Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thinking About Rifles - VIII

It's time to think about sights.  If we consider the basic purpose of a rifle is to put a bullet into a target, then we must also consider the sighting system.  As this is a mental exercise, let's consider our options.

Iron sights used to be standard on every rifle, but that's no longer the case.  Iron sights have limitations, but some very good riflemen know how to use them.  I myself have several rifles with iron sights, and while they have their limitations, they also have their advantages. Probably the biggest disadvantage is that they're not very precise.  Before you all start howling, follow my reasoning for a moment.  The front sight on my Handi Rifle is 0.091" wide and covers about 10 inches at 100 yards.  Ten inches is a lot of terrain at 100 yards, and the area that front sight covers increases as the distance increases.  It is possible to shoot accurately with iron sights, and folks have made remarkable shots with iron sights, but they're not normally as precise as other sights, so we have to take that into account when we're discussing sighting systems.  However, iron sights are normally rugged and they're considered very fast.  If your target is close and presents itself for only a short period of time, iron sights might be the sight of choice.

Red Dot sights have come into their own in the past decade and there are some very nice ones on the market these days.  They are robust enough that the US military uses them on the M4 carbine.  The benefit of the red dot sight is that it projects a spot of light on the same visual plane as the target.  Put the dot on the sight, then fire the rifle.  Some of them are magnified, some are not, so choose wisely.  The one consistent drawback is that they use batteries, and while battery life is being extended in the red dot sights, if your battery dies, the sight is inoperable.  So, we pay our money and we take our chances, and red dot sights are an option that we shouldn't overlook.

Telescopic sights are here to stay.  With a bewildering variety of companies making them, options abound, and the price point might be under $100 dollars, or you might spend several thousands.  There are a variety of reticles, magnifications, and finishes.  The one constant in telescopic sights is that the ones on the market today are a whole lot better than the ones that were on the market thirty or forty years ago, and for the vast majority of rifle shooters, the rifle scope is a basic bit of gear.

For the practical rifle, it's important that when we mount the rifle,  the sight becomes instantly visible.  Yesterday, when talking about length of pull, we demanded that the stock fit the operator, and here we must consider comb height.  We've all seen a shooter have to move his head forward or backward, or un or down to see through the sights, and this is purely impractical when considering the practical rifle.  When the rifle is mounted in the shooting position, the sights should come instantly to the eye, with proper cheek weld and proper eye relief so that when the rifle is fired, the sight stays away from the face.  This is dependent on a number of personal considerations, to include the height of one's cheekbones and is not something that has a one-size-fits-all answer.  More than anything, it's a personal set of measurements, and the rifleman (or woman) must put proper   thought and experimentation into the rifle to make sure that the chosen sight comes instantly to the eye.

Some might require that a rifle have two sighting systems (for example, irons and scope) but I don't think that's necessary for a practical rifle.  What is important is that the rifle be set up properly for whatever system the operator decides to use, that the sighting system be robust, and that it be properly fitted to both the rifle and the operator so that it is instantly usable when mounting the rifle.

So, we amend the definition of the practical rifle to include the following:
1. magazine fed repeating rifle
2. weighing between 2.5 and 5 kilos
3.The cartridge must be capable of striking a single decisive blow on the target likely to be encountered at a distance where the operator is capable of placing the bullet in the vital area of the target.
4. Maximum length of 43 inches, with the length of pull properly proportioned to the individual
operator.
5. Robust sighting system, properly fitted to the rifle and instantly available to the operator.

Now, we're getting somewhere.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Thinking About Rifles - VII

Length is important when we consider rifles, but there is more to it than that.  Overall length is perhaps the easiest to consider because a rifle must be handy.  If a rifle isn't handy, it's not apt to be "at hand" when you need it.  If we consider Mr. Garand's battle implement to be the upper weight for a practical rifle, at 11 lbs, then we should also slide look down the page to see the overall length.  We find that it is 43" long.

