Friday, October 29, 2010

Basic Rules of Firearm Safety

This article covers basic firearm safety when working with or around firearms, but don’t forget other safety aspects such as safe and secure firearm storage.

Recently firearm safety has been a topic of much discussion across the internet, in part due to the recent press that Remington has received regarding people injured when a rifle discharged while pointed in an unsafe direction. When working with or around firearms, safety should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Colonel Jeff Cooper first codified the “Four Rules of Firearm Safety” which follow:

Rule 1 : All guns are always loaded
Rule 2: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy
Rule 3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target
Rule 4: Be sure of your target

These rules have been amended and modified over the years, but the principle remains the same. Let’s go over them one by one and discuss what they mean and their importance.

Rule 1 : All guns are always loaded This is probably one of the most controversial rules, as it is obvious that there are obviously times when firearm are not loaded. Some people have modified this rule to read “Treat all guns as if they are loaded” or even “Always know the condition of your firearm.” However you choose to word it, the principle remains the same: Treat a firearm with the respect it deserves, assuming it is loaded until proven and verified otherwise, and furthermore, always respect others around you by acknowledging that they probably do not know whether a firearm is loaded or not.

Rule 2: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy Along with Rule 3, this is one of the most important rules. Abide by this rule, and even if you ignore the other rules, the chances of something getting injured, hurt, or destroyed are much diminished. Almost every injury or death that has ever resulted from the accidental discharge of a firearm could have been avoided if the muzzle had been pointed in a safe direction. What is a safe direction? Generally, a firearm muzzle should be pointed towards the ground, downrange, or at a minimum away from where people are. Some say that it is safe to point a muzzle towards the sky or ceiling, such as when carrying a slung rifle or shotgun, and in general this is true. But always remember that what goes up always comes back down, and when a firearm is discharged into the air it is possible that someone could be killed or injured or property destroyed when the projectile lands.

Rule 3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target This rule, along with Rule 2, is one of the most important rules of firearm safety. Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard. I’m going to repeat this once more: Keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you are ready to fire. Though the possibility exists, the chances of a firearm going off without the trigger being pulled are astronomically slim. The number one reason a firearm discharges is because the trigger was pulled. By following this one simple rule you can virtually eliminate the chance that your firearm will discharge when you did not intend it to.

Rule 4: Be sure of your target Many people modify this rule to read “Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.” Why is this so important? It’s very important because you are responsible for every bullet fired by a gun that you are in control of until that bullet comes to a stop. Bullets do not always stop after they hit your target. You may be sure that your target is a deer, but do you know what lies beyond the deer? Even if you land a solid hit on your target it is not only possible but likely, especially when hunting, that your bullet will continue down range for a considerable distance until gravity eventually pulls it down to earth. If you are firing against an earthen berm or other backstop, you need to know that it will reliably stop the rounds you fire into it. Know your firearm, know where it is aimed, know what your target is, and what lies beyond your target.

These are the four basic rules of firearm safety. This article covers basic firearm safety when working with or around firearms, but don’t forget other safety aspects such as safe and secure firearm storage. It is your responsibility as a gun owner to handle firearms in a safe manner, but you also will need to keep your firearms stored safely and securely. In an upcoming article we’ll discuss ways to securely store your pistols and long arms.

CNBC Attacks The Remington 700

First produced in 1962, more than 5 million Remington 700 rifles have been sold. It’s currently available in more than 900 different configurations across 40 different calibers. With numbers like these, it’s easy to see how the Remington 700 has become the most popular rifle in the world. Sniper versions of the rifle are in use by police forces throughout the world as well as highly customized versions in use by the US Army and Marine Corps.

In 1962 Remington redesigned the action of the Model 700 to be able to be easily mass produced at a low cost. In the past, crafting a precision rifle action required a significant amount of hand finishing. In 1964, following Remington’s lead, Winchester made the mistake of changing the trigger on their Model 70. This mistake allowed Remington to dominate the rifle market. Serious rifle shooters who had been happy with the older Model 70 trigger found the newly designed action to be lacking in precision and crispness. The Remington Model 700 by comparison used a floating trigger design that maintained the crisp feel that traditional shooters loved.

The Remington 700 trigger is also easy to adjust. The fact that anyone with a few tools and a bit of knowledge could adjust the trigger themselves is a two edged sword. Straight from the factory, the Remington 700 comes with a trigger pull of about 5 lbs. Many find this to be too heavy and set about reducing the trigger pull to 3 lbs. or less. The problem here is that if not done properly or set too light, the modified trigger can cause accidental discharges.

Recently, CNBC put out a hit piece accusing Remington of knowingly producing faulty rifles. The reporting portrayed the Remington Model 700 rifle as unsafe in any hands and blamed Remington for deaths and injuries that could have easily been avoided had the users followed proper muzzle discipline.

It’s interesting to note that there are a total of 75 lawsuits filed alleging that a Remington 700 rifle had without the trigger being pulled. Even if true, by the numbers, that means that 0.0015% of all of the rifles produced over the years have had a problem. Put another way, 99.9985% of all of the Model 700 rifles produced DO NOT have a faulty trigger. Are numbers like these indicative of an inherent design flaw? One would suspect that if there was a design flaw that it would be found in every Remington Model 700, or at least a more than 75.

This quote is telling:

“Both Remington and experts hired by plaintiff attorneys have conducted testing on guns returned from the field which were alleged to have fired without a trigger pull,” Remington’s statement says, “and neither has ever been able to duplicate such an event on guns which had been properly maintained and which had not been altered after sale.”

So, despite claims that the situation is easily duplicated, and despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on experts, nobody has EVER been able to cause a Remington 700 to fire without the trigger being pulled.

One of the experts featured on the CNBC show, one H.J. Belk, claims that the Walker system is unsafe even if it never malfunctions, and that the fact none of the experts have been able to duplicate the claims doesn’t mean that the trigger doesn’t have a design flaw. The analogy he uses is that “The fact that the plane you’re flying in has not crashed is no evidence that crashes don’t occur.” Which while true, is really not applicable to the allegations made about the Walker trigger.

Every trigger design, and in fact every mechanical device, can fail if not properly maintained. If you neglect the brakes on your car, they may work fine for a while, but eventually they will fail and you could be killed in a crash. Does this mean that they are defective? Of course not, and to say such a thing would be preposterous. Some of the tests Mr. Belk discusses to determine if your rifle is unsafe rely on the trigger being damaged or parts being pushed out of alignment. Could you get the trigger to malfunction in this manner? It’s quite possible for any device to operate in undesired ways if it is damaged or out of spec due to neglect or poor maintenance. Keeping the action clean and free of debris is probably the best way to ensure any trigger functions as designed.

Let’s go back to gun safety 101 here: Colonel Jeff Cooper’s second rule of firearm safety is “Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destory!” Without fail, each and every one of the injuries or deaths that happened in the cases where a Remington 700 discharged happened because the rifle was not pointed in a safe direction. The fact is, accidents can and do happen. People make mistakes all the time- it’s one of the hallmarks of being human. By observing Cooper’s 4 rules of firearm safety if you make a mistake while handling a firearm the chances of killing or injuring someone are much reduced.

