Monday, March 05, 2018

My Father's Gun

Things lost; things gained; the past, as always, remains.

The thing is I don’t remember the first time I had a gun in my hands. It seems like something I should remember, some profound milestone to mark the passing from childhood to the mysterious realm of the adults. But...nothing. I do remember my father and his brother, Uncle Sonny, sitting on the porch of my grandparents’ ramshackle house in rural Mississippi, not far from the crossroads where bluesman Robert Johnson made his much-noted deal with the Devil, shooting .22 Shorts at a coffee can filled with sand. It was high summer, blazing hot, and both men were in white James Dean t-shirts and skin-tight Levi jeans with the legs rolled up. My father, who had killed men on some nameless island in the South Pacific, and my uncle, who ran moonshine in a big Pontiac sedan, were particular about their jeans.
The can was about 10 feet away — an amazing distance to a little kid! — at the base of the huge oak that dominated the dirt front yard. With each “pop!” of the little .22 revolver, a Ruger copy of an old cowboy single action, the can would jerk.
“You want to let him do it?” my uncle asked, nodding toward me. I was aching to get my hands on that gun, to feel the smooth grips and the little shock of recoil, to watch that can shiver as the tiny slugs hit it. I must have been five, maybe six, years old, and I’d cried when Brandon de Wilde yelled, “Shane! Come back! Come back, Shane!
“Not yet,” my father said. “He can shoot just fine, but he can’t hit what he’s shooting at every single time.”
“Hell,” said my uncle the moonshine runner, “neither can I!”
Both men laughed, in the way I thought real men laughed when there wasn’t a mom around to tsk-tsk about profanity, a fellowship born of the blistering heat and the unmistakable smells of Hoppes-9 solvent and smokeless gunpowder. My father let me hold the little Ruger, but he didn’t let me pull the trigger. Even so, I’ve always counted that day as my initiation into the culture of guns...

