Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Range disgust.

Range time should never be associated with self-loathing, but nonetheless I am disgusted with today's session.  Even worse, it was a firearm range day:  rifle zeroing for hunting season (we start early up here).  Perhaps my mistake was that, owing to a years-long experience of very simple, straightforward zeroing sessions, I was mentally unprepared for things to go wrong.  They did.

The rifle was the Mannlicher Scout.  I had whomped up some handloads with 165s, and a backup set of 150s just in case the 165s didn't satisfy me.  The loading seemed to go swimmingly, and while I've only started to grind the reloadery into action recently, everything seemed to go well enough.  I carefully set once-fired-case shoulders back, had everything trimmed up nicely, and both gauge- and chamber-checked everything prior to leaving the house.

So, I was a bit surprised when cases were difficult to extract and two cartridges failed to ignite.  (One of those fired on a second strike, but the other didn't.)  The loads were acting much hotter than I'd have expected.  And I seemed to be chasing my sight settings all over the damn map, enough so that I probably should have just fired a few more rounds to make sure things could reasonably settle down.  With the cost of everything these days, this is really maddening!

Eventually I got frustrated enough that I put up a clean target and shot a few rounds of the factory FMJ ball that I keep with the Scout...and wouldn't you know it, they grouped, and at a point just about opposite of the cumulative back-and-forth of chasing the other stuff around.  Okay, so something--or multiple somethings--isn't right with the handloads.  Lovely.  And with my last couple rounds of ball, I believe I got the sights...right back to where they probably started the day.

The cosmic message was very clear, if aggravating:  given the now short time frame, acquire some factory loads for use this year, and don't mess around with load development until after the hunt.  Okay, I'm stubborn, but I will listen when a message is that freakin' clear.  Dammit.

(Okay, I realize that despite all my frustration, I must acknowledge that I still didn't fire a shot today that wouldn't have anchored an animal at the 100 yard line, and most shots up here are closer than that.  But still, I have a history with this rifle and I know what I can do with it, and it's frustrating to realize that something seems to be way off in my loads, and I need to scuttle them in favor of Plan B.  That's expensive in both time and money, at a time when I'm short of both.  But I'll do it, of course, because if I do get a shot I dang well want to know that if I fail it's on me alone.

Grumble.  I suppose I'm long overdue for such a hitch, but still...dang.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rest in peace, Edith Gaylord.

I'm hardly what you could call a praying man, but this is nonetheless a call for prayers, good will, and strength.  It is for airgun ace Tom Gaylord, who lost his wife Edith this morning, to what seemed (to me at least) to be a very sudden and unexpected illness.  I must have been expecting a very different result to her falling ill over the last few days, because this actually feels like the proverbial ton of bricks--I'm finding it hard to believe she's gone.

Edith Gaylord

Tom writes a (week)daily blog for Pyramyd Air's "Airgun Academy", and I have been following it for about three years now.  It is a remarkable achievement for a blog, both because of the richness of the content and its impressively vibrant "commentariat", and also because of the deep humanity that runs through both.  Once I started reading daily, it did not take long to figure out that this was a family operation;  behind all of Tom's testing, capture, analysis, writing, and discussion, Edith was all over the place, acting not just as content and site administrator, but also welcome wagon, dispute resolution, liaison to Pyramyd Air's live website and management, and highly qualified content contributor in her own right.  In terms of the figure she cut with just her online presence, Edith often reminded me of no less than Janelle Cooper, "The Countess" to the late Col. Jeff Cooper--the "Janelle" of my own daughter's middle name.

I'm still really not sure how just the two of them could have created the amazing resource that this blog has become, and is.  And I mean this as a technologist, and as a writer, and as an enthusiast at the same time.  It is in no way adequate to say that the blog will miss her dearly.

And of course I can only imagine how devastating it must be for Tom.  A bit more context may yet emerge--apparently Edith wanted him to tell "us" (the blog's commentariat) what happened, and he yet may--but whatever we may learn, it is still gonna go down as too fast...tragically too fast.

