Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More on the Airsoft 1911.

So I have now had a few initial sessions with my new WE Airsoft "green gas" 1911 pistol, and wanted to document a bit. 

Let me say up front I am starting to get really, really excited about the possibilities here.  With this purchase I made an investment in an idea--that Airsoft might be a viable means of serious personal training--and I was both hopeful and cautious about what I might find in this experiment.  With a couple hundred rounds downrange now, I am starting to feel very much that the idea is sound and worth pursuing with vigor.

With that in mind...

Despite all my research (and I'm generally thorough about that), there were still a few surprises.  The most eye-rolling of these is that the pistol does not fit most of my leather.  You may notice that the slide at the muzzle is not scalloped forward of the dustcover, like it is on a regular Commander:

Well, great.  And guess who has high-quality holsters with impressive boning and fit?  Grumble...okay then, at least the old classic Yaqui Slide design doesn't care about such things.  But I'd hoped to be able to run the piece from several other designs, and now I'll have to re-assess that.  Okay, annoying, but ultimately pretty minor.

Another thing I wouldn't have expected is that the slide release does not cam down when the slide is pulled fully to the rear, like it does on the firearm.  This is actually a bigger deal than it might appear, as it negates the technique of attacking the slide to close the action after a slidelock reload:  effectively it forces you to use the slide release as a slide release.  (One might think "big deal" to that, but that technique has evolved to what it is because it engenders a consistent and uniform response to cycling the slide, not just on a 1911, but any auto pistol out there--whether or not it even has a slide release lever in the first place.  I haven't quite figured out how this is going to work yet.  (One thing I am hoping to get from Tom Gaylord's Airsoft "primer" series, is how 'smithing and modifications are done in the Airsoft world.  If they're easy, and if the metals are worth working on, I might take on some of these things myself.)

There are a few other things that I would want to improve, as well.  The ambi safety lever is nice, but it's not very positive (it's even come off, once, while in the holster, and while that may be as much because of the presence of the offside lever as because of its stiffness, that will nonetheless get your attention!), and I would prefer positive.  (Theoretically, a stronger spring in the plunger tube plus a well-executed detent could solve both the positive safety and the auto-cam-down-on-the-slide-stop-lever, at the same time.)  The front sight is not black, and can produce a muddled picture in some kinds of light.  (That, of course, should be an easy fix.)  I, of course, would also like to see a "slimline" version, and one that not only uses the Commander-length slide but also the "Officer's"-length frame, so that it would match the 1911 style I am most likely to carry.  And of course the orange tip is not only annoying, but can be a problem with closed-bottom holsters.

Magazines are excellent, although they seem to be ever-so-slightly larger than the firearm mags--just enough that their fit in my leather is either just-barely or just-barely-not.  They are weighted, and in fact seem like they are pretty similar to a magazine full of .45 ACP cartridges.  (I can't quite decide whether I'd want them this way, or whether I'd want it weighted to simulate an empty magazine instead.)

For those new to Airsoft and especially to the "gas blowback" guns, it is the magazine which holds the "powerplant":  via an adapter needle and a couple of drops of silicone oil, propane from a standard camping canister is forced into the base of the magazine (about four seconds seems to constitute a full charge, which has been giving me somewhere around thirty shots, or two full loads of the 15-shot magazine).  When the hammer falls, a striker knocks open the gas port on the rear of the magazine, releasing a charge of gas which both propels the BB out of the smoothbore barrel, and also provides the blowback that cycles the action and loads the next BB into the chamber.  It's a pretty slick system, actually.

The gun came with one magazine, and I ordered two additional ones.  Initially I thought one or both of these might have been defective, but when I took care to make sure the seals were nice and wet with silicone oil before charging, the leaking sounds stopped, and now the two spares seem to behave just about like the one that shipped with the gun.  I've now had several sessions wherein all three mags have been running 100%, even (especially) when left charged overnight.  I suspect I'll learn a number of quirks of this gas system, as I use it more and more.  The best part, of course, is that once you've got everything running smoothly, it really is the same manual of arms that you use to run the firearm (excepting that slide release behavior and of course the lighter springs), and that puts me in the position I want to be in.