My father’s guns were not particularly valuable. In firearms as in the rest of his life, he had an almost uncanny ability to seize the dross while letting the gold slip through his fingers. And in a way perhaps emblematic of the post-war years of the 1950s, he cherished a belief that more inevitably translated into better.
Still, the core of his collection — the guns I think of as my father’s guns — said a lot about a man who grew up in the northeast Mississippi woods, went to war and came back to a Memphis boomtown. There was, of course, a Winchester 30-30 lever action rifle, a direct descendent of the Gun that Won the West, the Winchester 1873 rifle, and the later Winchester 1892, made famous in the mitt-like hands of John Wayne in so many movies. Load the flat-point 30-30 rounds in the tubular magazine, work the lever just like a million cowboys movies showed you how, pull the trigger, and the small Tennessee whitetails fell. The “thurty-thurty” — no one in my family and maybe even the whole South actually called them “Winchesters” —  was a workingman’s gun, a harvesting tool that hung on the walnut gunrack in the living room of our suburban Memphis house until the oaks and maples started showing their fall colors.
Equally prosaic was the “squirrel rifle,” a pump Winchester .22 popular in the shooting galleries at the Mid-South Fair every year. The Winchester was my grandfather’s gun, passed down in the hallowed Southern tradition from father to eldest son. “Hell, it’s really your gun, son, but you just don’t get it for a few more years,” my father told me year in and year out. But those years seemed infinitely long, so every fall when the state fair rolled around, I gathered up allowance money, whatever small change I could scrounge, and determined that I would win my own gallery gun, the grand prize at the fair’s shooting galleries. Five shots for a quarter, and if you grouped all your shots together and completely obliterated a small red star target, you won the gun.
I managed to win enough teddy bears, stuffed animal and doo-dads to fill Graceland to the brim, and in truth won that rifle a dozen times over except for the errant finger of the carney barker, who found the tiniest hint of red star each time. After years and probably hundreds of dollars in quarters, one of the carneys, all tattoos and a dangling cigarette, took pity on me.
“Son,” he said, “the teddy bears and all that crap are from the fair, but this here’s my rifle. You win it and it comes out of my pocket, then what am I gonna give my boy? But damn it all, you can shoot!”
Then there was the rifle my father made with his own hands, a Swedish Mauser bolt action that saw service in his war. He’d taken the old military rifle and following the instructions in a paperback book called “Converting Military Rifles,” its red cover creased and stained with lubes and solvents from the workbench, had turned the old military rifle into a “sporter” with a new walnut stock in the high comb Weatherby style, a turned-down bold handle and a new set of sights. He’d inlet a silver half-dollar coined in the year he was born into the stock, then rubbed the stock with coat after coat of oil until the finish was a deep and dark as a well.
He loved the rifles and his Remington semiauto shotgun, with its fat Cutts Compensator and adjustable choke and it’s shoulder-pounding 12-gauge recoil, but from the first my heart was captured by the handguns. Part of that reason for my choice of obsession was prosaic…the long guns were hunting tools, and my father never asked me to go hunting with him. I waited, begged, longed, for the invitation; smart, nerdy kid that I was, I’d read the great hunting books, the Hemingways and the Ruarks, listened with rapt attention to grandfathers and uncles and assorted members of the extended family, understood the natural progression of things in the South. I’d cleaned rabbits and quail and dove when the hunters came home; helped clean and oil the guns and waited, because my time was coming.
But it never came. My father…lost interest. The fights between him and my mother escalated, and he was gone on the road more and more. Many years later, I would get a call from a nice woman who told me she was my sister, a planned child, part of my father’s other family, all of half a block down the street. The sheer logistic considerations of it staggered me…two families separated by three houses.
My father had three handguns, the little Ruger .22 revolver, a second Ruger revolver, a .357 Magnum single action Blackhawk, referred to as a “Flat-top” because the top part of the gun’s frame was flat rather than humped to accommodate a larger sight, and a Remington Rand 1911 .45 semiauto, marked “U.S. Property.” The Remington Rand was a dark gun, a heavy thing of war and a remembrance my father never talked about. It was always loaded, seven fat 230-grain thumb-sized .45 in its black steel magazine. “Can’t hit a damn thing with it,” he said, or, occasionally, “Hit you in the finger and knock you flat on your ass!” Depended on the day.
The Flat-top was clearly his favorite, and when he’d first gotten the gun in the late 1950s, he’d taken me out to his workshop and taught me how to reload the .357 cartridges. The Magnum was essentially a longer version of the aging .38 Special, designed to drive a bullet faster and harder than any earlier handguns. But the cartridges were expensive, so my father reloaded his own.
He’d take the fired brass, which had expanded on firing, size it back down in a special die in a reloading press, replace the spent primer, add gunpowder, then top it off with a bullet that he’d made from soft lead wire pressed into a copper cup. The bullet was seated with another special die. I made my first .357 round when I was eight, and I thought it was just short of magic.
The less my parents paid attention to me, the more attention I paid to the Flat-top. My father’s reloads, and mine at first, were predicated on the idea that if the reloading manual said five grains of powder, six would no doubt be better. Seven better still. The Ruger bucked and roared with the heavy loads, fireballs flashing out the barrel as the gun ripped upward in recoil. “You like that gun,” my father said one day. “I’m good with it,” I replied. He laughed.
I carried the Flat-top in the woods whenever I could, in a cheap leather holster from the hardware store. Hardware stores still sold holsters, and guns, and ammo in those days. My grandfather, a serious bass fisherman along the Tennessee River, had launched himself into the breech left by my father and was convinced that I would follow in his angling footsteps. I dutifully learned the ins and outs of bass fishing, which lure in the morning and which in the evening, reading rivers and lakes, the art of precision casting…I hated it
One day we were walking home, my grandfather and I, along the river after a day of many casts and no fish. It was Tennessee hot, the air as still and thick as a musty quilt, and my grandfather was talking about the Tao of Bass. We passed a shallow pool, and a lunker, call it four pounds or so, was laying up in the shallows, too sluggish to go deeper. As my grandfather started to say we’d have another chance at the old bass tomorrow, I pulled the Ruger, rolled the big hammer back and launched a 125-grain rocket into the pool. Then I plucked the very dead fish out of the water. My grandfather just shook his head.
“My son, I fear you are never going to a fisherman,” he said. “You and them damn pistols…” He let the thought dangle there, another ignored lure.