I measured some of my hunting rifles, and found that the common length of a standard over-the-counter hunting rifle seems to be between 40 and 43 inches.  That's some sort of magic number, apparently, so we can use that as the outer maximum length of a practical rifle. Shorter is better, generally, as handiness plays such a big part of rifle use, but we'll use 43 inches as the maximum length of our mythical practical rifle.

The next length we'll consider is more important, and vastly more personal.  Here we're talking length of pull.  The distance between the trigger and the butt of the rifle, and many shooters find that it is a vastly personal distance that determines if they're able to shoot the rifle accurately or not.  Length of pull determines whether a rifle is too long or too short.

For example, several years ago I bought a Cricket rifle to use as a grandkid training device.  It's a diminutive little rifle, 30 inches overall, but the stock is short, for tiny people, with a length of pull of 12 inches.  I simply cannot shoot that rifle, it's altogether too short.  My seven year old grandson can shoot it just fine.

On the other hand, we find that a length of pull that's too long is also problematic, and I suspect that many rifle shooters suffer from a length of pull that is too long.  We've all seen a young shooter, perhaps trying his father's rifle, struggle with a stock that is simply too long.  The military nowadays uses adjustable stocks on the M4 carbine for just that reason.  We shoot better with a stock that fits, which is something that shotgunners have known for decades.

Some rifle manufacturers have agreed, and some rifles come with adjustable stocks.   I note that the Ruger Gunsite Scout rifle comes with spacers on their stock that allows the shooter to adjust the length of pull, from 12.75 to 14.5 inches.  I wish that Ruger would adopt such a system for all their rifles.

Length of pull is hugely important, a basic consideration, and one that is vastly personal.  Your body determines whether a stock fits you or not, and a "one-size-fits all" approach simply doesn't work.Your stock had to fit you for the rifle to be practical.

So, once again, we'll modify the criteria for what we consider to be a practical rifle.
1. magazine fed repeating rifle
2.  weighing between 2.5 and 5 kilos
3.The cartridge must be capable of striking a single decisive blow on the target likely to be encountered at a distance where the operator is capable of placing the bullet in the vital area of the target.
4.  Maximum length of 43 inches, with the length of pull properly proportioned to the individual operator.

Now, we're getting it nailed down.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Thinking About Rifles -VI

As we consider this mythical practical rifle, we've already talked about bore diameter, but I think it's important to consider the cartridge.  They are two entirely different things.  We all know, for example that the diminutive 7mm TCU is the same bore diameter as the 7mm Weatherby Magnum, but the two cartridges are vastly different.  If the purpose of a rifle is to place a bullet on a target then we must consider the target.

Many years ago, some rifle shooters adopted a game that we now know as Metallic Silhouette shooting where they shot at steel targets at varying ranges.  They shot this game off their hind legs, so the choice of rifle became critical, as did the choice of cartridge.  It wasn't enough to stricke the 500 meter ram target, you had to knock it down, so the satisfying clang of a bullet on target counted for naught if the target didn't fall over.  Too light a cartridge and the target doesn't fall over.

Jeff Cooper, when trying to define his Scout Rifle, demanded a caliber with sufficient power to do the job.
capable of striking a single decisive blow, on a live target of up to 200 kilos in weight, at any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in a vital area of the target".
Note that we're not talking about Scout rifles, but a mythical practical rifle, so we might amend the caliber designation to read something like this:
The cartridge must be capable of striking a single decisive blow on the target likely to be encountered at a distance where the operator is capable of placing the bullet in the vital area of the target
So, whether we're talking about metallic silhouette or the game fields, or even a battle rifle, we need a cartridge capable of doing the job we intend, at the range we might encounter.   That gives us room to start to personalize our practical rifle for the game and the terrain.  There is a vast difference between knocking over a whitetail deer in the thickets of central Louisiana, and taking an elk across a valley in Idaho.  Ideally, the practical rifle might be capable of both jobs, but what may practical in one place may not be practical in another.