So, with all that, what is shooting the piece like?  Pretty sweet, actually.  My last couple of sessions have seen me distinctly shift gears, away from focusing on simply ensuring that the piece functions, and more toward addressing the "what am I going to do with this?" question.  That is a Good Thing.

Today, for example, I got a short session, call it roughly 100 rounds, mostly consisting of singles and pairs, both from a ready position and presented from concealment.  This was almost entirely from about five yards' distance, against two .22 spinners (ram and chicken silhouettes), with their obvious auditory response to hits.  (As expected, ricochet was pretty impressive;  one of my projects will be trying to figure out the right way to do steel for Airsoft.)

It was, simply, valuable training time.  No, of course it's not the same recoil impulse as firing a .45, but the blowback is absolutely enough to disturb your sight picture, enough to make you work for your next shot--which is The Point Entire on multiple shots and/or multiple targets.  Even moreso than with a firearm, you can feel the piece cycling, and the sensation is authentic enough to be valuable.

The gun does have a slightly weird feel, in handling.  It's not "loose", specifically, but it doesn't feel nearly as solid as my .45, either.  Part of it, I'm sure, is the accumulation of the looser tolerances and lighter springs, but I think there's something more to it than just that, as well.  It doesn't at all feel like a plastic toy, but it does rattle a bit.  I'll keep on the lookout for this and if I figure out what it is, I'll document it here.

I treated today's session simply as though I were running my carry piece, and that practice worked well.  One item of interest:  at slidelock, my normal speed reload actually worked more often than not, despite the non-camming of the slide stop;  it may be that the violence with which I attack the slide simply drives the stop down in spite of itself.  Magazine changes are just like running a "real gun";  the only thing I notice is that the magazine release spring seems noticeably light on the Airsoft piece.  In practice, I didn't really notice the BB tower--which probably means I'm getting the correct angle for my changes.

Riding the disconnector is going to be possible, and that is one art I hope to get closer to again.  The trigger on this piece is actually very nice, and although the disconnect isn't quite as positive as it is on the better 1911s, you can feel it, and actually I will welcome the ability to train with a slightly subtler sensation than the one I'll have in hand on that horrible day I finally fail to avoid a fight.

All in all, I did okay, today.  Clearly I was feeling out a new system, but I was also wanting to see where my skills are, given that live-fire training is nearly impossible to afford in any quantity, and dry-fire training ends rather abruptly, for a single-action auto, at the drop of the hammer on the first shot.  This Airsoft experiment promises to change that balance dramatically.

And I think it's going to.  The sensation of triggering multiple shots, and engaging multiple targets, is indeed very much like live-fire;  even although the recoil impulse is "lighter" than with a centerfire cartridge, the gas blowback disturbs you enough to make you focus on the followup shot in just the same way--and if your grip technique is what it should be, performance should be highly interchangeable between the two formats.  So long as I resist any urge to hold the gun lightly just to game it to go faster, differences in recoil should be minimal.

And my word, the cost efficiency.  Five thousand rounds of (fancy, biodegradeable) ammunition costs $20;  today I spent less than 50 cents of that.  A single, full-price canister of camping propane costs about $5 and I've been using the same one for a half-dozen sessions so far.  Two drops of silicone oil every few magazines, and a little spray of the same on the gun innards every not-so-often, are my unit costs.  Anyone who shoots even a little live ammunition can see how the math is working out here--swimmingly.  Even a rimfire setup--for those who can find rimfire ammunition these days--can't compete with Airsoft for cost effectiveness.  Hell, just consider my 100-round day today:  I nearly made back the cost of the pistol itself, in comparison to .45ACP ammo.  Certainly I've already made back my whole initial investment, when I consider how many BBs have gone downrange in the last month.  Yes, more of this, please.

The most exciting promise, I think, is that this level of cost-savings will allow me really to try things out on their own merits, rather than have to compromise based on the amount of testing I could afford to apply to a given idea.  And the ability to run this system off my own porch, with three minutes' notice to go fetch the gun, gas and BBs, means I can reasonably test an idea out at any time, rather than only when the range jockeys decide they're going to be open. 

I was hoping that if the gun would really run, these sorts of things might be possible.  I'm still learning, for sure, but I think I can already see that it is very possible, and very attainable.