It’s a memory I cherish, because that was my last normal summer. The next year my beloved younger brother would complain of a nagging headache and 12 agonizing months later the brain tumor would kill him. What I know of grace, I learned from him in those endless hellish months. On the last day, I went into his bedroom, a room we’d shared before he took ill, touched his hand and told him I loved him. He smiled at me. Then I went to my high school and sat numbly in class, staring at the black chalkboard and waiting for the call I somehow knew would be coming that day.
My family…exploded. I suppose my father’s other family exploded as well, but I wasn’t in a position to know. My mother, always balanced on a knife edge of savage depression and manic intensity — bi-polar, we’d call it now, and know how to treat it —  slipped off the edge into full blown crazy, rants and hysteria that even now I choose not to put to paper, all carefully hidden from the neighbors. Your mom’s cool, my school friends would say. My mom’s nuts, I would think in reply, but never say.
The guns were my refuge in those last years of high school, an endlessly fascinating study that took me away from the maelstrom my home life had become. I read the classics — Ed McGivern, Elmer Keith, Charles Askins, Skeeter Skelton — and poured over every word from Col. Jeff Cooper in the monthly Guns & Ammo magazines. In between Calculus and Advanced Placement English, I studied the art and science of pistolcraft — shooting and reloading, one hand versus two hands, the push-pull grip of the newly coined Weaver stance and Jeff Cooper’s radical Modern Technique of the pistol. Years later I would sit with an aged Col. Cooper in the basement gun vault at his home at the legendary GUNSITE Academy in Arizona, as close to a holy place as the mysterious alchemy of shooting would allow, and handle the blued steel icons of those times. “Hell, Michael,” the Colonel would say, “you were there for most of it.”
“But not the beginning,” I answered, remembering. “Not the beginning.”
My father simply disappeared into a world I could neither imagine or enter, a world of guilt and depression, alternating with epic battles with my mother. He worked for a pharmaceutical company, and the gravity of the “professional samples” and “courtesy prescriptions” held he and my mother in drug-induced thrall. I did what young men had done since time immemorial…I left. For college, for a career as a newspaper writer — “Your father and I so hoped you would amount to something,” my mother said when my first national bylines were appearing. “I guess we were wrong” — then magazines and on to books and eventually to television.
And I continued to shoot. I moved from plinking to formal competition; first “bullseye,” what people think of when someone says “target shooting,” trying to shoot small groups at concentric circles. But I was quickly drawn into the new sport created by Col. Cooper — “combat shooting,” an intricate dance of high-powered handguns, multiple shooting positions, targets at all ranges and athletic challenge. We shot modern copies of my father’s World War 2 1911 .45 pistol from swinging bridges, around complicated barricades, at targets as close as the muzzle of the gun and as far away as half a football field. We learned to reload on the run, to clear jams without ever breaking stride, to shoot from standing, kneeling, prone or any combination thereof, to analyze complex stages of fire and decide on a strategy in seconds. We fired more rounds in an average month than most people shooters in a lifetime.
I took as my mentors the last of the great pistol fighters, men who in law enforcement or the military had made their livings with guns, had faced other men with guns. I shot alongside legends, met my heroes, spent time with weapons designers and in factories, studied the history of firearms and the men who created them. I taught pistolcraft and self-defense, studied various and sundry martial arts from the Filipino knife dances to full-contact fighting — cold, damp mornings are a particular treat these days — participated in sports where the consequences of failure was death, then took those mindsets back to the range.
I remained cordial with my family, but distant. I suppose I could tell you about anger and recrimination and tears, ignored pleas for treatment and therapy, visits that ended abruptly, needles scattered around the house, all the bits and pieces of exploded lives; about the heart attack that took my mother as we were talking on the phone and my father’s third family and his all too brief journey back from, and the short slide back to, the lost world of the drugs and the depression, but I don’t suppose it matters all that much anymore.
Instead I’ll tell you one last story — indeed, the last story — about my father’s guns, and maybe about me. The inevitable call came when I was at a firearms trade show, signing autographs and studying the next year’s advances in weaponcraft…you may not know it, but guns are like cars, and there are new models every year, many of them still based on John Browning’s apparently ageless 1911 pattern.
My father had slipped into his final coma, and his new family said I need to come immediately. I fly to his bedside in a Memphis hospital, a nagging headache I can’t shake making the flight a endless misery. I go straight to the hospital, where I take his hand, shrunken and palsied from the hand I remembered on the little Ruger so many years ago. It’s okay, I tell him, I’m here, and you can go now. He dies that way, holding my hand. I do the things one does in times like that; shake hands with obscure relatives; stare at the body as if there is something to be learned, some truth I’ve overlooked…then I go to my father’s last home in rural Tennessee. By the way, my father’s wife casually mentions on the drive through the green, green fields of Tennessee in the summer, your father didn’t want you to have any of the guns. He gave them, she says, all to my grandson. 
