pin hole in the bolt is too dang big! It cannot be fixed by snugging the fit between the pin hole and the pin! It’s a physics thing. The only solution is to drill out the hole and then sweat in a bushing having a smaller diameter hole. I don’t know why the industry continues to manufacture bolts with oversized firing pin holes. AR-15 specs call for a vicinity of 0.063 inch (I won’t use one that’s even 0.065), and somewhere around 0.072+ seems to be the norm for big-chassis bolts I’ve measured. In fact, I’ve seen them as large as 0.082.

This of course just touches the surface of these Big Chassis AR’s. We’ll do more next time.
By Glen Zediker

Brownells Inc.
200 South Front St.
Montezuma, IA 50171
(800) 741-0015

Superior Shooting Systems Inc.
800 N. 2nd St.
Canadian, TX 79014
(806) 323-9488

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3-Gun Part 1

Lets Look At The Handgun.

Competitive shooters are mostly purists. They shoot one discipline and work to excel in that one game. To become a dominant force in any game, it’s necessary to focus all your energy and ability on that one discipline. Very seldom, you see a high-power rifle shooter partake in a Silhouette match, or a Skeet shooter competing at Trap. But in 3-Gun competition—well that’s a different game and the shooters are a different breed. If you haven’t heard of 3-Gun competition, you haven’t been listening. Three-Gun Competition is the fastest growing shooting sport right now.

So, if most shooters are purists, why is this shooting sport growing so quickly? If you’ve never shot a 3-Gun competition, it’s easy to ask the question, but once you’ve stepped out on the range of a 3-gun event and actually shot in a match, you’ll understand the appeal. This game will challenge even the most experienced of shooters. However, there is a lot to this game. The guns, the gear, the targets, the strategy.

Three-Gun is exactly what its name says. Three different guns used in the same course of fire—a pistol, rifle and shotgun. Most shooters use a 9mm semi-auto handgun, but there are .38 Super’s and .40 S&W’s, depending on the division. The rifle is an MSR (a modern sporting rifle, usually built on an AR-platform) with a barrel length between 18 and 20 inches and a 30-round magazine. The shotgun is a semi-auto with extended magazine tube and interchangeable chokes. Both shotshells and slugs are used.

And that’s just the guns. Let’s talk gear. Without a doubt, this is the most gear-intensive game I’ve dealt with. In Olympic rifle, shooters hauled their gear in little wagons there was so much and the same holds true in 3-Gun. Some shooters use specifically designed 3-Gun bags carried on their back. All three guns, all the ammo, magazines, holsters, shell carriers, etc., but those bags can weigh up to 70 pounds or more. That’s a lot of weight to carry around all day. I swore I would never use a wagon, but that was before I came across 3-Gun.

Three-Gun competitions consist of numerous unique and different stages. Each stage is set with a mixture of targets—paper, steel and clay. There is no set number of stages or a regulated consistent course of fire in. It’s up to the creativity of the course designer, which is what makes the game so challenging. Each stage usually requires the use of all three guns, and the most important factor is speed. How fast you can shoot through the stage is the key and oh… one other thing: hit all the targets.

Economy of movement is essential. Whether it’s in the draw, in the reloading of magazines or shotshells, in the transition from one gun to the next or in the amount of steps it takes to get into position. All are strategized and scrutinized. Seconds matter and each second is taken into consideration. If turning right instead of left to engage the next target saves a half second, turn right. Missing one target might force a reload and seconds are wasted. A sloppy reload is a disaster. After watching some of the top 3-Gun shooters, I would say the mantra for 3-Gun is: The smoother you are, the faster you are and the slower you look.

Now, I covered many 3-Gun competition’s over the years, personally know many of the pro-shooters and have shot parts of the event at different times, but I never actually entered and shot an entire event… until the Brownells Lady 3-Gun Pro-Am Challenge a few months ago. Deciding to shoot this event, I looked through my gun safe determining what I had and what I would need. I’ve accumulated a lot of handguns, rifles and shotguns over the years, but none of my handguns would work for this competition. So, I saw this as an opportunity for a new gun.


Nighthawk gunsmith Brian Chaney is breaking the internal edges of
the frame, which enhances the trigger’s crisp, clean feel.


Shari’s competition 1911 starts as a jumble of parts and
each is fitted by just one gunsmith at Nighthawk.

The Handgun

This game requires a lot of equipment and getting into it can be a bit expensive, depending on the type of guns and gear you choose. Manufacturers are making guns and gear just for 3-Gun competition. Companies such as FNH USA, Smith & Wesson, Glock and STI and numerous others all make guns for this event, so it boils down to how much you want to spend. However, in 3-Gun, the handgun is the most used, so you need a good quality pistol accurate, reliable, fast and easy to make safe.

In trying to pick up precious seconds, competitors are always seeking to tinker with their equipment. Quicker draws, faster ways to reload are always on top of everyone’s mind. For my first competition, I used a Nighthawk Custom 1911 9mm Dominator. I knew I needed a gun customized to me, and in today’s market, where handguns come off an assembly line like candy, I didn’t want to have to spend the extra time and additional dollars customizing the gun to me and the game.

I called Nighthawk Custom and we started the process by finding out what the intended use of the gun was and they proceeded to build it specifically for that purpose. In 3-Gun, where a slight equipment anomaly can add a few seconds and drop you from the top 10 to the bottom 100, a handgun built specifically to you and to what its use is—notice I didn’t say “for”—can make a world of difference.

After my initial order, I received a call from Bryan Chaney, the gunsmith who was building the gun asking me question after question. Am I right-or left-handed? What was the size of my hand? What kind of shooter was I? (I did confess I was a career shotgun shooter and pistol was not my specialty.) What type of competition was I using it for? What type of sight do I prefer? What ammunition will I be using? So many questions, but as Bryan explained to me, he was fitting the pistol to the person.