It should be noted that Remington no longer utilizes the old Walker trigger system that was criticized by CNBC. Beginning in 2006 Remington stopped making Model 700 rifles with the Walker trigger system and instead had all of their new 700s made with their X-Mark Pro Trigger system. This is not necessarily because of a defect in the Walker trigger. Improvements in machining and industrial design have simply allowed Remington to produce an even better trigger at an even lower cost than before.

With proper care and maintenance, the older Remington 700s with the Walker trigger system are no less safe than any other trigger design. More importantly, with proper muzzle discipline and by following the other rules of firearm safety, even if your firearm discharges through human error or mechanical failure, you can ensure that no one is hurt or killed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Caring For Your Historic Firearm

Many of our customers have very old firearms that they inherit from loved ones. A common question we get is, “How do I care for my antique firearm?” Our interview with John Gangel last week was quite enlightening, and he shared with us some fantastic tips on storing and caring for antique firearms.

We also found a fantastic guide to firearm preservation from the Springfield National Historic Site and National Park Service (courtesy of Say Uncle) that has a very good overview on caring for your antique firearm.

Preserving Your Antique Arms Collection

The following are very conservative guidelines to help you care for a collection that you wish to preserve for as long as possible and will never be fired. Methods recommended here may not be the most efficient. What may work beautifully in one situation can be a disaster in another. The following advice is limited in scope and cannot cover every possible situation.

A. Preventive Care
1. Environment ·

  • Avoid dramatic swings in relative humidity (RH). Try to keep stable between 40 and 50%.
  • Consistency is more important than precise maintenance of a specific RH reading.
  • RH control is most critical because of an unusual physical property of wood called anisotropy. Wood cells expand or contract very differently in response to changes in relative humidity — depending on their specific grain orientation (axial, transverse, or radial) in the log from which they came. Large swings in RH can result in cracks caused by compression-set shrinkage.
  • If humidity remains fairly constant, changes in temperature make little difference to either metal or wood – better to concentrate on controlling relative humidity. A rapid rise in indoor temperature can pull the moisture out of the environment (including your artifact), causing a drop in RH. Cell shrinkage and cracking or splitting can occur.

2. Handling

  • Wear gloves when handling your collection. No protective coating – appropriate for conserving an artifact — (see below) can stand up for long against repeated bare-handed handling. Best thing is to always wear gloves. Nitrile examination gloves are recommended when cleaning and coating your collection. Once an item has been coated, wear plain cotton gloves.

3. Housekeeping

  • Keep dust-free. Dust can trap moisture increasing the likelihood of corrosion occurring.
  • Do not use commercial dust cloths. They often leave an oil film behind. Oil films trap dust. Dust traps and collects water vapor in the air.
  • When dusting, use a soft cotton cloth very lightly dampened with water
  • Without moisture, dust merely gets shoved around and will not be picked up.
  • Do not use alcohol of any kind when dusting or cleaning a stock. It can skin or strip an historic finish.
  • Dry immediately with a clean cloth.
  • Never use liquid or spray dusting products. Most leave mineral oil behind, which traps dust. Dust traps and collects moisture. Starting to see a pattern?

4. Storage / Display

  • Narrow hooks or loops of wire should not be used to support collection pieces either in storage or on display. The weight of most long arms on such devices is sufficient to result in indentations in their stock at the points of contact.
  • Use broad, padded supports. We use thin sheets of a closed-cell Polyethylene foam material to pad our display fixtures.
  • To avoid mold and mildew during long-term storage — avoid at least two of the three conditions known to promote bloom outbreaks:
    • elevated temperature
    • still air, and
    • elevated humidity.

B. Cleaning and Coating Historic Firearms
1. Cleaning Wood Stocks

  • Separate wooden and metal parts. They are cleaned and coated differently.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, leave unfinished interior wooden surfaces alone.
  • Clean exterior of stock as follows:
    • Use a few drops of a mild detergent in a gallon of warm, distilled water, applied with a slightly damp soft cloth, and rinsed with clean cloths dampened with distilled water.
    • Dry with soft cloths immediately after rinsing.
    • Clean again with mineral spirits, using a soft cloth to apply. Work in fresh air or a well-ventilated area.
    • Avoid using “oil soaps” as they can becaustic and may damage an historic oiled surface.

2. Cleaning Barrels and Other Metal Parts. Please note: It is essential to practice any new technique on a sacrificial piece first, before applying it to something irreplaceable.

  • Use nylon or animal-bristle bore brushes. Wherever possible, avoid using brass or steel brushes. Such hard materials can scratch, but also might (under certain conditions) cause galvanic (bi-metallic) corrosion (specifically when using a copper-alloy brush on ferrous metals) by leaving a slight metallic smear behind.
  • Use mineral spirits to soften accretions. Work in fresh air or well-ventilated area. Are there other solvents that are “stronger”? Yes, but they are difficult to work with safely.
  • Swab clean with a cloth patch.
  • Use only extremely fine abrasives such as oil-free 0000 steel wool . Use only if absolutely necessary to remove stubborn rust deposits or other accretions. Work slowly and watch constantly for any changes to the surface. There is always an element of risk in such work. If you are at all uncertain, hire a conservator before causing irreversible damage.
  • When cleaning brass parts, never use products that contain ammonia. Ammonia can damage old copper alloy materials by corroding them from the inside out. In addition, such products may include abrasives which may prove too harsh. Elbow grease and mineral spirits should be tried first. If something slightly stronger is needed, try applying small amounts of wet tooth powder with a cotton swab and rinse with water.
  • A general comment about commercial rust removers. The problem is that most rust removers can’t tell the difference between iron oxide and iron metal, and will leave an etched surface even where there is no rust. Some products seem to come close. Often they require extremely close attention and precision – too much for most of us.
  • Most surface rust can be removed by first lubricating the area with a light penetrating oil and cleaving it off with a sharp scalpel held at a very low angle to the metal. It requires close attention, a steady hand, and some patience, but if you are careful, you will probably get most – if not all – of the surface rust off without leaving a scratch. There is always an element of risk in such work. If you are at all uncertain, hire a conservator before causing irreversible damage. When done, remove any remaining oil with mineral spirits.

3. Disassembly and Reassembly

  • If you are organized and systematic — you should be able to safely disassemble and reassemble most firearms successfully.
  • Probe the floor of every external screw slot with a sharp point held at a very low angle. It’s amazing how much dirt can be packed into a “clean-looking” slot. All foreign matter must be removed for the screwdriver to do its best, safest work. .
  • A good selection of screwdrivers is a must. Their tips must be matched perfectly to each slot in order to maximize the area of mechanical contact. Taking this precaution will minimize slippage and the scratching and scarring that can result. The internal shapes of screw slots have changed a lot since their invention and screwdriver tips often have to be ground or filed in order to get a good match. Keep this in mind when regrinding a screwdriver’s tip.
  • There are many publications that offer exploded drawings and disassembly/reassembly tips.