“Whatever,” I say, my head now an agony.
At the house, I mention to my father’s wife that I should clear all the guns, since my father invariably left everything loaded. “Oh no,” she says. “He told me everything was always kept unloaded. That was his absolute rule.” Without answering I walk to the old gun cabinet from our original house, pick a rifle at random — a Marlin lever action rifle — work the lever and pop a fat 45/70 cartridge onto the floor. “Oh my dear lord!” my father’s wife says. So I sit on the floor and methodically unload my father’s guns for the last time. Strangely, the important guns, the guns of my abbreviated youth, are all gone…the little Ruger, the Flat-top, the Winchester rifles, gone and replaced with dozens of “best buys,” “gunsmith specials” and flashy gold-plated “collectors’ items.” As I work, my father’s wife keeps pulling more guns from places they’d been secreted, in case, I suppose, I had decided to stage a raid on the place. Finally, at the very bottom of the gun cabinet, wrapped in dirty oilcloth, is my father’s 1911. I drop the magazine and there are the seven fat .45 ACP rounds with headstamps from the 1940s, as dark and dangerous as I remembered.
“I’m going to take this one,” I say, slapping the magazine back in and racking the slide to put a round in the chamber, my fingers unconsciously flicking on the thumb safety. There was a long pause from my father’s wife, perhaps I think caustically, as she calculates the dollar value of the old and obviously neglected warhorse. 
“I guess that would be okay,” she says. “But nothing else.”
Back at my hotel that night, the .45 cocked and locked on the bedside table, I sit at the foot of the bed and hold my head in my hand. My right eye has swollen shut and the pain is literally nauseating. I think for a moment I am going to pass out from it. I finally decide to go to the nearby hospital emergency room, where I sit for four hours, waiting. When they finally examine me, a real doctor comes in and sits down across from my bedside. He looks worried.
“Do you,” he asks solicitously, “have a history of brain tumors in your family?”
No, I lie.
“The reason I ask is that your symptoms are consistent with a late-stage brain tumor, and we need to do an MRI immediately to see how far the tumor has advanced.”
I nod. After all, I’d heard it all before.
So they wheel me in and look inside my head. I sit in a small, cold examination room watching minutes pass, waiting for my death sentence. When I can bear it no longer, I call my girlfriend, my life’s partner, and tell her I am in trouble. “Why didn’t you call sooner?” she asks, in tears, and I can’t answer. “Just hang on,” she says, “I’m coming.”
At 2 AM a new doctor comes in. “You have a clean bill of health,” he says. “No tumor; you can go home now.” No harm; no foul. And he walks out. I stop him in the hall. “What about my head? The pain?” I say. “You’ll have to come back tomorrow,” he replies, handing me a prescription for painkillers. “The pharmacy’s closed, but there’s a 24-hour drugstore just down the street.” 
A 24-hour drugstore in an urban war zone, I think, taking the prescription. It just keeps getting better. I take the script, go back to my hotel, pick up the cocked-and-locked pistol and stick it in the back of my waistband, Mexican carry, it’s called. Then I throw on a jacket to cover the gun and go to the drugstore. It is still steamy hot, and I am the only car in the lot when I go in. Just as I step out of the drugstore with the drugs in a small white bag and turn the corner to my car, a sleek oil-slick black shark separates itself from flow of traffic and cruises into the lot, blocking my retreat back into the drugstore. The windows of the shark roll down, and the ‘banger on the passenger’s side grins. He has one gold tooth right in the front of his mouth and Snoop Dog corn-rows.
“Whatcha got in the sack, little white boy?” he asks. 
There are four of them, laughing, taunting. I feel the wall of the building behind my back, and the big pistol in my belt weighs a ton. Time begins to slow down, the highlights of the oil-slick black shark as sharp and unforgiving as hard, cold diamonds. The pain in my head is gone, and I can feel my breath, calm and measured. Not Snoop, I think absently in that time between seconds, the empty place between the stars. Snoop’s arm is hanging out the open window, and that’ll slow him down…Rear seat; driver side, because he’s leaning forward and I can’t see his hands…move left on the draw, toward the cover of my car…then Snoop and rear seat; passenger side…last rounds at the driver, because he’ll have to shoot around Snoop and he’ll be the slowest…
I am smiling; maybe I laugh, just a little. My right hand is in a firing grip on the 1911, but I still haven’t drawn. There is all the time in the world and here is where I will stand, all of us fixed in place, a simple urban tableau. Let’s do this, I say, or something like that. Let’s do this and go home. Snoop stares and finally breaks the spell. “You one crazy white boy,” he says, slapping the side of the black shark and laughing. “You have yourself a nice night, you hear?” And the shark pulls back into the flow of traffic.
I step to the car, breathing deeply as if I’ve been running hard; get in and lock the door; pull the 1911 from my belt. I start to put it on the seat next to me, and I am seized with a vision of a jungle, hot and muggy and smelling of decay…a terribly afraid young man, fresh from the country, trapped between his duty and his fear with the big .45 in his hand. He is shaking, and men are trying to kill him. He raises the 1911 and pulls the trigger, the gun bucking in his hand. A small yellow man clutches his stomach and bends over in pain. The young American pulls the trigger again and again, and tears roll down his face.
I take my hand off the .45, gingerly, as if it vibrates with a life of its own, as the flee-or-fight chemicals flood out of my body, and I finally find the tears for a man I never really knew.