And so a good man now needs strength.  Please consider sharing what you can, of your prayers, your thoughts, and your good will.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A little more chrono love.

I think I figured out, today, how I can rig up a chronography session so as to shoot off my front porch, mostly rested (right elbow unsupported), and shoot through the chrono at a measured distance (15') enroute to a target at a measured 10m (the de facto airgun standard).  This can be the basis of combined chronography and accuracy work for the relative quick-testing of new pellet/powerwheel combinations.  Notably, after setting chrono up at the further distance, I no longer had any errors from it.  Sure, it was a sunny day today, but I think I learned something and will go with it.

I continue, as well, to learn about the Caldwell Ballistic Precision app that I'm using on my smartphone.  It's got its quirks, but it's proving to be pretty handy.  Apparently it's set up so that you can designate (upfront, not after-the-fact) a "saved group" and capture a bit of metadata along with your shot string (e.g., temperature, humidity, distance to chrono, pellet used, etc.), including a photo of the target grouping.  I suppose I should start carrying in my pocket a dime and a quarter, which are often used in airgunners' pictures to give context to the group size.  (Airgun hunters speak of the one-inch "kill zone" for most quarry, which is just about the size of a quarter, and of the 3/4" zone for some critters, which is just about the size of a dime.)

I'll have to develop the practice a bit, to arrive at a consistency in picture framing, naming, and repeatability of setup, but I think this is going to be workable.  The distances are known, and at the 10m target distance one can probably successfully weed out which pellets just aren't shooting as well as others.  Check out these two strings, in the context of my first experiment with the powerwheel set as low as it could go.  This string was shot with the wheel set at "2.1":

#     FPS  FT-LBS
12    794      43.43
11    806      44.75
10    820      46.32
9    817      45.98
8    831      47.57
7    830      47.46
6    844      49.07
5    853      50.13
4    839      48.49
3    845      49.19
2    811      45.31
1    775      41.38
Average: 822.1 FPS
SD: 23.0 FPS
Min: 775 FPS
Max: 853 FPS
Spread: 78 FPS

Note how much more consistent this string is, than the other one.  The deviation and spread are much tighter, and the velocities begin to drop off steadily at the end of the string (once they do this, you can stop shooting, as you've got the answer you came for).  Based on what I've learned from Tom Gaylord, I believe I can "read" this data as suggesting that this configuration is good for about 10 shots (#2-#11) where the spread is even tighter, and since there is only one shot before the valve "wakes up" into that ideal series, that means that the starting pressure of 3000psi is pretty close to ideal.  (Sometimes, if the string starts to tighten up after several shots, it may suggest that the ideal fill pressure is not the 3000psi max, but maybe something lower, like maybe 2700psi.)

This string was then shot with the wheel set at "4.10":

#      FPS  FT-LBS
11    803      44.42
10    812      45.42 
9    832      47.69
8    847      49.42
7    859      50.83
6    870      52.14
5    881      53.47
4    884      53.83
3    886      54.08
2    880      53.35
1    885      53.96
Average: 858.1 FPS
SD: 30.5 FPS
Min: 803 FPS
Max: 886 FPS
Spread: 83 FPS

Now in terms of statistics, this one is starting to look interesting.  In particular look at how tight those first five shots are, with a pretty steady decline thereafter.  This one seems to suggest that the fill pressure is right on.

And at this point I had just figured out how to set the target in the right spot to get a group while chronographing.  This is what the final ten shots of the string did at 10m:

That's just about a quarter inch, center-to-center.  (The black dot is my crude aim point.)  Hey, I'll take that.  The rest was improvised, my right elbow was unsupported, and I wasn't exactly bearing down for these shots.  Looks like it may be worth trying at 25, and possibly even 50.  Especially since the power level seems more than acceptable.

At this point I decided to adjust the power wheel to 6.10 and shoot a few more shots, to set the valve for a full test at 6.10.  These were just fun shots, not chronographed;  they each clanked with a satisfying smack on the rimfire spinner at 25 yards.