It takes about a day and a half to build a gun and at Nighthawk I found it’s one person who takes the gun from start to finish. It was like having my own personal gunsmith. With this gun, Bryan thinned the front frame strap and mainspring housing for me so I would have more control. An additional extractor was added, finished and tuned and a “Blended Falcon 1-Piece Magwell / Mainspring Housing Combination was added. I opted for a black adjustable rear sight with red fiber optic front.

Bryan knew I was using the gun in competition and didn’t want anything to affect it’s performance. Before it was sent out, he shot it, running 2 to 4 magazines through it. When the gun arrived, I noticed Bryan’s initials on it. Nighthawk gunsmith’s take pride in building their guns and the one’s they build become a part of them. If anything is needed, it comes back to that gunsmith. If I had questions or concerns, I could just pick up the phone and call him directly. When I shot the gun for the first time, it was smooth and soft. I had a gun ready for me and for 3-Gun.


Shari LeGate on a stage shoots her Nighthawk Custom 1911
9mm at the Brownells Lady 3-Gun Competition.

Just Do It

I had my equipment and was now ready to make my debut into 3-Gun. Showing up at any event for the first time can be intimidating, especially if you truly don’t know what you’re doing (and I didn’t). But having the courage to show up and give it my best effort was half the battle. No one laughed and pointed fingers, quite the contrary. I was welcomed by competitors and range officers alike, and everyone offered help and advice.

This is a fast game and requires a lot of thinking ahead. I have new respect for 3-gun shooters. It’s not a game for the faint of heart or pocketbook, but it’s a game that will give you a taste of all the disciplines. Be forewarned though, patience is a virtue here. The sport of 3-Gun is easy to learn, but difficult to master. I have a long way to go, but after shooting it for the first time, I’m hooked. I can honestly say—I’m no longer a purist.

Footnote: There is much to explain about the game and gear of 3-Gun, and getting it all in one column would have taken up way too much space. So this is a 3-part series. “Three-Gun Part II—Dissecting the Game & Equipment: The Rifle” will be in my next column.
By Shari LeGate

Nighthawk Custom
1306 W. Trimble, Berryville, AR 72616
(877) 268-4867

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Browning T-Bolt 17 HMR

Accurate, Durable, Fun.

Growing up, my friends and I started our shooting careers with rimfire rifles. I still remember the first-time excitement of squeezing the trigger on a real rifle — not a Daisy Red Ryder. Within a few minutes the tin cans and milk jug didn’t stand a chance. Whether it was a trusty lever-, pump- or bolt-action rifle my friends and I felt like we were riflemen. The lucky ones had the opportunity to shoot an original Browning T-Bolt, one of the most accurate, reliable and easy-to-shoot rimfires ever produced.

Browning introduced the T-Bolt in 1965 in .22 Long Rifle. It was manufactured from 1965-1974 by FN (Fabrique Nationale) Belgium. Manufacturing consisted of two models: the T1 and the T2. The T1 was a straight-pull bolt action, 5-shot detachable magazine, with a 22″ barrel, adjustable rear aperture sight and a plain walnut pistol grip stock. An Aperture rear sight was standard for the first nine years of production.

T2 similar to the T1, only with a select-checkered walnut stock (lacquer finished), a pinned front sight blade, and a 24″ barrel. Later production of the T2 featured an oil-finished stock, a press fit plastic front sight and Browning computerized serialization. The T-Bolt was also made in a left-hand version from 1967-1974. Unfortunately Browning discontinued the T-Bolt in 1975.



This type of accuracy means bad news for varmints.

The T-Bolt Returns

Browning reintroduced their sporter model T-Bolt in 2006, right hand only. This time around you had a choice of caliber, .22 LR, .17 HMR, or .22 Mag. The target/varmint models were not available until one year later in 2007, still only available in righ-hand. Three years after the reintroduction in 2009, Browning would expand the T-Bolt line again, this time offering left-hand models in your choice of the same three caliber’s and in most of their models.

The Browning T-Bolt loads and ejects cartridges by simply pulling straight back on the bolt handle and pushing it back forward. This simple design lets you cycle the “T” bolt extremely fast and locks up solid in the receiver with a smooth feel. This is unequaled among most bolt-action rimfire’s for speed.

When using Browning’s unique straight-pull bolt action to chamber a cartridge, the rifle is fed from their 10-round rotary Double Helix box magazine. This consists of two rotors stacked one on top of the other. The cartridges feed into the rotors and form an “S” shape as they go from one rotor to the other. There is no other magazine like Browning’s rotary Double Helix. It’s extremely easy to load when using the manual assist located on the rear of the magazine and is very reliable at loading the rifle in perfect alignment with the chamber.

Another unique feature only available on Browning’s composite stocked models is a spare magazine storage compartment in the butt stock of the rifle. This is a great option to have another 10-round magazine as a backup in the field. The rifle’s receiver is also factory drilled and taped for scope mounts as none of the T-Bolt models are fitted with iron sights. The action is form-fitted to the stock with an accurizing bedding compound; the Barrel is free-floated and has a semi-match chamber along with a recessed crown.

All Browning T-Bolt models include an externally adjustable trigger, which is an Allen headset screw in a brass collar just forward of the trigger guard. This makes trigger-pull adjustments extremely easy to do. The T-Bolt’s trigger is pre-set at the factory, but for those wanting to custom tune their trigger, trigger-pull adjustment range is listed as approximately 3.25 to 5.25 lbs.





I knew I was starting with a rifle capable of some serious accuracy potential so went for a scope I knew would deliver in accuracy and toughness. I chose Leupold’s new VX-3 4.5-14x40mm scope with the Varmint Hunter reticle to see how good the T-Bolt really is.

The 17 HMR T-Bolt was going to be spending lots of time shooting ground squirrels. Long days of looking through a scope is comparable to glassing with binoculars — if the glass isn’t clear sore eyes and a headache are almost a given. Leopold’s better optical clarity comes from the use of lead-free glass lenses with blackened edges. This reduces unwanted glare and diffusion through the lens edges. This provides better resolution and improved contrast for superior optical performance. The lenses are also produced with no environmentally damaging by-products common to standard glass production.