So, we amend the definition of a practical rifle to the following.
1. magazine fed repeating rifle
2.  weighing between 2.5 and 5 kilos
3.The cartridge must be capable of striking a single decisive blow on the target likely to be encountered at a distance where the operator is capable of placing the bullet in the vital area of the target.

There is still a lot to talk about, and we're soon going to be dealing with the stickiest parts of this mental exercise.

Sunday Morning Dawg

The dog this morning demonstrates that however far from the ancestry, every dog has a hunter inside him.  I was surprised this morning to hear the dog squeal on a "jump cry", then immediately change into a chopping bark, indicating a chase.  So, I grabbed my camera.

Yeah, he's hunting something.  A wider view will reveal his prey.

Good Dawg!  You've got that cat right where you want him.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Thinking About Rifles - V

As we consider the practical rifle, we've got to set limits, as wide as those limits might be.  Today we'll consider weight.

Last week, a neighbor came over to show me a rifle he's been working with.  The action is from a major manufacturer (think Green) and the stock is some fiberglass-filled wonder with a pistol grip.  The barrel has a heavy contour and the scope is a variable with the upper reaches of magnification near 20 power.  That neighbor wants a thousand yard rifle, and he might have one.

This is not to beat my neighbor down.  Rifles like this seem to be the fashion these days, and it seems that some folks want to replicate the rifles our boys have used in the current conflict, mostly rifles like the Remington Model 24.  That's fine, until we understand that the sniping rifles our boys are using are specialized weapons   A proper sniper team has two members, the rifleman and a spootter, so the M24 could properly be considered a crew-served weapon.  Understand that I have high admiration for those fellows, and would buy any one of them a beer.  Also, understand that in our great country, a fellow can have any rifle he chooses to have.  I myself have a rifle with a long, heavy barrel, a replica of a rifle from the 19th century.  It is very accurate, but it weighs considerably more than I like to carry in the field.  Back to my neighbor, we put his rifle on my scale, and it weighed in at 13.75 lbs.  He's well oh his way to having a M24 clone.

I have several friends with heavy specialty rifles.  These rifles are set up to make long shots across open fields.  Hereabouts we call them beanfield rifles, exquisitely crafted, capable of putting a bullet into something in the next grid square, they are very nice rifles and the folks that shoot them are passionate about the care and feeding of those rifles.  They are specialty items and we are considering the practical rifle.  So, let's not be confused about the topic.

Going to the literature, we find that the US Rifle, Cal 30 M1 weighed in a svelt  9.5 to 11 pounds, depending on the particular model.  I've talked to real men who carried those rifles on a walking tour or Europe, and they tell me that those rifles are heavy sonsofbitches after you've been carrying them for a while.  Using contemporary standards, we find that 11 pounds is roughly equivalent to 5 kilos, so we'll consider that the upper limit of the weight of a practical rifle.

On the other end of the scale, we find companies making extremely light rifles.  Ultra Light Arms comes to mind, a company who I understand makes very fine, accurate rifles for folks to whom every ounce matters.  Their Mountain Rifle weighs in at 4.75 lbs, and I'm sure that ourfitted for the field with scope and sling, it's pushing five pounds.  Going to a mass manufacturer, we find that Savage Arms makes a rifle called the Lightweight Hunter that weighs 5.5 lbs, and the new Ruger American Compact weighs in at 6 pounds.  Converting those weights to the metric standard gives us a convenient 2.5 kilos.

So, we might be able to say that the practical rifle is a
1. Magazine fed repeating rifle
2. that weighs between 2.5 ad 5 kilos, outfitted with sights and sling.

We're starting to narrow this down.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thinking About Rifles - IV

Continuing our discussion of practical rifles, we turn now to action type, and we shouldn't be too hasty in deciding, so let's look at the options.