4. Coating Stocks

  • Wood is neither thirsty nor hungry. It is usually covered by a finish which may have become corrupted in some way, making it look “dry.” The wood beneath the finish does not need to be “fed”, (despite what wood-care product commercials may claim).
  • Never put oil of any kind on an historic finish. There may well be unintended but permanently damaging consequences to ignoring this advice.
  • A cautionary word about linseed oil.
    • Linseed oil takes forever to dry and will trap dust. (It will not stop water penetration either).
    • When linseed oil oxidizes, its molecules cross-link with one another, making it increasingly more difficult to remove as time passes.
    • Oxidized linseed oil (linoleic acid) eventually becomes linoxin, better-known commercially as Linoleum! Repeated, or seasonal, applications eventually develop into a surface that can look like very dark brown alligator skin, and can become almost impossible to remove.
    • Applying a modern finish over an equivalent historic finish can forever confuse the finish “history” of a stock by making it difficult, if not impossible, to tell what (if anything) is original, and what is a restoration material – even with an analytical microscope. Therefore, you would not want to touch up, say, a shellac finish with shellac. Use paste waxes only: i.e., carnauba-based furniture waxes on wood stocks. Avoid wax mixtures which include a high percentage of bee’s wax. They are not especially harmful, but are relatively soft (fingerprint easily) and can be slightly acidic.

5. Coating Metals (this advice is strictly for guns which have been “retired” from use and will never be fired.)

  • Avoid using oils. They are not the best material for long-term protection of collection pieces as they trap dust and dirt, eventually break down and have to be periodically replaced. A high-quality light oil is fine for maintaining a gun you still shoot, though.
  • Use a microcrystalline wax as a protective coating. They are practically inert, remaining stable for a very long time. Apply and buff out with a soft cloth or brush – inside and out.
  • Brass parts can also be coated with wax such as an acrylic spray lacquer because it is easily removed with solvents but bonds especially well to copper-alloy metals, and will withstand more abuse and last longer than wax.

6. Minor Stock Repairs

  • If a split or detached piece of a stock must be repaired, use an adhesive that is both strong and reversible (i.e. can be safely removed at any time in the future). There is only one: traditional hide glue.
  • Do not proceed if there is evidence that the damaged site has been previously repaired. In this case, consult a conservator.
  • Unless you work with hide glue every day – make it up fresh in small amounts as needed. It doesn’t take long to prepare and it will do a better job than using old glue. Hot hide glue is preferable to liquid hide glue as it is less affected by humidity.
  • Dampen the area to be glued with hot water. Blot the area and wait a few minutes. Then apply hot glue to both surfaces with a brush and clamp immediately. An appropriate clamp can be as simple as a few pieces of masking tape, rubber bands, bicycle tire strips, or small padded weights. Use the least force needed to do the job.
  • Clamps can usually be removed in a few hours, but it takes at least 24 hours for the repair to fully harden. · Excess glue can be removed with a lint-free cloth dampened with hot water. The best time to do this is usually right after removing clamps.

7. If you still need help

  • Seek the services of a professional conservator.
    • Contact the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC) for a referral.
    • There are few, if any, conservators who treat nothing but firearms. Look for an “Objects” Conservator with experience working with metal and the other materials (wood, celluloid, leather, etc.) that are part of your artifact.

Friday, October 22, 2010

John Gangel on Collector Grade Firearms

To say that John Gangel man is a wealth of knowledge would be a massive understatement. Mr. Gangel has been collecting antique firearms for the better part of 50 years and knows the industry inside and out. He was gracious enough to speak at length with us about his background in firearms and give us some insights into fine gun and antique firearm collecting.

When did you first get started collecting firearms? Well, I got interested in firearms in the late 1960s actually. I had a few guns before that, but in the late 1960s I got interested in antique firearms and basically pursued that end and I've been with it ever since.

Tell us a bit about your first collectors piece. What was the first gun you ever truly fell in love with? Oh, well my first decent guns were when I had a little moving business. I was in my teens and I traded a move to an elderly lady. I moved her household and traded her for a few old Winchesters and found out that Winchesters sold pretty good. I started concentrating and buying and selling antique guns and that was in about 1969 or 1970.

The first gun I really fell in love with I would say was serial number 1 Texas Paterson which was the first Colt that was ever made and I had it in my collection from 1975 to 1993.

Obviously it took a number of years for you to acquire your knowledge of antique firearms. Did you attend a lot of auctions or did you work inside the industry to gain that knowledge? Yes, all of the above. Basically I traveled to gun shows for many years. I worked in the firearm business. My first business partner was a man named Moe Gruensky at the Musket and Saber in Costa Mesa and I started with him full time in 1969. In 1974 I opened a place called the Antique Arms Locker in Pasadena and in 1975 I opened a business called The Arms Cellar and I had that both of those places from 1975 until early 1990s.

I went into business with a gentleman named Bob Ells from Ells Fargo in 1974 and I was with him until 1979. At one time I had three gun shops in Southern California, one antique and two modern.

So you were doing business in California this entire time? I've been in business in California since 1969.

Tell me a bit about working in that atmosphere. California is not exactly friendly toward gun shops and firearm dealers, even if they do deal in antiques. It definitely is difficult. You have to pay attention and you have to dot the i's and cross the t's and if it's any fun it's not legal in California if it's a gun.

We had a lady come in this morning with a paratrooper carbine that was mint and original and hard to find and I had to tell her that "you can't sell it and you have to take the stock off the gun. It's OK to have the gun and it's OK to have the stock but you can't have the stock on the gun because it's an assault rifle."

She asked "Why is that?" and I had to tell her "That's the way they say it is."

So you were collecting these fine guns for some time before opening up Little John's Auction Service. Well, you know I was selling guns professionally as a dealer and we opened up Little John's Auction Service in 1978 and I've been auctioning fine firearms since then.

...and of course at some point you branched out into other non-firearm collectibles and antiques as well. Yes. Basically I've always concurrently dealt in paintings, fine arts, and antiques. The last 5 years I've moved my book of business in that field over to Prescott Arizona and I'm affiliated with Reata Pass Auctions which is run by my daughter Gabrielle, she's second generation. She sells a lot of the cars, antiques, fine art and antique furniture, porcelain collectibles and that sort of thing. I refer that business to her. I still have one auction a year here locally in Orange County which is my Christmas sale where I sell jewelry and antiques and other related items in what we'd call a "Collector's Auction" and we have one of those every year in December.

That keeps you on a pretty busy schedule then- We do 5 auctions a year and we have a gallery where we have private customers we sell to on a private basis. And then I travel to gun shows also. We kind of do it all.

You probably have to start working on the next auction as soon as the hammer falls on the last item then. That's exactly right. We're cataloging and taking consignments for our December sale right now.