Their exclusive Xtended Twilight Lens System puts an emphasis on matching wavelength-specific lens coatings to achieve the best possible transmission of low-light wavelengths. This is important because the green wavelength where the human eye is most sensitive disappears in twilight conditions, and blue/violet light takes over. Your eye is already handicapped when it comes to seeing in the blue/violet spectrum. If your scope has poor low-light performance and is cutting too much of this spectrum out, soon you won’t be seeing anything.

Leupold’s durability comes from many features including their Diamond Coat 2 an ion-assist exterior lens coating, for higher light transmission and the greatest level of abrasion resistance they’ve ever offered. The waterproof and fogproof integrity comes from their proprietary Argon/Krypton gas blend. Its advantages are twofold: It nearly eliminates the effects of thermal shock, and the Argon/Krypton molecules are much larger than nitrogen molecules, reducing the diffusion of gases sealed inside the scope even more than Leupold’s nitrogen technology already does. Combine the internal upgrades with their long-eye relief and generous Eyebox technology — which makes it easier to get your eye behind the riflescope and achieve a full, clear sight picture — and you have a scope ready for some serious use.

With practice the Ballistic Aiming System will teach you how to calculate the distance to your target, where to place the reticle and how to compensate for wind deflection — it becomes clear how Leupold has become America’s optics authority.

The scope was mounted to the rifle using Leupold’s standard 2-piece windage adjustable base and rings. I like using the 2-piece base setup because it gives you the most accessibility to the breech area of the rifle.

And Leupold’s rings are specially designed with anti-slip grooves on the inner circle to provide tighter contact between the rings and scope. This combination is an extremely rugged and reliable American-made product



This handy storage compartment for a spare magazine is simple and functional.


The T-Bolt is super smooth and makes for really fast follow-up shots


Hornady and CCI 17HMR ammo with 17-grain V-max bullet’s were used for the rifles evaluation after randomly selecting and measuring rim thickness on 50 cartridges from each manufacture. The rim thickness as expected was very consistent in measuring between .045-.046 thousands of an inch, with very few cartridges outside of that thickness range. Both Hornady and CCI have an advertised muzzle velocity of 2,550 fps. After firing multiple 10-round groups from each manufacturer across an Oehler Research 35P Chronograph, the muzzle velocity form the Browning T-Bolt averaged 2,627 fps. The highest velocity recorded was 2,669 fps, while the lowest velocity recorded was 2,585 fps, still above advertised velocity.

The targets I used in the range testing were from Birchwood Casey. Their Shoot-N-C self-adhesive targets are black with a chartreuse background and fluorescent orange aiming point. These were great because a bright chartreuse ring easily revealed bullet holes — a huge plus for my aging eyes. The groups from the T-Bolt averaged just over 1″ and less than 1 5/8″ at 100 yards. Most of the groups had a vertical string to them. I suspect with 84 fps velocity difference between the high and low added to this. Shooting took place from a bench with a bipod mounted to the rifle in varying conditions and temperature, with light crosswinds and a gust every now and then. So keeping this in mind I wasn’t too disappointed with the results.

The Browning T-Bolt Target/Varmint composite stocked rifle shoots and feels very comfortable. I’m sure with a little more time behind the rifle the groups will tighten up. Even with the trigger adjusted down it was still a little stiff for me. Although I have to say the trigger does brake clean with no detectable creep. So I will just have to keep my focus on the trigger press while Leupold’s Varmint Hunter Reticle remains centered on my quarry.

I’m a bit of an overachiever when it comes to accuracy — well I’m actually a HUGE overachiever when it comes to always wanting 1-hole groups. The practical side of me knows this rifle is more than capable of giving the ground squirrels cause to not come out of their holes. This rifle and scope combination would be a great addition to anyone’s varmint hunting lineup. The .17 HMR ammo from Hornady and CCI with its 17-grain, V-max bullet is already known to perform well on varmints giving spectacular results. The T-Bolt sure has made me feel like a kid again — give one a try and I’m sure you will also. 
By Vince Sullivan
Photos By Joseph Novelozo

For More Info:
(800) 333-3288

Leupold & Stevens
(800) 538-7653

Birchwood Casey Sporting Goods
(800) 746-6862

CCI Ammunition
(800) 379-1732

(800) 338-3220

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Memorable Handgun Hunts

The Y.O. Ranch Holds A Special
Place In John’s Heart.

We had spent a long time working our way to the top and as I looked across the canyon there was the largest mule deer buck I had ever seen before or since. I could plainly see his antlers with the naked eye and he had no inkling, at least from the way he acted, we were even there. It was a long shot but certainly possible with my Enfield .30-06 Sporter. We were beside a pile of downed timber, which would make an excellent rest. All I would have to do is remove my down vest, fold it into a pad, place my ’06 on the log, get a solid rest and squeeze off a shot as I lined up the crosshairs on the buck. Easy. But there was one problem. The .30-06 was back home.

The hike to the top was made much easier by the fact both arms were free and I wasn’t burdened down with that 10-pound rifle. Instead I was packing a Ruger .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk with a 10-inch barrel and carried in a Goerg shoulder holster. Even if I got down on the log, even if I got a steady rest, even if the buck stood absolutely still, the shot was still totally out of the question. All I could do was sit there and enjoy the sight of such a magnificent Idaho mule deer. I could’ve been upset with myself for not having the rifle along. I wasn’t. I could’ve second-guessed bringing the iron-sighted .44 Magnum. I didn’t. This was the defining moment for me to decide whether I would be a handgun hunter or not. No regrets, from that moment on I would be a confirmed handgun hunter.

How do you explain such a choice? The answer is simply it can’t be explained. This is one of those situations if understood, no explanation is necessary; if not understood, no explanation is possible. One of the major reasons given by those who hunt with the handgun is a simply they did not want to carry a heavy rifle all day, or perhaps, they will say rifle hunting had become too easy. Maybe. But more likely the reason goes much deeper. There is something in our soul, something in our spirit that makes us want to hunt with a sixgun, semi-automatic pistol, or single-shot pistol. When looked at matter-of-factly this does not make much sense if the only goal in hunting is totally wrapped up in the animal taken. I can’t explain my obsession with handguns, however, I am sure it is something inside of me from birth. If you are reading this now you probably have the same feeling. We don’t need to explain it. We only need to enjoy it.