When refilling after this series of about 20 shots (which took it down to about 1200psi), the behavior of the Hill pump seemed a little quirky.  I will have to pay attention to how it behaves going forward!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

No, Rob, that is not how you use a Ching Sling.

Grr.  I have thus far found some things to like about Rob Pincus, especially his general educational style, and I find myself wanting to find more to like.  Today, purely by accident, I happened across this link to a Personal Defense Network video which is titled "Scout Rifle as a Self or Home Defense Weapon".

Well, wouldn't that be cool.  Let's watch!  And there he is, displaying what is clearly a custom rifle on what looks like a Rem 700 action, complete with Ching Sling, intermediate eye relief glass, reserve irons, and even a butt cuff.  And he launches into an explanation of the Scout concept in his own presentation style, even leading with Jeff Cooper's name as the principal force behind the concept.  Cool!

The geek in me - sure, call me a Scout fanboy if you will - cringes a little at a few of the details, but they're mostly minor.  He stumbles through the utility of a fixed magazine within a concept that values compactness over capacity, he holds the rifle like a carbine, he only runs the bolt from the shoulder when intending multiple shots, and he never even mentions the ability to reach way out there.  Okay, so he's primarily a "defense" guy, and tends to stick to his primary audience.  I understand that grousing on things like that would be more fanboy than fundamental.

But I must conclude that he has absolutely no idea what the point of the Ching Sling is.

At about 3:40 on the timeline he starts the demo of the sling, taking pains to point out the "extra connection", and then...he simply ignores it entirely, using exactly the textbook "hasty sling" technique that the Ching Sling was conceived to improve upon.

Jeff Cooper often wrote about how surprising it was to him, to discover how few people actually understood the shooting sling at all any more.  A true shooting sling, to him, was more important than  a glass optic on a rifle, because "the glass only helps my seeing, but the sling helps my holding".  I can remember first reading that as a young man, and going to the trouble to test myself with what he said--and it is true.  I can hold fully a third better when locked up with a sling, than from the same position without one.

The shooting sling works because it steadies the "gun mount" that is comprised of the ground, your body, the sling, and the rifle.  Anatomically, the most effective way to do this is to take responsibility off of muscles, and give it over to bones.  A "hasty sling", in which the arm is simply snaked around the rifle's carry strap, provides a small amount of tightening, but it is absolutely not the same thing as having your skeleton locked so tightly to your rifle that you can relax all muscles without your sights moving.

And only certain positions work with slings.  (Offhand is not one of them.)  In order to get a solid lockup, both elbows must be supported--remember, bone, not muscle.  Prone is obvious, and sitting;  the one that is not obvious but is surprisingly effective is the squat.  (Kneeling doesn't get full value out of the sling because the strong-side elbow is still flying around in the air under muscle power alone.)  The thinking here is that if you really need the precision of a sling, then you have time to get into a steadier position;  if your need for speed is truly such that you don't have time to loop up, you probably shouldn't be bothering with a sling at all.

Which brings us back to the Ching Sling.  It is the pinnacle of design for a shooting sling that can also be fast.  (Hell, the old-fashioned military loop sling provides excellent lockup, if you take the time to get into it.)  The key to effective lockup is that you must have the sling pulling exclusively forward on the support arm, as high up on the tricep as you can get it.  Then, with the support arm elbow both under the rifle and resting on the ground (prone) or knee (sitting, squat), and the strong-side elbow resting either on the ground (prone) or knee (sitting, squat), with a properly adjusted sling and a good position, you really can achieve a lockup that will allow you to relax the muscles in both arms without moving the sights.

There are still people around who understand the military loop sling and the lockup it provides.  It's no joke, right?  But it's not fast, even with competition cuffs, and an ideal sling would be both convenient as a carry strap, and fast as a shooting sling.  IIRC it was in the 1980s that Cooper first happened upon the idea of a "speed sling" from his friend Carlos Widmann in Guatemala.  (Here's an American Rifleman reprint of his essay on that discovery.)  Its only drawback was that it was clumsy to move back and forth between shooting mode and carry strap mode:  for a shooting sling that could lock up essentially as fast as you could acquire a position, it was a shame to have to pick between modes.