POSTSCRIPT: The headache proves to be an attack of shingles, a legacy from childhood chickenpox, that takes much of the vision of my right eye, robbing me of the visual acuity that is the difference between a shooter and a marksman. And so I begin again, teaching my left eye to pick up the front sight, forcing my stance to adapt to the changes. Sometimes I think about the closing quote from Edmund O’Brien, Sykes, in the great western “The Wild Bunch”…Well, me and the boys here, we got some work to do. You wanna come along? It ain't like it used to be, but, uh, it'll do. 
True enough.

— 30 —


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Driving a Stake in the Heart of 2017!

The complete rig, two Taylors 1872 Open Tops on 1860 Army gripframes, in .44 Russian, completely overhauled by Jeff Ault at Munden's Six-Gun Magic and Will Ghormley's"Flames of Hell" holsters from 3:10 TO YUMA. To say the actions are now "good" is a vast understatement…they are some of the best single action triggers I have ever felt, period. In fact, the trigger is as good as the action/trigger on Wild Bill's 1860 Richard Mason Conversion 1860 Army .44 that I handled at the Adams Museum in Deadwood a few years back.

I thought this was a good image to end the year on. 2017 was not a vintage year. It was a year of business successes and some notable personal losses. That is, I suppose, life.

If you've listened to DOWN RANGE Radio over the years, you know that I'm loathe to do New Year's Resolutions, and I don't think I'll be changing that for 2018. I'm usually spectacularly depressed on December 31, then irrationally exuberant on January 1. A whole new slate! A blank chalkboard! I new piece of paper I haven't doodled all over! A fresh roll of toilet paper…or something like that.

I have big plans for 2018, including the significant expansion of SGO, SHOOTING GALLERY ONLINE (Marshal and I have some surprises in store for you!); the launch of John Carter, Max Prasac and my handgun hunting series; the best season of THE BEST DEFENSE ever…Producer Jeff Murray and I have been cooking up some spectacular "big box" ideas.

Of course, SHOOTING GALLERY will begin filming for Season 19 – imagine that! John Carter and I are already doing some preliminary planning. Competition-wise we're looking at going heavy on the Aguila Cup clays/3-Gun and RIMFIRE CHALLENGE match in Texas, with Jeff Cramblit as one of our crash test dummies. We're also reaching out to the organizers of the big Second Chance bowling pin match in June, headed up by no less than Richard Davis…we've never covered a bowling pin match on SG, even though you can argue that pin shooting was in many ways the true precursor of the practical shooting sports. Watch for our 10mm special and a couple of foreign trips…hopefully, I can take you inside the spectacular Wallace Collection in London, which I visited 2 weeks ago.