JD Jones and the late Ken French of Thompson/Center. One of JD’s creations—the 6.5
JDJ in a T/C became one of John’s favorite hunting handguns.

Hunter’s Paradise

There are two places, which are absolute paradise for the handgun hunter. One is Africa and my trip to Africa was one of the greatest pleasures I have ever had except for the plane ride. And that plane ride—17 hours in a cattle car—kept me from ever returning. The other paradise is found right here in the United States and it is Texas. Texas is the most heavily hunted state in the country and yet it has, and will continue to have, the greatest population of game simply because of correct management added to dozens of species of game from around the world, exotics, which have been imported and allowed to thrive for nearly a century. Texas is the closest you can be to Africa without leaving the United States.

I may have never discovered Texas had it not been for the North American Handgun Hunters’ Chapter of Safari Club International. In 1989 I was invited to be a member of the Handgun Hunters’ Advisory Committee of SCI with Herb Bobchin as chairman. By 1995 more than 60 paid founding chapter members proposed the creation of the North American Handgun Hunters’ Chapter of SCI. Bobchin served as president of the new chapter until 2001 when Taz Ridley took over. In 1988 Texan Thompson Temple put on the very first Sportsman Against Hunger Hunt and Bobchin was part of this function as well as Ridley. One year later the first Handgun Hunt for the Sportsman Against Hunger was held with Temple. I was fortunate to be among those first hunters.


Taffin took this bull bison on the Y.O. with a Freedom Arms
4-3/4-inch revolver chambered in .475 Linebaugh.

The Big YO

The following year the program had grown to such an extent the only logical place to hold such a hunt was on the Y.O. Ranch, which was founded by Charles Schreiner in 1880. Schreiner was originally from Alsace-Lorraine, which is also where some of my people came from, and in 1858 joined the Texas Rangers. It was while he was a Ranger he discovered the Texas Hill Country. The ranch originally was a working cattle ranch and had over 500,000 acres.

By 1990 the main crop was no longer cattle but rather whitetails and exotic game from all over the world. I was also on the first handgun hunt on the YO Ranch. By then the ranch was run by Charles Schreiner III, “Charlie Three” with his son Louis running the hunting operation. Louie was one of the most pleasant folks it’s ever been my pleasure to know and we always had a great time hunting on the Y.O.

I loved the Texas Hill Country from the very first and never missed one of the Handgun Hunts. I also made several other trips to Texas in between hunts. It was on one of these trips I met Frank Pulkrabek, another most pleasant gentleman, who not only guided me on other ranches but also put together my trip to Africa and accompanied me. Unfortunately, Frank was killed by a drunk driver while taking a group of hunters to the San Antonio Airport.

My guide on the Y.O. was always Don McMinn who lived on the ranch with his wife Sharie. Along with Terry Thompson from SCI, the three of us hunted together every year and the McMinns also opened their home to us so we could stay with them on each trip. We had some absolutely wonderful times together, and my SSK Custom Thompson/Center Contender chambered in 6.5 JDJ became legendary. Any time I felt inclined to turn down a shot Don would say: “I’ve seen you shoot; you can do it.” Fortunately, neither I, nor the 6.5 ever let him down. One time I was trusted to take one ragged Corsican ram valued at about $300 out of a herd of Red sheep, which carried price tags of around $5,000 each. The Contender did its job perfectly.

Not only was the Y.O. Handgun Hunt thoroughly enjoyable and resulted in many trophies for all of the hunters, it also had a more serious aspect as the original idea from Thompson Temple of Sportsman Against Hunger was carried on and every year all of the meat, thousands upon thousands of pounds, was donated to the Salvation Army to feed the less fortunate. When I shot my big bison bull I got the hide and head while the less fortunate received the meat.


Retired Major General Joe Engle, test pilot for the North American X-15 program, aeronautical
engineer and a former NASA astronaut, presented Herb Bobchin, chairman of the Handgun Hunters’
Advisory Committee of SCI with this photo montage after a hunt on the Y.O.


I’ve taken a long list of exotic trophies on these Y.O. Handgun Hunts, as have many others as well. As I sit here and compose this article I can look around my room and see aoudad, ibex, Merino, Corsican, Black Hawaiian, white Texas dall and mouflon sheep; sika deer plus chocolate, spotted and white fallow deer; black, brown and white Catalina goats; my favorite exotic—the black buck antelope originally from India, and many domestic favorites from Texas, namely whitetail deer. Had it not been for that original Handgun Hunters Advisory Committee this wonderful world may never have been opened up to me.

The original concept was to invite celebrities, and we did have a few. My favorite was Major General Joe Engle who was part of our space program. The first time I met him on a hunt he asked my advice about a handgun as he was just really getting started. I thought he would never remember me but 6 months later when I ran into him at an NRA Show he not only remembered me, but also had taken my advice. He was certainly another one of those wonderful people met in the hunting fields and I was really impressed by something he did. While we were hunting together, along with Terry Thompson and Don McMinn, Joe said he needed to get to a telephone before the day was over. This was long before cell phones had arrived. So when we got back to the main camp Joe made his important phone call. It was to his daughter to wish her a happy birthday. In my mind that is a very special man.

I said I had never missed one of the Handgun Hunts but this changed in our new century. In 2001, several things happened. Of course, 9-11 changed everything—especially the airlines. It was not long before I refused to fly, which put a real crimp in traveling as far as Texas. That same year Charlie Three and Louie both died. All of this combined to change the Y.O. for me forever. I still have memories, wonderful memories of all the hunts with so many good people, as well as a house full of game heads. Everything in this life touched by the hand of man changes and now, my last Y.O. Handgun Hunt has been held and there will be no more. Only the memories linger.
By John Taffin

Y.O. Ranch
1736 Y.O. Ranch Road
Mountain Home, TX 78058
(800) 967-2624

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More Third- World Thingies

Tell-Tales, Take-Aways And Covert Clues.