I'll document more here as I learn it!


The next step, provided this all continues down the same path, will be to try a CO2 gun;  I suspect that will either wind up being the Tanfoglio LTD Custom:

or possibly the SIG P226 "X-Five", which seems like it might be be closer to the P220 SAO than to a true P226:

Anyway, I'm curious about the CO2 powerplant because lots of experts tell me that CO2 is mostly useless below a certain temperature, which some would have you believe is as high as 70 degrees F.  Thing is, CO2 is apparently very popular up here, and nobody seems to note a serious performance problem despite the fact that it's a rare summer day that makes it up to 60, much less 70;  for most of the year, we're in the 40s or below.  So, I intends to gets me one of these CO2 jobbies and see just how it does.


Finally, I'll try to update soon, as well, on the spring pistol experiment, the Walther PPS.  That one is at once a different beast, and yet also potentially very valuable as a tool.

Happy range time!

Did I mention I love my Bronco?

Got just enough quality time today with the Air Venturi Bronco, with the new sight riser in place, to get downright excited about this here airgun adventure.  It may be fair to say that I actually started training with the rifle today--not precisely structured training yet, but it had the distinct feel of purpose, and accomplishment to go with it.

The goal today was to see where I am with snapshots.  Right now, using the front deck as a firing line, I've got two .22 steel spinners (chicken and ram silhouettes) at 10m, and a third (ram) at somewhere between 20 and 25 yards.  About with that third spinner is a hard-to-see (red, against the spruce trees in winter light) 4" self-sealing disk, and finally there are two more-visible disks, at about 25 yards (6" orange) and...somewhere between 30 and 40 yards (8" yellow).  If I move up and down the deck, I get a variety of looks at these targets, some of which are visible only in certain lanes, and there are even a couple of post rest options for practicing that most useful position.  The steels obviously make a "pink" sound when hit, and if you listen carefully there is a distinctive "thwap" when the self-sealing disks take a hit.  So, there's good feedback and no need for target resets.  The deck is a nice firing line, with only the limitation that I really have to stay standing up to get over the railing.  (For other field positions, I need to get down off the deck and onto the ground, which is easy enough.)

So, snaps.  And singles, of course, since this is a single-shot rifle.  I worked a variety of start positions, always with eyes off and the rifle somewhere other than shouldered, and often involving moving into the lane appropriate to the selected target.  Acquire, mount, sight, press.

It was outstanding.  With the sights improved, it really is just like mounting and firing singles from a firearm;  the Bronco's safety is ergonomic, the trigger just exactly what it needs to be, and there is even a tactile recoil impulse from the piston releasing to fire the shot.  This is just exactly the rifle I was hoping that it would be--and I haven't even got "serious" yet about seeing just how accurate I can be with it, either.  (I suspect that pursuing that goal will be worthwhile--that there is plenty of room in the system to satisfy the small-groups interest, as well as the "hit fast" interest.)

And I was even pleased with me, too.  I was hitting so well that I actually realized I needed to speed up--and did, too, until the balance started to tip the other way.  Without a shot timer I could only guess at what my times were, but right now I'm interested in solid fundamentals and smooth, consistent motions anyway, so a timer is of mostly academic value.  Suffice it to say that I ended the day faster than I started, and hits were just as fast as I could make them.  I'll take that and build from there.

And boy, I think that is what is so encouraging about this enterprise:  the ability to build, with real trigger time, on short notice and at low cost.  I was able to fit the session into well less than an hour, before dinner, right on the porch, with no noise or setup.  I'm sure I shot somewhere over 100 rounds from the rifle, and at a list price of $12 for a tin of 500 match-grade pellets...well!  (It can be better than that, too:  going forward, I will probably stick with the pellets that I now know the gun likes best, which are also match grade and can be had 1250 to a tin for $26.)

It was good time, too.  I don't think I'd have got anything more out of the session with a rimfire or a centerfire.  For basic fundamentals work on single shots, this is turning out to be a very encouraging idea!

There will be more of this.  Much more.  :-)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bronco update.

Also in the Airsoft box came a little package I have been much anticipating.  It's a sight riser set for my Air Venturi Bronco's front sight. 