How do you assemble all of these guns into lots and into a complete auction? Do you seek out the items or do consignees basically find you when they have a piece they want to sell? Basically, word of mouth is my best form of advertisement. A lot of other guys will advertise in the Wall Street Journal and other national magazines, but if they haven't heard of me in 40 years of doing business they've been living under a rock. I'm the auctioneer for the Colt Collector's Association, I'm the auctioneer for Winchester Collector's Organization, I'm the judge and the Winchester show and I'm the judge at the Colt show. I'm the auctioneer at Texas Gun Collectors and I'm the judge at Texas Gun Collectors. Pretty much I'm well known in the auction business.

I would definitely agree with that. In fact, let's talk about one of the many guns that became associated with your name. Back in 2003 you auctioned off a very famous gun, the one used to kill Jesse James. Yes, that's definitely one of the more famous guns. You know, it got national attention. It was well documented and so it did get a lot of play. I think when I sold Houston's Bowie knife and way back when I sold the Museum of Rock & Roll I probably got as much national attention, but that one really seemed to go around with the gun collectors.

It truly resonated, especially with the final price of $350,000 that it finally hammered away at. It's got to be exciting for you as an auctioneer to see these prices realized. Tell us a bit about how important the role of the auctioneer is in getting that price. Well, you know my advantage over the other guys is that I actually know what I'm selling. Most auctioneers are selling bushels of wheat and corn the day before and they don't really know one gun from the other. It's a big help for me when I'm actually auctioning the item off I actually know something about history, know the gun, normally know the guy who's going to buy it and know the guy it came from. Basically when I was able to sell the Houston Bowie knife for close to $400,000 what the difference was was knowing the history of the item and knowing how to make the history work in a short space of time in order to sell it.

The history is incredibly important when selling any antique. In the auction business you refer to it as provenance. How do you go about authenticating the provenance of these antiques? Well, it's a process basically. Sometimes you just can't, but I have a person on staff here whose name is John Robinson who is a retired Chief of the Sheriff's Department and is a good investigator and he's a collector himself of historic arms. The two of us investigate things quite diligently before we try to sell them because if we don't believe it we don't put it in our catalog.

You know, I'm very careful with how I word things and I'm very careful about how I describe things. Sometimes you just have to say that it's a story based on something Uncle Ed told Aunt Edna, and that has somewhat of a value but you have to tie it in.

There's a very interesting gun in this auction which I really like and Mr. Robinson really likes, and it's a shotgun that belonged to Jeff Milton, who was a famous Texas Ranger and a famous lawman. The provenance and history on it is really great. It came out of the collection of a man named John Wilson. John Wilson was a big collector who collected historic arms in the very early days. He was from New Mexico and Texas and had ranches in both New Mexico and Texas. He knew a lot of the very early collectors. His father and grandfather were collectors. His father actually knew Pancho Villa personally and basically almost anything from his collection that has that kind of history is really well received.

This shotgun is particularly interesting in that there is a letter from a man named Fallis who was a border patrol supervising agent in the area of Tucson and Jeff Milton worked for him, and it tells the story of how Jeff Milton gave him this gun. It's a nice story and it's good documentation that it came from Wilson and Fallis and these people existed and you can prove that. But what really authenticates it is that there are unpublished photographs of Milton with Fallis and then the one that really drives it home is the one of Milton sitting at the dinner table with Fallis and his wife. This was in his later years and he's sitting at the dinner table with them in their home and then there is a newspaper article during the same period of time that tells about Jeff Milton eating dinner with them in the home that was written in Tucson and was an interview with the wife in the 1940s telling about Jeff Milton.

That's the kind of thing you hope to get, you like to get, and you wish everything had. It's all a process of basically being able to prove these things. You have to prove them. You can't always prove them beyond any doubt but you have to basically establish a circumstantial and likely case. In the case of this Milton gun it's pretty hard to improve upon. You can't get much better than that.

There is also a companion revolver that goes with that shotgun, a Jeff Milton Colt Army Special. Right. It did come from the same place but see that won't bring a huge price because it isn't as well documented. It basically came along with the other gun, but that's all.

How do you make the decision what collections to break up into separate lots and what items to sell together as a set? Well you have to review it and you have to discuss it. Basically I get a second opinion, and I didn't think that the second piece was really important to the first piece. I didn't feel that it helped it that much, so I decided to separate it and sell it separately because the provenance and documentation on that is not as exacting as the other piece. It doesn't say that he used it, he had it and it's likely a gun that he picked up in his travels but not one likely that he used.

The history of these guns is really so important, and I think you'd agree that that is really what collectors are looking for is to own a piece of history. That's correct for a lot of collectors. Some collectors really don't care. The history collectors are into the history and then there are other guys who are into variations. Collecting is a broad myriad of many types of collectors. Some people could care less about history, they don't care.

Speaking of guns without much history, you've got one firearm in this auction that has never been used at all, a 1854 Volcanic carbine rifle that is still new in the box. It is, and it's in it's original box and it's the only one known to exist in this condition. Interestingly enough I thought that that gun had crossed my path years ago, but I couldn't remember it and an old time local collector here whose name is Doug Minnick, he's the maven of Winchester people here in the Southern California area. He was collecting fine Winchesters basically before I was born. I knew him very well. He was acquiring some very good Winchesters in the late '50s and early '60s and he was acquiring them mostly from a guy named Elmer Taylor, and Elmer Taylor had been collecting since the '40s and '50s. We both thought that Elmer Taylor had had this gun and we didn't think there was another one, but couldn't prove it. As it turns out I traced the ownership through about 6 owners over the last almost 50 years and sure enough it had been Elmer Taylors about 40 or 50 years ago.

You mentioned earlier that you got started collecting when you were a teen, and we've been discussing some of the more rare and higher priced firearms, but there are actually some inexpensive bargains to be found at your auction as well. Tell me a bit about them. Matter of fact there are a couple of pocket models in this auction that are inscribed from the Civil War that are really neat guns that have quite rare inscriptions on them and they are very historic and interesting and can be had for a few thousand dollars. And these guns are neat! I read the description of some of them 4 and 5 times and really liked them. There are a lot of other things that aren't terribly expensive that have a lot of history with them. Some of these dueling pistols, for goodness sake, the history on some of those dueling pistols is incredible.

So what you're saying is that anybody can get started collecting for less than the price of a modern rifle. Well, that's something that's really interesting. I know some guys who are spending $3000, $4000, even $5000 for a shooting gun that isn't anything special. Some of the high end shotguns cost $100,000 and more. You can really buy nice antique guns that have some history with them starting at about $400 or $500. It doesn't seem like an incredible amount of money.

For example, Philadelphia Derringers. Philadelphia Derringers have such intriguing history in America. One was used to kill Abraham Lincoln, they were used all during the frontier period and the Civil War period. They have tremendous association to San Francisco and the Barbary Coast and the Western Frontier, '49 and gold miners...