Harken back to the heady days of yesteryear, folks! Well, not very far. Just back to the September 2014 issue and “Frangipani Paradise, Part II.” That column and the two preceding it were about “Third World Things;” what we called 3WT’s. I suggest you refresh your memories on ’em, to make this gibberish less gibbery. You’ve asked a lot of questions, mostly about stuff I didn’t have space to go into in those columns. So, here’s a buncha answers.

First, some clarification on Second versus Third World countries, and my past role when traveling in them: Our old joke was What’s the difference between the Second and Third worlds? Answer: Two clicks. Meaning, go two kilometers from the major cities and towns of “developing countries”—the so-called Second World nations—and often, you’re in the undeveloped, sometimes starkly undeveloped Third World. Too often, diplomats and envoys from First World nations never cross those two-click zones and as a result, get a very badly skewed view of the country as a whole. Unfortunately, geopolitically important and expensive policy-shaping decisions are frequently based on those distorted observations.

It’s not really those functionaries’ faults. Their visits and movements are very closely stage-managed by their hosts. They see only what they are shown, and what they’re shown is what supports the agenda of whomever is in power. Secondary—“unimportant”—personnel performing ancillary duties like training and liaising with lower echelons of the host nation’s military and police forces are less closely monitored—or not at all. That’s where guys like me came in.

Fortunately, back stateside there were an army of intense, focused analyst-types laboring in anonymous gray cubicles, eagerly digesting all of our comments on the tone, temperature and facts-in-the-field in far-flung places. Sometimes, just sometimes, the silk-skivvied politicos and dudes with gold macaroni on their cap-bills actually paid attention to those reports. Sometimes.

Chickens, Eggs & Security

Several asked What was the real significance of the toilet paper in the old lady’s cart? It wasn’t “TP” to me; it was finished goods. Actually, that elderly campesina and her pushcart provided a wealth of information on local conditions. She was dressed no better nor worse than other locals on the road. Her cart was well-maintained. The box had wood slat sides and heavy wire front and rear sections. I could see a half-dozen commercially-labeled tins of various sizes from soup-can size to a Number 10 can down low, covered with “soft” ripe fruits and vegetables. The TP was on top.

The cart had a long U-shaped push-handle, with drooping fabric netting suspended between the bars. The netting held several woven baskets half-full of straw. I thought I knew what they were, but asked the driver, Roberto. He confirmed, “egg baskets,” and opined she had a lot of laying hens, and took loads of eggs to market twice or three times per week. Her eggs were her currency. She would come to market with her eggs secured in the box and return with goods in the box and empty baskets in the netting.

Think about it. An elderly peasant woman is on the road alone, smiling, pushing a well-maintained cart containing fresh produce, finished goods and empty baskets sufficient to hold several dozen eggs. Judging from the amount of perishable goods, which could, unrefrigerated, “go over” in a few days, she was likely supplying a large extended family. She was unafraid and obviously contented. She was returning from the local marketplace/bazaar before noon; only an hour after schooltime, when many buyers in that area would be going to market.

When “peasants” are only buying—more likely bartering for—perishable consumables, that’s not such a good sign. Finished goods and canned goods are healthy signs, even in very small quantities. Her eggs meant a successful, well-tended henhouse, and her timing meant she had reliable regular customers, probably re-sellers, for them. She had likely “sold out” her eggs in minutes, selected her groceries, had a cuppa tea and a chat with old friends, and then hit the road home with no fear of bandits or thugs. She even had a grin and a wave for a government car. That speaks volumes about local conditions. I had recently seen horror stories. The change was nice.


“A porky sign of progress”

Seeds and Piggies

About that nice old black government Cadillac and peoples’ response to it: You can guess what it means when people scowl, turn away or scurry when they see a government vehicle. In this case they smiled and waved. I was even more impressed when I learned that Caddy had never driven that road before. When new, it was reserved for top officials in the capital. As it aged, it became available to lesser dignitaries, and finally, it became the courier car to the hinterlands. This was its maiden voyage to the sticks, replacing an older, army-brown Chevrolet the people were used to seeing. What’s your take-away from that?

The roads themselves hold tell-tales. Too often, First World observers only see the dirt and dust. Pavement isn’t that important. I was looking at drainage and underlayment where the road ran over ditches and small ravines. What is its year-round wet-weather condition and capacity?

I had Roberto stop several times. I saw lots of careful rockwork, both recent and old with newer repairs; old supports with newer culverts; runoff management and steep places where heavy wood and iron beams had been inset herringbone-style to provide drainage, “corrugation” and improved traction during heavy rains. I learned the government had supplied most materials and some supervision for local volunteers completing the work and then maintaining it.

Another tell-tale: Few of these improvements would accommodate armored and oversized, overweight vehicles. The government invested in common-folk travel and goods-to-market, not transporting the juggernauts of oppression internally. This is not what you find in many Second and Third World places, where they either provide for tanks, or virtually abandon rural areas to their own fates.

Other clues in bazaars and marketplaces: Aside from consumables heavy on protein, sugars and carbs, you look for “future-leading” goods: an active market in seeds, piglets, lambs and chicks. A lean-to displaying crudely-made cane knives and machetes ranks way below a lockable enclosure featuring replacement saw blades, hammer handles and heads, sections of sheet metals, heavy shears and hand drills. When you see two under-35 guys in a crossroads village bazaar enthusiastically negotiating a deal for a 50-piece tap-and-die set while the shopkeeper happily serves them coffee—as I saw that day—that’s an excellent sign of “health in the boondocks!” Even better, folks picking through bins of small electrical parts!

The Fundamentals

Poorer governments may not be able to project much in the way of health care and education to their hinterlands, but an important litmus test of how much a government cares about their people—and what they can afford—revolves around how far from the cities do they extend potable water wells and electricity? Without clean communal water sources, disease flourishes. In a small village, one public light and a single electrical source can change the nature and quality of life fundamentally.