That is what Eric Ching solved with his invention of the sliding-strap Ching Sling.  You have the lightning-quick, solid lockup of the two-forward-stud Widmann system, and the carryability of a main strap spanning the two conventional studs.  Its performance really is rather remarkable, and Cooper was rather forceful in specifying it as part of the Scout concept.  A Scout is a rifle which can be used either across the room or hundreds of yards away, and way out there, any of us can benefit from a little help holding steady;  the Ching Sling makes it possible to get a loop-sling quality lockup while you are getting into position.

So it's a bit perturbing to see someone as trusted as Rob Pincus discussing the three-point sling on a scout rifle, with apparent reverence...and demonstrating instead a two-point conventional hasty technique.  In a position that doesn't really benefit from a sling in the first place.

He's right that the Scout concept never caught on in the mainstream.  Thing is, I suspect that at least some of the reason why that is the case, is that so few people seem to understand the concepts.  "It's too short;  it won't work at range" say the riflemen.  "It's not semiautomatic," say the tactards.  "Scope's not powerful enough."  "Looks funny."  "Won't shoot as far as my specialized sniper rifle."  "Won't shoot as fast as my specialized tacti-carbine."  And, "What's that short strap thingy for?"


We know what it's for.  Cooper wrote about it many times.  It's all right there in The Art of the Rifle.  It's no secret.  And yet it's no wonder that it hasn't caught on, if this is the way it's presented.

Anyway, harumpf.  I was hoping for better.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Well dang, if that ain't comfy.

And by "that", I mean this:

Never mind the nearly full-tactard amusement of the website's marketing (just because they seem to take themselves way too seriously doesn't mean they don't have some good stuff);  I have been meaning to try out this variation on the holster-shirt idea for a while, and boy, am I glad I did.  (I still have a couple of Greg Kramer's first-generation holster shirts, which are still technically holding together, but which are no longer...ideal.)

The one thing it ain't is fast, but it's not really meant to be, either.  This is not a rig for speed, but rather for the First Rule of Gunfighting*--and for that, it's pretty choice.  Thus far I am impressed.

The holster pockets themselves are cavernous--you could probably fit a 4" N-frame in there if you really wanted to--and the "built-in harness" does seem to distribute weight very effectively.  I suspect there is a practical upper limit on weight, but it's going to be much, much more forgiving than what I have used before.   (And I, for one, am not going to be toting heavy iron this way anyway.)

Interestingly, once the piece is in there, it sits more forward of the body's fore-aft midline than I was expecting--but it didn't seem to negatively affect either concealment or comfort.  (The Kramer design put the gun directly on the midline, below the armpit.)  And, somewhat to my surprise, the pocket completely closes over both a Centennial J and a Kahr CW40.  The hand can still snake in there, defeat the two little Velcro patches, and obtain a proper fistful of Oh No You Don't in pretty short order, but until then it is actually completely covered.  I rather like this idea, actually;  I see this both as a true deep-cover garment and something for athletic movement.  (It's intended to be reasonably tight-fitting, and should work well in that latter regard.)

I'm really pleased as well at how well the Kahr carried, compared to the J.  You don't really notice the slightly greater weight and butt length (unlike on the Kramer), and the pistol's flat profile is quite nice against the body.  With this rig, there will not be a need to carry the revolver because the pistol won't hide well enough, and I'll always choose the slick-handling Kahr over the snubby if given the choice. This is additionally encouraging for those moments when the full Bat-Belt either just doesn't make sense (e.g., kayaking, rock climbing, tumbling or sports, etc.), or for when it is simply inconvenient or non-ideal (e.g., shopping for pants, long drives, cycling, etc.).

Testing will continue, but at least for a decent dose of sweaty yard work, this thing is comfy, and promises to be pretty useful in general.  At some point, I also have it planned to try out the CCW Breakaways concept, which is another way of extending the shirt-tucked-in wardrobe, but I'm happy to say this one may be well worth the outlay.