They're the American classic gun, the Derringer pistol, and you can still buy a nice Derringer for $1,500 and you can buy a very nice Derringer for $3,500 and you can buy a great one for $5,000. You know, we have 20 of them in this sale and I've been telling some of my customers that I think that Philadelphia Derringers are incredibly cheap and incredibly interesting. Especially when they have San Francisco Agent's marks on them, that means that they were sold here during the gold rush.

We see these prices vary greatly from year to year. How much of that is driven by buyer interest in a particular model? Well, we've had some price surges over the years that have leveled out. The most notable of what you're talking about is Henry rifles. Henry rifles went through the roof when [the movie] Dances With Wolves came out, and you know they've been going well for about 15 years. They finally got so expensive that they started to level out and have probably gone back down 10%. That was just a lot of hype I would say.

Colt single actions, high end engraved Colt single actions were being pushed very hard for the last about 10 years by about 3-4 very wealthy collectors. They started buying the late engraved single actions for as much as the early engraved single actions, and that was a phenomenon.

I was actually the first one to do it. I sold a late engraved single action for $125,000. It was made in the 1930s, and previous to that no one had seen a 1930s engraved single action break $50,000, or even $30,000. What that was was a couple of wealthy collectors who decided they were going to buy all of the mint engraved single actions that they could. They didn't care if they were 1937, 1930, or 1870, which they were wrong about.

What happened was that the market was pushed by these three guys, then one of the guys died, another guy quit collecting, another one passed away, and another guy got enough. So, the result of that was that whole bunch of them came up in an auction back east and most of them didn't even sell for half of what they had brought because that was a market that was being overly inflated by a few collectors. And you have to watch that. We haven't seen that dramatic of a thing in many years, and when we see that kind of dramatic uprise in things, like the real estate bubble, it is usually followed by a fall.

Presumably a shrewd collector who wanted to scoop up a good bargain on an antique firearm could do a little bit of learning and find out what is going on in the industry and hunt for some great deals. You're 100% right. I was just in Texas, and a very shrewd old buyer who's been at it for 40 years named Dr. Nick Shannon, who's been kind of the go-to guy for the last 40 years when you had a good engraved single action, was out of it for 3-4 years. He was a seller, and now that the prices have adjusted to where he feels comfortable and the prices are in his price range he's very shrewdly buying some.

That is one interesting thing about the collectors market and auctions in general is how the prices are set solely by how much one person desires something. There's no inherent value in the item itself. You know I often have testified and told people that there really isn't any price on unique history. It's just a willing buyer and a willing seller. I talked to a man once who bought a painting for a world record price that was five times what a painting of that type might bring and I asked him what made it worth that type of money.

He told me "It isn't worth anything. It doesn't have anything to do with worth. I'm a business man and what my accountants define as "worth" is how much there is for a return on an investment that I'm buying. There's no guaranteed return on [the painting as an] investment, there's no formula that I can factor. This is just a situation that this is how much money it costs for me to own this, and I have the money, so that's how much I'll pay for it. The fact that I paid five times the high that anyone felt this artist would bring has nothing to do with reality, it's just the price of ownership."

So, it all comes down to how much you're willing to pay to own a piece of history. That's it. There's no value on unique history. It's willing buyer and willing seller.

How does one participate in one of these auctions? I'm in Texas and not going to be able to travel to California for this auction, what options are there if another reader sees an item that they want to bid on? Well there are several ways. Most people will get a catalog, which we are very liberal in giving away. If a person requests a catalog and is a member of any club we send it to them for cost, and don't even charge them for the catalog in most cases. Our catalog is also online and we have online bidding through 3 or 4 providers like and etc. They can bid online through those forms of bidding or they can bid by phone or they can bid by sealed bid. We take sealed bids, phone bids, and internet bids.

Then we have a live group of people who generally show up. We have a huge crowd at our auctions, 500 bidders usually at a sale like this. Our auctions are held at a place called the Phoenix Club, which is the oldest German Club in Southern California and was started by the original immigrants to Anaheim. It's a beautiful club that has the best beer and German food, a very nice facility. We have the auctions at that location and they're very well attended. It's a fun deal.

Of course you don't have to be a bidder to attend do you? I just had a couple of guys in here today and I gave them a catalog and they were kind of apologetic and said "Well, we're not really buyers,"

And I said "Listen, one of the things I enjoy is that this is a hands-on museum. I like collectors who come out, look at the catalog and keep the catalog."

At this auction there were 1,600 guns that the guy had never seen. There are almost 150 dueling pistols. There are probably only 300-350 American dueling pistols in the United States of America by his estimate and mine. That's almost half that exist, and by far the best collection. Then the memorabilia is fantastic, letters written by Jackson about his duel is the only one in private hands, and other supporting documents are incredibly great. You couldn't go to any museum in the United States of America and see anything like this.

You bring up an interesting point on how educational these auctions can be. So many people these days aren't familiar with the history of our nation. Well, I'm trying to pass it on to other collectors and I have a vested interest, besides money, I like to start collectors. I like collectors, and I am a collector. I'm not in this solely for the money. You know I really enjoy collecting, that's why I'm in a lot of clubs. I donate a lot of money and a lot of time to helping most of the major clubs in the United States such as the NRA, the Texas Gun Collectors, the Colt Collectors Association and the Winchester Collectors Association, because I want to see collecting go on. It is a fraternity, I'm aware of that, and what I try to do particularly in my catalog is have a research quality catalog.

I think that that's very important. I look at a lot of gun catalogs and basically the descriptions are terrible. They bear no resemblance to the gun whatsoever. They're done by people who aren't gun people, have no appreciation of history, and don't understand what they sell. I think if you read my catalog, after reading it you could say basically that the person who wrote this knows what he's looking at and knows about history.

What can we do to encourage the next generation of, not just collectors, but firearm enthusiasts? Give them books and catalogs and tell them to read, because once they read the story of America and once they see the American firearms and once they get that bug of reading the history, like I have a book on the life of Robert Hall who is one of the great Texas Rangers. I've had probably more Texas Ranger stuff than almost anyone. I've owned Ben McCulloch's gun, I've owned some of the best Texas Rangers stuff there are. I sold Houston's Bowie knife. I was able to buy a frontiersman's outfit that was Robert Hall's, who was one of the great early Texas Rangers along with a powder horn that was presented to him by Sam Houston. It's documented by a book written on his life in the 1890s where it is pictured. It's one of the best things I've ever owned. I just displayed it in Texas.

What was so much fun for me, and a bunch of other people, I had never read this book on Robert Hall and I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable party, not an expert on the Texas Rangers, but a very knowledgeable party. I've read hundreds of books on the Texas Rangers and by buying this outfit and the horn I also got the book with it and there was a completely new dimension to the Texas Rangers written by a man in the 1890s who was right there. There was a lot of information in there that I hadn't previously known, and there's a great little anecdotal story in there about how Hall and Bigfoot Wallace were invited at the 50 year Centennial of Texas in 1886. In 1886 the Texans started having appreciation for their history because it was 50 years since the Texas Revolution and they had a big series of shindigs, events and things and they invited Wallace and Hall to this big event.