If your brief is snooping, you look for ’em—and then, tricky sometimes—make sure they work! One time a certain government made a big deal out of their “rural electrification project;” putting tall pole lights with electrical outlets in their bases in remote villages. It was a “Look at us, ain’t we kind to the peasants?” thing. A certain Western government paid for all the hardware. Photos—taken in daylight—were widely circulated and the bandits-in-suits took bows on the international stage.
The lights were there. The problem? No juice. Not a single live wire ran to ’em. And some dirty snoop snitched ’em off. Imagine that… Connor OUT
By John Connor

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The DIY Rust Blue

I’ve reached a conclusion about rust bluing. It’s mostly superstition, with a few facts tossed in as a distraction. Practically everything I’ve read on it made it sound like a complicated, difficult and mysterious process. However, here are some hard facts and techniques on the rust bluing method:

First, you have to know the chemicals used for the processes, and the humidity and the quality of water you’ll be working with. Such facts are fairly well settled, since they’ve been in use for a few hundred years. Today, instead of rainwater, the use of distilled water ensures the desired consistent, repeatable results with no surprises. Judging weather and application technique is mostly superstition, although a home weather station takes some of the mystery out of humidity.

Second, you have to know the type of steel you’re working with. Practically all carbon steel will rust, but stainless steel won’t. Softer steel—often used for buttplates and triggerguards—can finish before the barrel or barreled action. Continuing the acid treatment may begin to etch those parts before the others are finished. Degreasing thoroughly is paramount. Get all the oil off the steel.

The only major purchase involved is a water tank big enough to hold a barreled action and a method to boil the water. Brownells has both at a reasonable price. The set up I use runs off a standard BBQ propane tank. Brownells sells rust blue solutions, too, or you can mix your own. I once mixed my own, but don’t anymore. I’ve been using Pilkington’s American Rust Blue solution for more than 20 years now with good results. It works so well I haven’t switched (yes, I’m superstitious).

Pilkington’s solution will give you good results on the first try if you follow the instructions carefully. His instruction booklet is clearly written and the first one I read that gave me the confidence to think I could rust blue successfully.

After you have a couple of jobs under your belt, you’ll begin to see ways to do the task your way—which is where you begin to form your own superstitions!

I get pretty good results using nothing more complicated than files, stones and aluminum oxide wet/dry sandpaper for polishing and steel wool for “carding” off the rust, with a minor assist from a soft wire hand brush. Most directions say to polish to 320 grit, which is fine as long as you get the scratches out, or blended in the right direction. If you don’t, the scratches will enlarge as the acid etches them. These days I polish to 600 grit. At the higher polish, I sacrifice some depth of color for the sheen the high polish gives.


This Krag sporter was polished to 320-grit and only three long passes of the solution were used
to give it a soft matte gray finish. The safety and extractor were heat blued on the stove using a
cast iron pan. (Heat bluing in this fashion is time consuming, but inexpensive.)


Since the acid etches the metal, it would seem counterintuitive to give the parts a high polish, but I don’t leave the barrel under the acid as long before boiling and carding—how long the metal stays under the acid affects the final look. Since the humidity is low where I live, I let the steel rust for four hours in the first four passes, and I can do two passes a day. In areas with higher humidity, I’d follow Pilkington’s instructions of three-hour passes. Then I go to six hours of rusting until I get the color I desire (it only takes one or two more passes). It takes about five minutes to apply the acid to the barrel, maybe 15 minutes if a lot of other smaller parts are blued, so I can get a lot of other work done while the parts rust.

The blue is accomplished by applying the acid-based formula (typically a solution of nitric acid, hydrochloric acid with iron dissolved in it and diluted with water), allowing red rust to form on the steel, then submerging it in boiling distilled water for 10 minutes to convert the red oxide to black oxide and carding the surface “velvet” off.

Most instructions call for the use of power equipment to card the rust. I don’t use it. Since I’m doing this for myself—not as a business—working around my lack of power equipment isn’t too arduous, but it does take a little more time. I use 0000 steel wool (factory coated with an oil preservative) degreased in hot, soapy water and dried with paper towels. Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber works well to degrease the steel wool, too. I spray it over paper towels so the oil is soaked up.

Most instructions insist you wear gloves to keep from contaminating the barrel. If any oil gets on the steel during the application of acid, it will not rust in that spot. I wear nitrile gloves to apply the acid, but not to card. After carding, I clean the bore and barrel with mineral spirits (I use mineral spirits and Gun Scrubber to degrease the parts initially as well). This removes any fingerprints or oil left by the steel wool if it wasn’t completely degreased. Running a patch wet with mineral spirits down the bore keeps the inside of the barrel from rusting. This is important because the bore isn’t going to have any other protection for several days.


Jeff’s first effort at rust bluing a barrel was on this Ballard No. 5 Pacific (above).
It turned out poorly (he didn’t boil it long enough), and he had to repolish and do it
all over again to 400 grit, which gives it a matte finish. The Remington-Gove underlever
(below) was polished to a higher 600-grit for a much more pleasing finish.


I keep plenty of wooden dowels which loosely fit the bore (too close a fit and the water will swell them tightly in the barrel) and place a dry one in the barrel while the acid works. I use a broomhandle with soft iron wire hangers on it to suspend the barrel on the dowels in the water. As I lift it out of the water, I use a hair dryer to blow the water off the barrel and parts, especially around dovetails. Any water allowed to puddle will create a spot as it evaporates, and the barrel will be hot enough to evaporate the water very quickly. In fact, the water will evaporate so fast it must be blown off as the barrel as it is (literally) rising from the water. I lift it on an angle so I can blow out one dovetail at a time. Even this must be done quickly.

Brownells offers inexpensive soft iron wire. It is very useful for suspending small parts or run through the barrel of smallbore rifles, since dowels smaller than .38 caliber often aren’t strong enough to support the barrel. I also use a retired stainless steel cleaning rod through the barrel. Just make sure it has no oil on it either! Any oil in the water can spot the blue upon removal. Oil floats, so get it off the surface with a paper towel if you see any.