Which is to say that once I'm no longer broke, I'll probably want another one.  :-)

* Which is, of course, "Have a gun".

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Man, I hope this is true.

Commercial reloader Andrew Scott sez that he may be seeing a tipping point in .22 rimfire ammo that just might be indicating a return to normalcy.
What all of this boils down to is this: I think we’ve hit a tipping point in the .22 market. Now that we are beginning to see high-end brands in stock, I think the rest of the obstacles standing between us and cheap 22 ammo (price-gougers, panic-driven demand, scarcity-driven demand, etc.) will begin to topple like dominoes.
I for one sure hope he's right.  The artificially-induced and -maintained shortage has gone on long enough and Teh Stoopid really can stop now.

What he says makes sense to me, based on what I've seen myself, and heard from others whose opinion I trust.  I stopped even asking about .22 a while ago, and although Alaska usually seems to lag a bit behind most trends, I'll have to start looking again to see if I can confirm it.  Would be nice to have an actual shooting stock again--not least because I've got a daughter who is ready to get started.  :-)

Chronography note.

Had a brief chance (everything's brief, with a seven-week-old in the house) to set up the new chrono and run a string over it with the TalonP set to absolute minimum power on the power wheel.

Some notes, mostly for myself, in no particular order:
  • Used the chrono without skyscreens at all, based on a Tom Gaylord comment I saw recently.  This seemed to work well in the direct sunshine.
  • I tried a very close distance-to-chrono this time;  about one foot.  Mostly this was in order to do it fast, rather than perfectly;  I will want to back off to about three feet as there is noticeable muzzle blast from the TalonP, and one foot seems kinda rude.
  • The .25 pellets may be less susceptible than the .177s to get "missed" by one or both screens unless they are "close enough" down to the top of the chrono unit, but it can still happen.
  • Power wheel was set to absolute minimum;  I wanted to see what the gun did here.  AirForce owners would refer to the setting as "1.1" on the wheel, and I understand that this is highly individualized to each gun;  that is, a setting of "8.11" on one gun is not going to translate to a second gun sitting right next to it.  It's a relative measure for that gun of how wide open the valve is.  The shooter uses it to make his own notes.
  • Top hat was also set to the most polite setting, and over 20 shots later it is still tight.  We'll see how long that continues!
  • Performance was interesting.  It was much more erratic than I was expecting, and it may be that this is my first taste of what Tom Gaylord calls "finding the right power curve" for a given gun and pellet.   Here's the string data--note some wide variations between successive shots:
#    FPS / FT-LBS

20    657 / 30
19    673 / 31
18    690 / 33
17    898 / 56
16    727 / 36
15    739 / 38
14    848 / 50
13    774 / 41
12    ERROR 3
11    ERROR 3
10    806 / 45
9    811 / 45
8    829 / 47
7    ERROR 3
6    847 / 49
5    850 / 50
4    791 / 43
3    846 / 49
2    791 / 43
1    793 / 43
Average: 786.5 FPS
SD: 68.6 FPS
Min: 657 FPS
Max: 898 FPS
Spread: 241 FPS

Starting fill was about 2900psi (two un-chronoed shots down from a 3000psi fill), and based on what the Hill pump told me when refilling afterwards, the end pressure was about 1200psi.  I was deliberately shooting until I could clearly see the gun dropping off, and after shot #17 threw me for a loop (how did that happen?), the next three pretty clearly showed the trend I was looking for.  These guns are known for maintaining a pretty tight spread over their ideal "shots per fill", and owners of TalonP and Escape models (which use the same 210cc air tank) seem to confirm a very reliable 10 full power shots per fill--sometimes more, but almost never less--once you've found the right setting(s).  (Interestingly, the ideal string of tight-spread, full-power shots doesn't necessarily begin with shot #1, but sometimes after a few "wake-up-the-valve" shots.  