They showed up there and they were dressed like frontiersmen and everyone was really enthusiastic about hearing them speak. The announcer asked them to say a few words and give a speech and they looked at each other and said "We can't speak, we're not professional speakers" and the announcer asked them "Well, what can you do?" and they replied "Go get a couple of fiddlers, we're going to show you how we dance."

So, they went and got a couple of fiddlers and they told them that on the frontier they learned to dance from the Indians and that the guys on the frontier would dance like the old frontiersmen at the rendezvous in the hills. So they got out and they had this big shindig and they had thousands of people cheering. To this day this is remembered as these guys doing this hoe-down with fiddles playing and entertaining thousands of people at the Centennial of Texas. It's just a great story.

Tell me about some of the guns that you've had that you didn't have a complete history on that later turned out to have a rich and surprising story behind them. There is one in particular right off the top of my head was a Texas Paterson that had belonged to a Texas Ranger named Lowe. There are only a couple of Texas Patersons that are dedicated to Texas Rangers and this one was in really poor condition. It was probably the poorest condition Texas Paterson that I ever had, but it had absolutely impeccable history as belonging to a Ranger named Lowe.

I had it for a little while until one of my friends talked me out of it. I really did a little bit of research, not too much, and I sold it to a guy who was a great researcher. I was out driving in Texas and for some reason had decided to pull over at this historical marker out in the boonies on the east side of Texas heading into Louisiana. As I pulled in I saw "Grave site of a Texas Ranger" and it was Lowe's grave site.

It told the whole story of about him and how he'd been a pioneer in the area and how he'd been an Indian fighter and so on and so forth. So I called the friend of mine who I sold this to and told him "Look, I found Lowe".

We had known a little bit about him, but not very much, but there was the whole story and it was just by luck that I pulled into his resting place just because I saw a historical marker.

You really do have a wealth of knowledge on these firearms and their history... You know, I write a book every time I do a catalog. My latest catalog was about 360,000 words. A pocket book that you buy in the airport is generally 60,000-90,000 words. That's basically 3-3.5 books here and I'm going to do another one in May of next year. My books are my catalogs.

It must be difficult to condense such rich histories down into a small paragraph or two. Well, my editor is my wife. A lot of it ends up on the cutting room floor if it becomes too long winded. Sometimes you have a tendency to over prevaricate.

Much of the provenance and authentication materials, letters and such, get sold with the firearm. We're very conscious with trying to keep the provenance. As I said, I've got a researcher on staff who is much more diligent about it than I am. He's written a lot of articles for magazines and he's a collector. His job is to help me with the provenance and help me to maintain the paperwork and provenance. For this auction we have 5 or 6 huge boxes filled with history and provenance that go with the Orbello collection.

It's very important to keep that all, and I think most collectors that are out there realize that I am really cognizant of keeping the history and provenance with the material and I really make an effort to really stay with it. Unfortunately sometimes I've been in to some collections where collectors got old or they got a little bit sloppy when they got sick and some paperwork got discarded here or there.

In some cases it just becomes too voluminous. I was just taking care of Tom Seymour's estate and Tom Seymour started collecting in the 1950s and collected for 50 years and he never threw anything away. It was thousands of pieces of paper. It was a truckload of research and basically we just took about the last 10 boxes and just auctioned it off at the Texas Gun Collectors show and one fellow decided that it was going to be his job to go through all of this and try to get it to the right people. He'd maintain it until he could find some people who could sift through it and basically try to get it to people who knew about it, because some of it was important.

That's a very good point about what happens when people come into this by inheriting an existing collection, or even just a few antique firearms. So many people don't know how to maintain these collections or care for the firearms, I'm sure you've had some heart wrenching experiences coming across an exquisite piece that was "cleaned up". I've had some bad experiences like that. We had a local gun smith here, and I won't use his name, but he was a local gunsmith and he knew nothing about antique guns. All he cared about was trying to make a few hundred dollars on every gun that walked in his store.

I had appraised a very fine Kentucky rifle for a woman in a retirement community that was made by Albright. Albright was a man who carved stocks on Kentucky rifles very beautifully with animals in high relief. It's very rare, and he was as good a carver as some of the European carvers of the 18th and 19th century. It was a beautiful gun and was in untouched original condition.

I had a close friend whose name is Walter O'Connor who is probably the premier expert on early Americana. In my opinion he is since Bill Guthman died. Walter and I were willing to pay for the gun at the time, and this was many years ago, $25,000. We're going back probably 20 years here. We told the lady all this and left her with an offer and about 7 years go by and I happened to go into this gun shop in Souther California and hanging on the wall was a Kentucky rifle. I asked them to take it down and they took it down and I recognized it instantly as the Albright Kentucky rifle that I had appraised.

There aren't very many of them and this one had a carving of a deer jumping over a log on the left side. The gun had been completely refinished and sanded down to where the carving was indistinct, where you could barely make out where the carving had originally been. The gun had been completely shined to a high finish. The metal had been refinished and the brass had been polished. The name was ground almost off. It looked like a brand new reproduction and the guy who showed it to me was so proud of his work he said "Yeah, I told the lady that this will bring $30,000 now that I've cleaned all of the crap off of it," and I was ejected from the place for telling him that he took a great treasure and turned it into nothing. It wasn't worth $3,000 after what he did to it.

If somebody does inherit a collectors piece, an antique gun, or even just an older firearm they feel may be worth something, how do they properly care for it? Restoration is restoration, but most people who repair guns are not qualified to be restorers. A general rule of thumb is never to do too much, and in most cases do nothing. Myself personally, when I get guns I do almost no restoration because everyone has a different idea of restoration. I just make them work.

Collectors love and will pay for original dirt. Patina is very important. What is patina? Patina is essentially original dirt. People really like the original dirt on a gun.

That rust and corrosion are often what give a gun its character. Still, it's not like we want to encourage more rust or damage. What precautions should a collector take to preserve their firearms? Guns love good oil. With all of the synthetic products that we wrap these guns in, you go and buy a boot or a case for a gun and it has a synthetic interior when you put some of these new products on the guns they can react with the linings of these cases and cause pitting and rust.

I have guns I paid a million dollars for and I've handled the finest guns in the world. The best way is to just oil it and wrap it in a cotton T-shirt, towel, or sock. I have guns that I put away 25 years ago and they're still perfect wrapped in a cotton towel. You just take them, unwrap them and oil them once or twice a year and they're perfect.

There's a terrible story about Frank Singer, who was one of the biggest collectors in America, and he went and bought some of this fancy oil and put his guns in these sheepskin lined boots and there was a reaction between the oil and the sheepskin because of the humidity in the safe where they were stored and it did $500,000 worth of damage to his fine Colt collection. He was insured and he proved it in a court of law that the chemical reaction occurred.

Well, I appreciate the time you've taken to talk to us today. You're a wealth of information. What I'm here for is to learn more. Every auction I do, I learn more. This auction was fantastic for me because I learned more about dueling pistols. I thought I knew a lot until I had this collection and met the man who collected it. He spent 40 years learning it and now I've spent 4 or 5 months learning it and it's really been a joy in my opinion just to handle this merchandise.