I'm going to be continuing along the big bore handgun path on SG. We're also looking at some of the challenges of long-range handgun shooting. Lots of other cool stuff.

Personally, I'm shifting directions a little and getting back to cowboy action shooting. 3-Gun has really died off in Colorado…there doesn't seem to be nearly as many matches as there were a couple of years ago. I know some of the local match directors, and the complexity of 3-Gun matches has just burned them up.

After a couple of years of focusing on my rifle shooting, I'm looking at more of a focus on revolvers, boomers for hunting and DAs for competition. A lot of my personal projects you'll see on SGO.

Richard Mann and I, the Abbott and Costello of the hunting community, will be heading back to Africa in June for Cape Buffalo with 45/70 Marlin Guide Guns, guided by our great friend Geoffrey Wayland at Ft. Richmond Safaris. There's a couple of slots left on that trip if you'd like to join us. Trust me, it will be the experience of a lifetime. I'm scheduled to spend a week at GUNSITE in the spring working with my GP-100. I suspect I'll go back in May and tune up on the African hunting simulation course. As I think I may have mentioned, the guys at Wild West Guns in Vegas are building me a "training rifle," a Marlin 44 Magnum set up like the 45/70 Guide Gun, which uses Wild West parts. I've always got lots of .44 Magnum/Special around the Secret Hidden Bunker and I'm always set up to reload it. Give me a chance to try out some optics options for the Africa trip…again, as I think I mentioned, I'm leaning toward either a tube Aimpoint or the new low magnification Nightforce 1-8X illuminated. With my ass on the line, my inclination is to go with something I trust implicitly.

I have several custom guns in the pipeline in addition to the Wild West Marlin. Hamilton Bowen has a 10mm Ruger Blackhawk withe the spare 40 S& W cylinder. The main cylinder is being rebored to 10mm Magnum, a pretty interesting cartridge, with the other cylinder being cut for 38-40, one of my long-time favorite cartridges. J.D. Jones at SSK Industries is putting a T'SOB scope base on my Ruger Bisley .454…I just didn't like the other options for scope mounts, especially against a heavy recoiling .454. I've used the T'SOB base, and it is bullet-proof. I suspect my old .500 Magnum S&W will end up going to him as well.I have an FN .308 with Short Action Customs being turned into a 6mm Creedmoor.

Despite the repeated encouragements from my pal John Snow at OUTDOOR LIFE, I do not have a 22 Nosler in the works! OTOH, I've reached out to JP at JP Rifles about a .224 Valkyrie, as I have a 6.8 SPC that has been sort of sidetracked. We got it years ago for a specific show, and because the show got delayed we ended up buying the thing. 

I just picked up the full-house Wilson Combat Glock 19, which you'll be seeing pretty soon on SGO. It is a VERY NICE GUN!

Of course you'll see a lot about RIMFIRE CHALLENGE for all the obvious reasons.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

DS#1: The Resurrected Vampire!



Definition of DROPPED SHOT: In the practical shooting sports, a shot that fails to hit the target; a miss.

Sometime in mid-1985 I first wrote those words for the first time, for the newly minted FRONT SIGHT Magazine, the journal of the United States Practical Shooting Association. I was the founding editor, and DROPPED SHOT was my back page column. If you’re willing to wade deep enough into the bowels of the Internet, you can find a picture of my competition rig for that year…it’s the cover of the November/December 1985 FRONT SIGHT. It’s a Wilson Combat, and I still have it.

Over the years, DROPPED SHOT has drifted around from publication to publication and finally to the Internet, as soon as Marshal Halloway invented the concept of a “social media” site for gun owners and shooters somewhere around 1991.

I bring this up because I suppose DROPPED SHOT has a life of its own now, and, like my original Vampire Gun™, has come back to life! How's that for a segue!

This is for an upcoming SHOOTING GALLERY ONLINE (SOG)'s my original "Vampire Gun," built by Tactical Solutions way before we started the RIMFIRE CHALLENGE.

It was a Ruger 22/45 back before Ruger offered them with replaceable 1911-style grip panels. The top end was one of TacSol's early 6-inch Pac-Lite barrels. Interestingly enough, the barrel wasn't threaded, because the suppressor "revolution" hadn't started yet.