It's quite possible that this "absolute minimum" setting is just not right for the gun, and next time I am going to try going up to "2.1".  (Of interest:  the test-fire data from Pyramyd Air, when I bought the gun, with a different pellet and power wheel setting at "4.6", showed a much tighter ES (118fps) and SD (42fps) for their 10 shots, with a clearly linear pattern of slightly-descending-velocity for each shot.)  

I'm interested to see what this gun's "miser mode" (whatever that turns out to be) can give me in terms of shots-per-fill;  also what "max power mode" (whatever that may be, and it may not be "full open", either) will yield, and finally I suspect I'm going to settle on whatever setting gives me the tightest spread for the 10-15 shots I think I can expect from the piece.  (For anyone reading this who is new to PCP guns:  there are many PCPs out there which can get many more shots-per-fill than this one;  AirForce's own "Talon" rifle, with a different valve and tank than the "TalonP", is one of them.)  The attraction of the TalonP, for me at least, was 1) short carbine length, 2) adjustable LOP, 3) more power for its size and ergonomics than anything I have yet found, and 4) "quickly" and easily topped off (refilled for a new string) with a hand pump.  The idea of having 10 shots at hand for hunting or pests, and then hand-pumping a refill in a matter of minutes, is just fine for what I wanted.  (Once I can afford a SCUBA tank and/or a 3000psi compressor, it could get just plain addicting.)

And jeez, look at the power at this minimum setting.  An It's actually so high that I again wonder if this is out of the valve's optimum range, and I might see some more sedate performance with the power wheel set a little higher.  At any rate, I was figuring that even at minimum wheel settings this gun (known for its gonzo valve) would have power to spare for whatever I'd want to do, and--yeah, you could say that.  That last shot, at 30 foot-pounds, is still pretty whopping for a smallbore airgun;  if my charts are correct, it will still retain about 12 foot-pounds at fifty yards.  

Thus all the testing.  Ultimately,  I don't know how serious I'm going to get or be about maintaining a statistically tight spread over those 10-15 shots, but I do want to see the data myself and maybe start to develop a spidey sense with it.  At heart I'm a functional guy:  I'll obsess over data just long enough to find the pattern I want.  And here, what I want is:  1) enough field accuracy to hit that 1" squirrel brain at 50 (yes, that's gonna be through glass), 2) enough power to anchor a snowshoe hare at the same distance, and 3) enough consistency from shot to shot that I can learn one trajectory and lean on it.  I suspect that the TalonP is going to provide multiple pellet options that can do a half-inch at 50 off the bench, leaving me a little wiggle room to guarantee the inch from a field position when it counts. 


I also ran a string through the Bronco with the half-pint-milk-box wadcutters from Crosman (mostly to test the chrono before firing the .25s over it) and learned only afterward that the otherwise nice iOS app for the "Ballistic Precision" chrono does not allow you to capture and save a string in arrears--you have to declare that you're going to save the string before you shoot it!  Okay, so this is a minor matter and I'm glad I figured it out now rather than later, but you should have seen this string!  Other than a few errors when I got the tiny pellet too far above the screens (this is becoming a consistent pattern), there were probably 20 shots in the string and the extreme spread was less than 5fps (first standard deviation was under 2!)  I was impressed, and will have to try that again to see if it was a fluke.

I'd like to construct/fashion, if I can, a "plug-and-play" bench for doing chrono testing with the airguns, since I plan to do a lot of that:  something that I can quickly lay the chrono and the gun on and have their alignment be very close to ready-to-go.  The initial thought was a simple board that would "mount" the chrono, on a small tripod, at a height in the middle of the tripod's adjustment range, and at the other end perhaps mount my "Site-N-Clean" cleaning vise/rest to match it.  In theory, small elevation adjustments for different guns could be handled by the tripod's vertical crank, and I would just point the aligned shebang at a suitable target, permitting me to do both accuracy testing and chronography at the same time.  (Not so much an issue for the Bronco, where pellets and powerplant are both cheap, but right now at least--still looking for work--.25 pellets do cost noticeably more, and as marvelous a device as that Hill pump is, I'm not going to be able to do hundreds of rounds at a time with a hand pump only.  :-)