One of the important thing in collecting is to get a couple of good mentors. There are people in the business who are very knowledgeable. A guy starting out alone should always get a second or third opinion and the older guys who have been collecting a long time will always help the younger guys.

Join a collectors club or collectors association. If you live in Texas, join the Texas Gun Collectors Association, it's the best collectors club in the country. I've been a member for 40 years and there isn't a better group of guys. The show is a hoot and the guys are great.

John Gangel is the owner of Little John's Auction Service and his next auction is October 27th-28th in Orange California. You can browse through the listings in the up coming auction here on the Shooter's Log where we've broken the lots into three groups: Lots 1-450, Lots 451-900, and Lot 901-1500b.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Hunting Knife

Master Hunter skinning knife from Cold Steel

During deer season there is one tool that is nearly as important as your rifle or bow when it comes to harvesting that trophy buck. While a rifle or bow are critical tools for making the shot, the real work begins after the shot. Once you’ve located your downed quarry, only one tool will do the work you need and it’s one that many hunters overlook: the hunting knife.

The first step after locating your prey and confirming that it is dead is to field dress the animal. Having a good well-balanced hunting knife with a well honed edge is critical here. Without a very sharp knife you can easily damage the meat with rough tearing cuts. A dull knife requires more effort to use making it more likely that the knife could slip and puncture the gut and have the contents spill out into the body cavity. It’s important to note that bigger is not better when it comes to skinning knives. Properly field dressing and skinning a deer is a delicate process and being able to maintain precise control of a sharp blade is very important. A bigger knife simply becomes unwieldy. A good skinning knife should have a blade measuring 3″-5″ in length with the knife not exceeding 12″ in overall length.

Case Folding Skinner

The hunting knife is a multipurpose tool. Though primarily intended for use skinning and butchering game animals, it can be pressed into service as a machete or hatchet. Most people think of the traditional Bowie knife as a hunting knife, but more modern drop blade designs have taken it’s place. The first evolution of the Bowie knife was the clip-point blade. Designed for better piercing as opposed to slicing, the clip point is not particularly suited for processing meat, though it will work in a pinch.

The Wyoming Knife

The drop point blade has a spine that also drops down to meet the edge at the point, but unlike the clip point the curve is convex. More versatile than the clip point, drop point blades are usually thicker and stronger than the clip point and this gives the user enhanced control and precision when making a cut.

The skinning blade is generally broader and more curved than a drop point blade, although either style can be used for skinning game and animals. The skinning blade is designed so that it will not pierce or tear the meat while you are skinning the animal. Using a highly swept blade allows the modern skinner to easily separate flesh from skin. Though intended primarily for flaying, a dedicated skinning knife can also perform other tasks such as cleaning and gutting as well or better than a drop point.

A gut hook, while not strictly necessary, can also make opening up the body cavity much easier while reducing the risk of puncturing the gut itself. Gut hooks cannot be sharpened with a traditional whetstone and must instead be kept keen with a thin round file.

Folding skinners are much more convenient to carry around, but usually don’t have the wider curved blade found on most fixed blade skinners.

For the ultimate in skinning knives, look no further than the razor sharp Wyoming knife. Fitted with a single dual edged scalpel blade, this knife easily slices through the toughest hides. The integral gut hook makes it very fast and easy to field dress your deer in record time. The convenient carrying case included with the knife can be attached to your belt for easy access when you need it and an include sheath keeps the finely honed blade protected.

The Wyoming knife is not designed to be sharpened. Instead it relies upon razor sharp scalpel-like blades that can be replaced when dull. When it comes time, blade replacement is quickly accomplished by simply removing the single screw holding the blade in place, pulling out the old blade and inserting the new one. The Wyoming knife is truly a specialized tool and is not well suited for any other task, so if you choose to carry this knife it should only be in addition to a more traditional hunting knife.

Regardless of what style hunting knife you choose, it should always be well cared for. Frequent cleaning and oiling will prevent dullness from corrosion while honing the blade will increase the length of time between necessary sharpening. Unlike sharpening, honing doesn’t actually remove any material from the edge. Instead it merely straightens and aligns the thin metal on a microscopic level.

For more information on caring for your hunting knife, see our articles on sharpening and honing a blade.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guide to Buying Eye Protection/Shooting Glasses

A beginner shooter needs to have some very basic equipment to start shooting. Shooting glasses and hearing protection are second to ammo and a gun! Outdoor and indoor ranges absolutely require you to wear both. Even if you are shooting on your own land, you should not go without ear or eye protection.

A good place to start is to look for glasses that meet ANSI Z87 +1 standards. The American National Standards Institute defines those as:

  1. Provide protection
  2. Be comfortable
  3. Fit securely
  4. Be capable of being disinfected
  5. Be durable
  6. Fit over prescription eyewear

Further, there are extra features you should look for in quality eye protection. The glasses should have side shields. The frames should be made of nylon, rubber or propionate to hold their shape and will not break. To make the frames even more durable, look for a frame that has spring hinges. Wraparound temples keep your glasses in place during recoil and most importantly the lenses should be impact-resistant plastic or polycarbonate which is less likely to break and be more scratch-resistant.

Lens color is another important factor to look at when choosing your glasses. Each lens color has pros and cons for each different shooting condition. Therefore, you might want to choose a pair with interchangeable lenses or pick out a few different pairs, depending on where you shoot most often. Don’t forget to check to see if the lenses you are buying provide UV protection, especially if you shoot outside.

Smoke/gray lenses are most effective in bright sunlight because they block glare. However, they are not effective in the woods or other shady areas. These are best suited for outdoor range shooting.

Vermilion lenses (red) give you a better view of light-colored targets against a dark background. These would be best for hunting.

Amber/brown lenses block blue light which are good for a cloudy day.

Yellow/orange lenses contrast, block haze and blue light, and enhance the color orange. The brighter yellow the lenses are, the better for shooting at night time. These lenses are best for outdoor shooting.

Ice lenses show true color.

Copper lenses are a good all-purpose choice. They are good for use during cloudy conditions or in bright sunshine.

Mirror and Polarized lenses reduce glare. Polarized lenses are better than mirrored lenses and they are especially good for dawn or dusk shooting.

Indoor/Outdoor lenses are clear with mirror-coating. The coating reflects light and reduces glare.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Choosing a Handgun Caliber

The .32 NAA cartridge is a decent performing round, but isn’t always easy to find on store shelves.

I’m going to open up a can of worms on this topic. There is perhaps no more effective way to stir up debate than to bring up the topic of handgun calibers.

First, let’s dispel a few myths: There is no such thing as a “man stopper” or a handgun caliber that is capable a “one shot stop”. Compared to their larger rifle caliber brethren, all handgun rounds seem puny and underpowered. That’s primarily because the handgun itself is a compromise between portability and power. The reason military forces don’t equip their soldiers with handguns as a primary weapon is because they’re just not as effective at quickly stopping an attacker as a rifle is.