The fixtures I use to suspend the parts while the rusting occurs are just knocked together from scrap wood. The fixtures differ slightly depending on the parts to be suspended, and how I want them suspended while applying the rust. Being able to turn them without touching them is a big help.

When I lived in Southern California, I found rust bluing wasn’t hard in the summertime, but I had a brand new learning curve here in Northern Nevada where the air is much drier. Humidity is necessary for the acid to create rust. I managed to accomplish the Wesson No. 1 barrel without the use of a “sweat box” to maintain consistent humidity, but getting one is on my to-do list.

Try not to touch the metal if at all possible during the process, as the blue is tender and will show handling marks. When I’m satisfied with things, I allow the barrel to sit overnight with nothing on it. The next day, I coat everything generously with Rig and leave it on until assembly. Don’t use a rust removing oil! It will try and remove the blue and ruin all your hard work.


John King and Jeff collaborated on this Wesson No. 1 in .45-90 Sharps on a Steve Earle
action with a 34-inch Krieger barrel. It is Jeff’s first bluing effort here in Northern
Nevada. Mike Gouse engraved the action and barrel.


Brownells’ tank, stand and LP gas burner is pretty much a turnkey operation for rust
bluing. Add a propane tank and a hose and you’re up and running.

In all, the one-time cost for the tank, stand and LP burner are around $500 or so. Rust bluing handguns is even cheaper yet, since you only need a pot big enough to submerge the handgun completely in boiling water on a stove (with the little lady’s permission, of course). The store-bought chemicals are relatively long lived, and you’ll use small amounts per job.

The beautiful silky blue is its own reward, and a gift you give yourself. If you make a mistake, be prepared to repolish and try again (yup, done that—twice, so far). My first successful job was on a 1917 Enfield triggerguard done in an old turkey roaster some 30 years ago. My second was a 1911. I did both with homemade solutions. I only do a one or two pieces a year, but the results have been well worth it. They’ve allowed me to aspire to more highly finished arms than I can otherwise afford.

I purposely left out “in progress” photos. Frankly, the parts just look like blobs of, well, rusting metal. My goal is to inspire you to try by showing the finished product. I was too intimidated to try for a long time, because a lot of the stories I read on rust bluing made it seem more like voodoo than work.

What sealed the “do it yourself” deal for me was the high cost and long wait times involved in having rust bluing done at a shop. I know many GUNS readers have the attention to detail to give it a try and do as well.
By Jeff John

200 South Front Street
Montezuma, IA 50171
(641) 623-4000

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The Star Wars Shotgun

The UTS-15 Redfines
“Tactical Smoothbore”

There’s a whiff of buckshot embedded in the American DNA. We love our combat smoothbores. As a country, we’ve carried them in every battle and police action of the last two-and-a-half centuries, and when the fighting gets close in, there’s still nothing more devastating than a fast volley of buck from a street sweeper. So, too, the design of the combat shotgun continues to evolve and improve. Meet the UTS-15, one of the latest advanced designs to shoot its way into the marketplace, but first, let’s briefly look at our own buckshot legacy.

As a military leader, George Washington was particularly fond of buckshot according to Harold Peterson’s Arms and Armor of Colonial America. Writing to the Board of War, Washington wrote, “It appears to me that Light Blunderbusses on account of the quantity of shot they will carry will be preferable to Carbines, for Dragoons, as the Carbines only carry a single ball, especially in case of close action.” His request wasn’t looked upon with favor, but Washington went on to recommend that his troops load for their first volley “one musket ball and four or eight buck Shott, according to the strength of their pieces.”

The buck-and-ball load continued to be popular during the Civil War. Given the lack of arms on both sides in 1861, family shotguns commonly marched off to the front by necessity. Confederate cavalry units were particularly prone to use sporting shotguns and buckshot with deadly effect.


The combat shotgun has a long history in the US. The UTS-15 brings
the concept and payload into the 21st century.


Lifting the top cover exposes both magazine tubes and the chamber
for a quick, visual safety check.


The dual magazine tubes load from the top and are sealed by dust covers.


A true “Scout” shotgun—shorter, lighter, more maneuverable—the UTS-15
delivers a lot of firepower in a compact package. The UTS fire control
system is right off the familiar AR-15.

Possibly, the most famous smoothbore unit was New York’s Irish Brigade. The Brigade made a conscious decision to hold onto their 1842 smoothbore, .69-caliber muskets and buck-and-ball loads, distinguishing themselves throughout the war, particularly at Gettysburg, where their place in history is marked by a Celtic cross and an Irish Wolfhound monument.

As the country moved West so did the ever versatile shotgun in the hands of farmers, ranchers, peace officers, guards, the military and a hoard of ne’er-do-wells.

WWI brought us the first general issue, mission specific, combat shotguns, the Winchester Model 97 Trench Gun, Model 1917, along with the Winchester Model 12 and Remington Model 10 Trench Guns. At the urging of Gen. Pershing, approximately 30,000 were issued, which brought howls of official protests from the Germans, describing it as “American barbarism.”

WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq brought us new models with brand names like Mossberg, Remington, Savage, Stevens, Benelli, Browning, Beretta, Franchi, Manville, Colt, S&W, Ithaca, Winchester and High Standard, and the combat shotgun continues to evolve. The new UTS-15 is a sterling example of how really high-tech the modern combat shotgun has become.

When you open the box of a UTS-15, you know immediately it’s all business, with a little bit of Star Wars thrown in. It’s imposing. The two magazine tubes running down both sides of the barrel carry either 7 rounds of 12-gauge, 2-3/4-inch or 6 rounds of 3-inch magnums. With one in the chamber that’s 15 rounds or 13 rounds of shot, buckshot, slugs, tasers or non-lethal rounds at your command on a selective switch basis.


With 15 rounds waiting in the tubes, the muzzle end of
the UTS-15 is a sobering sight.


After removing the barrel-retaining nut, the UTS breaks down into three modules.