The lever action has a lot to recommend it.  It's chambered in a variety of rifles and carbines and widely used by plenty of hunters.  Christopher Spencer is credited with the first popular lever action rifle, built in 1860, it's an old design that has seen numerous upgrades and re-designs over the years.  Winchester did more than anyone to popularize it, while Savage upgraded it, and it's been manufactured by a number of firms.  Newer examples combine the nostalgia of the lever action with the spitzer bullets of contemporary cartridges.  Just yesterday, while wandering through a gun store, I handled a nice Winchester Model 88 in .243 Winchester that I thought would be a dandy stalking rifle.    Some have tube magazines, some have box magazines, but all are quick, handy, and have fairly robust actions.  We cannot discount the lever action rifle.

The bolt action rifle is beloved by  many shooters and is considered by many as the basis for a fine rifle.  Time extolling the bolt action would be superfluous, so we'll limit the discussion here.  Two magazine types predominate in these rifles, the internal box and the detachable box.  Either is sufficient to our purposes.  The only criteria I have for a bolt action rifle is that it should be smooth and the bolt easily manipulated from the shoulder.

We turn now to the semi-auto.  From JM Browning, to John Garand, to Eugene Stoner, Americans have been fascinated with the semi-auto for the past century.  It's hard to argue that the Garand isn't a practical rifle.  Eight rounds of .30-06 is plenty for the purpose, even if the rifle might be a little long at 43 inches and a little heavy at about 10 pounds, millions of Americans have used them for battle and recreation.  Eugene Stoner's rifle, on the other hand, appeals to a great many Americans.  It's called (among other things) the modern sporting rifle, the evil black rifle, or the poodle shooter, but no one can deny that the design hasn't been successful, and has been embraced by millions of shooters.

The one constant in deciding on which action type we should adopt for the practical rifle is that it should allow a fast follow up shot.  The ability to deliver a fast second shot may not be critical on the target range, but on the game fields it's considered very handy.  Arguments can be made either way, but I believe that the first criteria for a practical rifle is that it be a magazine fed repeating rifle.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thinking About Rifles - Comments

Useful comments from this series, and I appreciate the input.  Let's look at a couple of them, and not get ahead of ourselves.

Anonymous comments:
All the above maybe true BUT it does not allow for those the shoot from the bench for small groups because they enjoy it.
Not al shooting has to be to prepair for the field or for self defence. Lots of people shoot just for the pleasure of shooting.
That's true and I'm not trying to put anyone down, nor denigrate the benchrest game.  Bench shooters have taught us a lot about accurate shooting over the past couple of decades, and I regularly surf Accurate Shooter to look at the latest trends.   There are wonderful things that the bench shooters have taught us over the years and I appreciate their efforts.

Joel says:
I believe - could be wrong - that it was Cooper who dismissed DA/SA pistols as 'a brilliant solution to a nonexistent problem.' History seems to have applied the same putdown to the Scout Rifle concept.
Yep, that's what Cooper said and you may be right that history will be the death knell of the Scout rifle concept.    That's yet to be seen.  Note that I'm not talking about Scout rifles, but I'm using a term of the practical rifle.    That's undefined as yet, and this is as much a problem I'm working though in my battery as an exercise in putting order into my own thinking.  As I work through this mental exercise I'm coming up with some thoughts that surprise even me, and I'm happy to discuss them all, so stick with me and we'll try to decide what we're looking for, and to define the practical rifle for all of us.  You may be surprised at the outcome.  I am no expert, just an old shooter going through a mental exercise.

Finally, in today's post, Fred makes the following observation:
You have made the case for a safe full of rifles.
No shooter ever has enough.
Oh, Fred, I hope not.  One of my problems is my case full of rifles.  There is no shortage of firearms available to the fanatics at PawPaw's House, and a big part of this mental exercise is to decide which are practical, and which are not.  We'll continue in this thread over the next several days and see which is which.  Hopefully tomorrow we'll start weeding the turn-row.