I shot the gun a LOT (and you've seen it on multiple episodes of SHOOTING GALLERY over the last decade or so), bust as I've built up, or, more correctly, had built up, .22 rimfire pistols, the Vampire Gun got relegated to the back of the gun safe.

I was talking to my good friend Colt Lasco, who's one of the gunsmith geniuses at TacSol, and I mentioned that I still had Vampire #1. Colt said, "Hey, why don't we take the old gun and bring it up to speed?"

Seemed like a good idea! So, this is Vampire #1 brought up to speed...the barrel is now a threaded version. The TacSol brake on the end of that barrel looks cool and makes noise; it may even actually step a little recoil, but who knows with the tiny .22LR. It's funny that when I'm at home, I want the gun quiet; when I go to a match, I want the gun loud, for the time. At a recent rimfire match where I was shooting my Ruger Mark IV, which does not have a threaded barrel, and Gemtech .22 subsonic (which do run that gun), I had to timing strings of 30 seconds each, max time, as opposed to the sub 3-second runs I thought I had had. Quiet not good, LOL!

Vampire #1 now sports an Outer Impact red dot mount, which brings the old — and excellent —  Insight MRDS down a wee bit closer to the bore line than the Primary Arms dot on Vampire #2, the TacSol I built on a Ruger MkIII that has been my go-to RIMFIRE CHALLENGE match gun for several years.  The Insight MRDS is still available, and I believe is the same unit as the Eotech MRDS.

The biggest change to Vampire #1 was replacing the polymer Ruger frame with an aluminum frame and match trigger from Volquartsen. These are excellent,, and I love the way the frame now sits in my hand. The new gun weights in at 1.78 pounds, vs. 2.01 pounds for my Mark III/TacSol competition  gun and 2.95 for my all-steel Mark IV...that weight includes sights and mounts, but not magazines, BTE.

The grips are from Hogue. One thing left to add is a Teandemkross Halo charging ring like I have on my Mark IV. I've used a bunch of different charging handles over the years, and the Halo is the only one that stays put.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

What Could Be More Fun...

..than cleaning your .22 silencer! Still, had to be done. I had to soak it apart with Ballistol, which worked super-deluxe.

The big Colorado state championships for the NSSF Rimfire Challenge is coming up, and my Sweetie and I are shooting it. Are we ready? HA!  My plate runs yesterday constitute the sum total of my match practice. Hopefully I can spin this up just a bit this coming week. I'm planning on using the Zebra Gun™ and my Ruger/Tac-Sol MkIII. The MkIV just isn't ready yet. Since any optic put you in Open Class, I'm running optics on both the rifle and the pistol — Vortex on the Zebra Gun™; Primary Arms on the Tac-Sol. I'll clean them both next week, then run some rounds through them and make sure everything is copacetic.

My friend John Farnam has an excellent article in his Quips, reprinted on Ammoland.Com. It's main point bears repeating here:
I think the nature of, or reason for, a particular threat may be interesting from a political or historical standpoint, but that is all secondary. Personal awareness, and acknowledgment that there may be a significant threat to you personally 
1) At any time2) In any place3) In any form4) From any direction5) Under any circumstances6) For any reason, or7) For no reason at all 
is what is most important, probably the only thing that really is important!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Yet Another Saturday!

Yes, back in the saddle again!

Not saying that we had a big ole time at the Mill Creek Shooting Resort last week, but I realized we shot up pretty much all my 6.5 Creedmoor match ammo (Hornady 140-gr ELD-Match). This is indeed a spectacular facility, located in what I think is the most beautiful part of America, southern Colorado. The accommodations are super, the meals delicious and the shooting beyond spectacular.

We did most of our filming on top of a mesa with ranges from 400 - 1300 yards. The SG episode will focus on training from Sean Murphy at Nightforce and featuring co-hosts Iain Harrison and Di Muller. Thanks to Sean, I did get to push my personal best out to 1300 yards. The combination of the MPA rifle, the 7-35X Nightforce and the Hornady ELD ammo got the job done.

Iain is heading out for a bear hunt next week, and that got me thinking a bit about hunting. We're sort of  on opposite ends of the spectrum  he's the classic "adventure hunter," and he's amazingly good at it. I suspect those expedition days are behind me now, but you never know. I'm more of a "travelogue hunter," focusing on places I've never been. I probably need to think about this more. I will say pretty much the only red meat I eat is game meat. Beef is just not the same anymore.