You pick it up, and you realize it only weighs 6.9 pounds and in its bullpup format is only 29 inches long with a full-length 18-1/2-inch barrel. Magic? No. The receiver is 100 percent polymer. In fact, 80 percent of the total shotgun is carbon fiber reinforced, injection molded polymer. It’s the brainchild of Ted Hatfield, UTAS-USA Director of Product Development, and UTAS of Turkey, a firm which specializes in firearms design, engineering and OEM manufacturing. Remember the svelte Hatfield muzzleloading rifles of yore or the exquisite, Turkish-produced, Augusta, Marias or Valier series of shotguns once offered by Kimber? Those were the conceptual creations of Ted Hatfield. He knows his business. In fact, he grew up in it.

The original UTS-15 got off to a rough start with just a bit too many synthetic parts. This second generation got it right, but it’s still a radical design, which will have to prove itself over thousands of rounds.

My first thought on picking up the UTS was it would require a lot of practice to master the design and constant practice to keep its controls in memory. Was I ever wrong. It’s a very straightforward pump shotgun. The fire control system is out of an AR-15. The pump action is simple, with a rotary-head locking bolt. Loading the two magazine tubes is only a matter of stuffing cartridges into them from the top of the gun rather than from the bottom.

It’s a super safe design. Simply lifting the hinged top cover lets you visually inspect the ends of both magazine tubes as well as the chamber for live rounds. It’s an instant check. Also, all shells loaded into the magazine tubes are clearly visible from the outside of the gun. Really fine design touches!


Holt’s favorite 12-gauge defensive load is Winchester PDX slug/buck combo shell,
and at 15 yards it’s devastating (above). So, too, are 27 pellets of No. 4 buck
from a 2-3/4-inch shell at 15 yards (below).


It’s a super safe design. Simply lifting the hinged top cover lets you visually inspect the ends of both magazine tubes as well as the chamber for live rounds. It’s an instant check. Also, all shells loaded into the magazine tubes are clearly visible from the outside of the gun. Really fine design touches!

The only aspect of the design which threw me was the loading tube selector switch which can be seen just aft of the rear sight. It’s a 3-position switch. Switched to either the left or the right, it controls which tube the gun will feed from. It’s a great idea. For example, you could have buckshot in one tube and slugs in the other. Anyway, looking at the switch, I assumed that when you flicked it to the left, the gun would feed from the left magazine tube, and to the right, the right. Wrong! It’s a cut-off switch. When flicked to the left, the left tube is cut-off, and the gun feeds from the right tube and vice versa. To my mind, that switch is totally counterintuitive.

What happens when the switch is left in the 12 o’clock position? The action feeds from both magazine tubes. That’s 15 rounds of lead hail as fast as you can rack that pump handle.

As supplied by the factory, the UTS-15 does not come with a set of sights, just a full-length Picatinny rail, giving the owner maximum flexibility in setting up the gun just the way they want it. Being a straight-stocked bullpup, the line-of-sight is high. A small optical unit in keeping with the featherweight gun would be the ideal solution. As an accessory, the company does offer a combination laser/flashlight unit, which slides into the front housing and is activated by a side-mounted switch on the frame.

I tried a set of metallic, factory, accessory sights in which the front sight is screw adjustable for elevation and the rear sight, which is windage adjustable, offers a flip over combination of an open “V” or a ghost ring aperture. Nicely made sights, but the front sight screw would not screw down far enough to give me a perfect 15-yard zero.

I think I would set-up the UTS with the integral laser/flashlight unit and a compact optical sight mounted on the rail.




The factory set of accessory metallic sights includes a peep (top),
which can folded down to reveal an open sight (middle) The protected
front is a large bead (bottom).

I think I would set-up the UTS with the integral laser/flashlight unit and a compact optical sight mounted on the rail.

Both the magazine loading ports and the ejection port are covered with dust covers. The ejection port cover is magnetic and opens immediately when the bolt is retracted. Ejection is to the right. As a check, I fired the UTS from the left shoulder without catching an ejected case so that’s not a problem. The right-hand mounted safety is not reversible. It should be.

How did it shoot? The UTS comes with a cylinder choke. The thread form is Beretta. The gun also came with a 10-inch barrel extension and 3-shot and 5-shot plugs. The trigger is a joy. On my Lyman electronic gauge, it averaged 4-1/2 pounds—light and crisp. With 2-3/4-inch buckshot, slug and Winchester’s PDX buck-and-slug combo round, it’s an easy gun on the shoulder and, being straight-stocked, muzzle flip and recovery time is minimized. Being short, it is maneuverable and fast-on-target.

With a length-of-pull of 12 inches and OAL of only 29 inches, the bullpup has a distinctive feel and handling characteristic quite unlike a conventional firearm. It’s really a “Scout” shotgun—shorter, lighter and more maneuverable.

The company website, which is entertaining, promotes the UTS-15 as a turkey or big game gun. It would certainly serve perfectly in either role with the proper chokes, and it’s available in six different exterior finishes and patterns. It’s a shotgun at its best deliberately aimed. It would not be an ideal wing-shooting smokepole, however.

For cleaning purposes, the modular UTS-15 simply comes apart in your hands after the barrel-retaining nut is unscrewed. It’s remarkable, and when you have the separated modular sections lying there in front of you, you begin to understand how 80 percent of the UTS is composed of carbon fiber, reinforced, injection molded polymer. And if you want to continue to strip the modules down further, the exceptionally well illustrated owner’s manual will take you down that road to the last little screw.

The UTS-15 is an impressive concept gun, reflecting brilliant engineering and advanced production processes. It’s a 21st Century firearm with a bit of Star Wars flair thrown in.
By Holt Bodinson


Maker: Uts-Usa
1247 Rand Rd
Des Plaines, Il 60016
(847) 768-1011

Action type: Pump
Gauge: 12, 2-3/4- Or 3-inch
Barrel length: 18-1/2 inches
Overall length: 29 inches
Choke tube: Cylinder, Beretta thread
Weight: 6.9 pounds
Finish: Hunter camouflage (tested)
Sights: Picatinny rail
Stock: Polymer
Price: $1,450

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