How does one decide what caliber to get a handgun in? Dave Sevigny said it best when he told us to “just get the biggest caliber you can hit with or the one you’re most comfortable with.” Why the emphasis on size? Because when it comes to a handgun caliber you need every bit of performance you can get.

Still, there is always the trade-off of size vs. concealability and portability. Few people would recommend carrying a small pocket pistol chambered in .357 Magnum. While such guns exist, they are difficult to shoot well and usually only hold 5 rounds or less. Neither is a soft shooting .32 ACP caliber pistol with a 20 round capacity necessarily appropriate. A handgun is always a compromise, which is why you should choose based on ergonomics and the firearm’s intended role first (home defense vs. concealed carry) and decide on a caliber second.

The Bersa Thunder .380 Concealed Carry pistol is reliable, soft shooting, and easily to conceal.

Consider these things when choosing a handgun caliber:

How comfortable is it to shoot in my pistol? Most pistols are available in a variety of calibers. Once you’ve decided what model pistol you want, try shooting it in the various calibers. A small handgun such as a Glock 26 firing a 9mm may be uncomfortable for some shooters while a larger handgun such as a Glock 20 firing a massive 10mm cartridge may be easily tamed in larger hands. Like Dave said: choose the largest caliber you can comfortably shoot.

Can I afford to practice regularly with this caliber? Larger caliber ammunition is generally more expensive than smaller caliber ammunition, so you will need to add this cost difference into the equation. If you choose a larger caliber such as .357 Magnum or .45 ACP make sure that you can find ammunition that is inexpensive enough to allow you to practice regularly.

Is it a “standard” caliber? Some calibers are simply more abundant and easier to find than others. Before you buy that pistol chambered in .45 GAP or 7.62 Tokarev, consider how easy (or difficult) it is to find a box of cartridges in that caliber. When the ammunition shortage hit a few years ago we saw everything dry up, and the unusual calibers disappeared just as fast as the more common 9mm, but these oddball cartridges were replaced on the shelves much more slowly than the more common calibers.

Terminal Ballistics When it comes to a handgun, the last thing to look at is the actual performance of the round. Colonel Jeff Cooper once said about the little .25 ACP “If you must carry a .25 ACP caliber pistol, do not load it. For if you load it, you might use it. And if you shoot somebody with it, and they find out about it, they’re likely to be very upset with you.” While a gun chambered in 25 ACP beats the heck out of not having a gun at all, it’s simply not adequate at stopping a determined attacker. A .22LR may meet all of our criteria listed above, being cheap, comfortable, and abundant, but it too lacks adequate stopping power. For most handguns .380 ACP should generally be the minimum caliber you choose. It seems like every firearm manufacturer is producing small .380 pocket pistols these days, but if you can comfortably conceal and shoot a larger caliber handgun, bigger is always better. If it meets the criteria listed above and you can accurately shoot it, choose a pistol chambered in .45 ACP, .40 S&W, or .357 Magnum for a revolver.

Despite what anyone tells you, there is no magic number, no special caliber that will reliably stop a determined attacker. Find a pistol that fits you and your needs, whether for concealed carry or home defense, and then get it in the largest caliber you can comfortably shoot. Don’t worry about ammunition capacity, but instead practice and focus on getting accurate shots.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Picking a Fighting Optic

Eotech 557.AR223 HWS Rifle Sight

Whether mounting it on your home defense weapon, outfitting a SHTF rifle, or building a duty gun, choosing the right optic can make a difference in the effectiveness of your long gun. There is no room for compromise when it comes to purchasing an optic that your life or the lives of your loved ones may be dependant upon. If an optic is out of reach of your budget, it may be time to rethink your budget priorities (or time to get a job delivering pizzas). There are basically two choices when it comes to picking an optic: magnified traditional scopes or red dot sights (RDS).

To Magnify or Not

The ability to make precision hits on small or moving targets several hundred yards away will probably not be needed by most people. But if the need is there, nothing beats a variable power scope with an illuminated reticle. These scopes are usually compact and on the low end of the magnification as close to one power as possible. Most have a mil-dot or a reticle designed for close in engagements. These scopes allow the shooter to dial the scope up to the higher magnification needed for long range shooting and dial the scope back to engage nearby targets using the illuminated reticle as a RDS. Scopes such as these include the Leupold Mark 4 MR/T M2 Riflescope and the Leupold Mark 4 CQ/T Riflescope. Another option is a fixed power scope with an miniature RDS mounted on it. This provides the shooter with the option of quick acquisition close range sighting with the RDS, and the precision for longer range shooting with the fixed-power scope, although it does add bulk and weight to your weapon system.

The Aimpoint CompM4

The Ubiquitous RDS

Professionals know that the red dot sight (RDS) almost universally lets the shooter engage targets faster and with more precision. The RDS is also easier to learn to shoot with when compared to the traditional iron sights. When you speak of quality red dot sights, the industry standard is Aimpoint. Adopted by the U.S. Army as the M68 CCO the Aimpoint CompM2 is rugged and features a 10,000 hour extended battery life. Replacing the CompM2 as the M68 CCO is the Aimpoint CompM4which adds improved energy efficiency with 80,000 hours battery life and the integral mount base screws directly into the sight – no separate sight ring is required. The newest RDS that is causing a stir is the Aimpoint Micro H-1. With typical Aimpoint strength and battery life while weighing in at only three ounces the Micro series is light enough to be used anywhere you might need an RDS.

3X magnifier made by Aimpoint

The Magnified RDS

As was mentioned earlier the option of having a traditional magnified scope with an attached mini red dot sight (MRDS) has been field and battle tested with very positive results. Another application developed from battle is mounting a magnifier behind an RDS. This magnifier is simply that, devoid of reticles or adjustments, its only job to increase the usable distance of the RDS. The most efficient way to mount this to the weapon behind the RDS is some sort of quick detach mount to allow the use of the RDS by itself. There is the Aimpoint Twist Mount and EOTech and others make flip to side mounts (FTS).


Your weapons system is only as good as its weakest link, weather that is magazines, ammunition, or you, the shooter. When it comes to your fighting rifle do not let your weakest link become the mount for your optics. Skimping on this would completely undermine the idea of a solid optic for your fighting gun. For magnified optics some of the best scope mounts are the one piece mounts from companies like GG&G such as the AC-30. The other option for mounting a traditional or tactical magnified scope on your fighting gun is simple quality rings from companies like Leupold and Warne. For attaching a 30mm RDS the Aimpoint QRP is hard to beat and GG&G is one of many manufacturers that offer an Aimpoint Cantilever Ring mount for those that need to mount a 30mm RDS further forward.


No matter which optic you choose, remember to practice, practice, and practice some more with your entire weapons system. This practice will ensure your ability to deliver shots on targets and determine any weaknesses with your weapons system, not to mention the benefits that practice has on your confidence, confidence that you may find useful some dark day.