Since I was in Africa this year, I don't have huge plans for the fall. I would like to get down to FTW or one of the big Texas ranches to break in my new Montana Rifle 6.5 Creedmoor, probably on whitetail, but maybe an exotic like axis or fallow deer.

My Sweetie's out at a 3-Gun match, but I was just a spec burned up from last week's filming schedule. I'm probably going to sped a couple of hours on the range today doing .22 work. I need to sight in my Sweetie's .22 AR that she wants to shoot in NSSF Rimfire Challenge. I was finally able to gather up enough CCI Tactical, the ammo the gun was built around, to get through a few matches. She asked me to put a low power scope on it, not because she might need it in Rimfire Challenge, but because she wants the .22 to mirror her Stag 3-Gun rifle. I gave her my workhorse Leupold 1.5-4X Firedot. I've used that scope for years in both competition and hunting…I think that at less than $400 MSRP,  it's one of the great screaming buys in optics.

I also want to start working with my ancient S&W M41 topped with an UltraDot 30mm.

Grips, which I plan to grind the hell out of, especially around the magazine release button, are Hogue.

Ridiculously good day for new gum releases. As choirs of angels sing, I'm waiting for my Glock 19 Gen 5. I couldn't make the super-secret Glock media event in early August, which coincided with the InterMedia Editor's Roundtable on new products, so I don't have any hands-on yet. I'm willing to bet ti shoots amazingly like a Glock. I'm glad to see the finger grooves gone, but I am apparently one of 3 people in The Entire Universe whose hands fit the finger grooves on the last few generations of Glocks. Also interesting to see Glock abandon polygonal rifling after years of defending it. It'll cut into the aftermarket barrel market, to be sure.

I think it's also very cool that Auto Ordnance has rolled out a 9mm Thompson.

C'mon, admit it! This would be totally cool to use in a USPSA PCC competition. Or add a 1911 .22 (or a conversion unit), and you will be the coolest kid at the NSSF Rimfire Challenge match. I say this as the last — indeed, only! — national champion in the "manually operated" class for Rimfire Challenge. Maybe they can add a retro class, and I could compete with guys running the .22 StG-44 we filmed with this year for GUN STORIES WITH JOE MANTEGNA and a classic Stoeger .22 Luger. American Tactical Imports also has a .22 AK, but I'm pretty much at a loss for the appropriate pistol…there is a Makarov .22 conversion unit, but I've never seen one in the wild. Of course, somebody would show up with a CZ-75 Kadet, and the arms race would be on!
Finally, I've now started putting rounds through the SCCY CPX-3 .380. The ones I've shot have a really smooth trigger and are exceptionally accurate. I've talked about the larger format .380s before, both when the Ruger LC380 and the Glock 43 came out. The mini-9mms do bark, and I believe they are more appropriate in the hands of experienced shooters. OTOH, the pocket .380s like the LCP2 or Kahrs can be hard to shoot well once the distance gets beyond arms-length. The larger-framed modern .380s are, to me, viable self defense tools, given modern ammunition. They're holster guns, of course...I have been able to cram a Ruger LC9 into a cargo pants pocket, but it looked like I was carrying a concealed encyclopedia.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Dinner came out well. I did a chili rub on the salmon — 2 tablespoons ancho chili powder, 1 tablespoon New Mexico red, 1 tablespoon cumin and cooked it on a hot grill for right about 4 minutes. Served it with Cuban black beans with kale…kinda a weird mix, but it worked…the garlic, ginger, onions and spices definitely helped!

I think I'm going to keep the Remington Tac-14 not-a-shotgun. I've patterned it with the buckshot I've got here, but there;s still some I'd like to try. I think I have a good sense of how to integrate it into my self-defense plans here at the Secret Hidden Bunker, thanks to Gabe Suarez. I also really like it as a bedside companion for when things go pump in the night. I'm planning on outfitting it like Gabe's Stakeout 870, eventually with a red dot.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independence Day 2017

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."
— Ronald Reagan

"Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."
— Robert Heinlein

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
— Abraham Lincoln

"War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."
— George Orwell, 1984