Thinking about Rifles - III

No serious discussion on rifles can be conducted unless we examine bore diameter as it relates to the practical rifle  If we accept as a given that the purpose of the practical rifle is simply to deliver a bullt to a target than we must consider the bullet.  The gun writers that preceded us liked certain calibers and extolled their virtues.  For example, we remember that Jack O'Connor liked the .270 Winchester, Elmer Keith liked the big bores, and Jeff Cooper was fond of the .30 calibers.  Each of these esteemed writers had their arguments and their reasoning.  It is not for me to disagree with them.  However, one of the biggest differences we have these days is with the quality of the bullet available.  These esteemed gentlemen simply didn't have the bullets we have today.

While it's true that size matters, I don't believe that it matters as much today as it did in earlier days.  Today's rifleman has a wide variety of bullets to choose from, suited to particular tasks, regardless of the game.  Whether paper, steel, or hunting, there are bullets suited to the task and it is our happy task to choose the right bullet for the job.  If we're considering the practical rifle, then we must ask the question' Practical for what?  There's the rub.

The practical rifle should be suited for the task at hand, and different riflemen need different rifles.  A hunter going afield for brown bear in Alaska should probably carry a larger bore than the hunter down south who wants to take a whitetail deer.  We understand the difference between dangerous game and herbivores, and we understand the difference between the woodlands of the East, the thickets of the South and the vast areas of open land out West.

With the better bullets available to us, I believe that we can step down one caliber from what the old-timers considered suitable.  So, when considering the practical rifle and we consider caliber, the simple answer should be that the caliber be sufficient for the task that the rifleman might be expected to encounter.  I know that this is not an entirely satisfying answer, but it is the one that we are left with and should provide plenty of fodder for the campfire discussions.

Note, for the record, that I consider the humble .22LR to be America's favorite cartridge, and I do not include the rimfire in the discussion of the practical rifle.  It is my firm opinion that every rifleman should have at least one rifle chambered in .22 Long Rifle and should use it frequently.  As a small game rifle, as a training rifle, as a practice rifle, the .22 should be considered a mainstay of every battery.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thinking About Rifles - II

I'm continuing to think about rifles, particularly practical rifles, and attempting to define in my mind what a practical rifle might be.  Accuracy is a big part of rifle marksmanhip, and in reading Cooper's Commentaries from January 1995, we stumble upon this little blurb.
Having nothing to lose, I am going to climb out on a loose limb and make a horrifying statement. To wit: group size is spinach.
Well, wash my mouth out with soap! To a large number of smallarms enthusiasts in the world, group size is everything. If that is the way they want it, that is all right with me, but I must say that these people are devoting a great deal of attention to an essentially trivial matter. Certainly a very accurate rifle - or pistol - is a satisfying instrument to own and use. Whether it makes any difference in practical application is another matter. Consider for a moment that group size is normally measured by group diameter from the impact centers of the two widest shots in the group. Consider further that even if that is a good measure, group radius is of considerably more interest, since group radius measures the distance between the theoretical point of aim and the worst shot in the group. And let us further consider that in any given group the majority of hits is likely to be located in the center of the group, so we can further cut down the "range probable error" to one-quarter of group diameter. In no case do we know of a man who can shoot well enough to appreciate that. I was told recently by a colleague that he was attempting to do some head-size groups at 500 meters coming up summer. I responded that I had once shot an ornamental 500-meter group with an SSG, using 1962 Lake City Match ammunition, but that since I had shot it from a bench it did not really count. I did not wish to hurt his feelings, but I do wish to point out that what the shooter can do from a bench is no measure of how he can shoot.
Interesting, especially as a large part of my shooting is from a bench.  I find the bench an especially useful tool when evaluating a rifle, laying a zero, or testing reloads.  I think that what the Colonel was saying is that we'd be better served by getting away from the bench and learning to shoot the rifle.  Only hits count, so after we've used the tools to make sure that the rifle shoots where it looks, get away from the bench and learn to shoot the rifle.

I should ponder this at greater length.