Looks insignificant, but it isn't.  You may recall that the only thing about the Bronco that I didn't immediately fall in love with was the need for a crush cheek weld for a sight picture, making true speed mounting nearly impossible.  These riser plates elevate the front sight enough that after adjusting the rear sight commensurately, the relationship between sights and comb is back to what I know as normal.

I confirmed this today by adding the riser plates, adjusting the rear sight and re-zeroing.  And now, with everything confirmed and screwed down tight, there is no more mounting problem--at all.  With the excellent design and ergonomics of the Bronco, true snapshots should be eminently feasible.  This makes me very happy.

I also think I'm going to like the new "pellet pen" and seating ram for this rifle. 

The "pen" holds about twenty .177 pellets that go almost too easily into the breech (it is possible to double-feed, which certainly isn't the disaster it would be with a firearm, but is annoying nonetheless), and the seating ram is screw-adjustable for depth.  (It seems that often a consistent deep-seating of pellets can contribute measurably to accuracy.)  What I also really like is that it should work famously with heavy gloves.  (I assure you, in Alaska winters it can get a bit chilly trying to manipulate individual .177 diabolo pellets with exposed fingers;  the ability to load with precision while using gross motor movements is welcome.  :-)

Anyway, I'm psyched about this update to the Bronco.  With the mounting/sighting problem solved, an efficient field loading device and a couple thousand more pellets to shoot--all for not much more than fifty bucks--how could I not be? 

The Airsoft adventure begins.

A box from Pyramyd Air is a happy day.  The one that came a few days ago is additionally significant because it marks my first step into the world of Airsoft, which I've been anticipating for a bit now.

A few notes for now, just to document.

The order contained two guns, a spring-piston design Walther PPS and a gas blowback Commander-length 1911 from WE.  The choice of the PPS was a bit arbitrary, based on the fact that I wanted to try a spring-piston powerplant, and I wanted something as close to my Kahr CW40 firearm as I could get in design and size.  Now...Kahr has put its stamp on a spring-piston Airsoft gun of its own, but it's the "TP" frame size, which just seems stupid to me.  If you're going to put only one of your designs out there, put out the design you started with, for crying out loud, not the least popular among everything you make.  Jeez.  Anyway, the PPS is nearly identical in dimensions to the CW40, and with nearly the same manual of arms.  I admit, if I didn't already have the Kahr I might seriously consider the .40 caliber PPS firearm for the role.  Anyway, here's what that looks like:

We had an inauspicious start, but are improving together.  I'll have more to say about this soon enough, but suffice it to say that if I can keep the crosspin in the buttstock from falling out of the gun (!), this may wind up to be precisely what I thought it might be.  Not bad for under $20.

The 1911, of course, was the primary objective.  As you might imagine there are competing manufacturers of gas blowback 1911s, and I wound up going with the WE brand primarily because they offered a Commander-length single stack, and I wanted to be able to use it in both my 5" leather and my 4" leather.

Again, more details to follow, but initially at least it seems pretty impressive.  I haven't shot it yet, the box having come earlier than expected and my not having yet acquired the light silicon oil that you add to the propane, but we'll get that squared away soon.

Thus far it seems like there are a few things to watch out for, including one potentially serious one, but other than that, and presuming it runs, I suspect this experiment is going to stick around a while.

Manual of arms is indeed just like the firearm, with one potentially problematic exception:  the slide release does not cam down when you run the slide fully to the rear.  You actually have to push down on the slide release to release the slide, and this is contrary to my training.  Hm.  Of far lesser importance, the thumb safety isn't as positive as I like them, but it works.  (All springs are conspicuously lighter than you're used to on firearms.)

The magazine has a short "tower" above where the topmost cartridge would be on a firearm magazine, to elevate the BBs in line with the chamber;  this will make reloads more technically difficult, but otherwise the magazines are very impressive (they're even weighted similarly to a full firearm magazine), and I suspect that the tower on the magazine will actually encourage if not quite demand the proper technique for magazine inserts, so I'm not even sure that tower is a "bad" thing.

The trigger is exceptional, nearly a bit too light for training for the street, but I'll make do.  :-)   The grip safety is functional and most other details are nicely done.  All in all, now that I've met the piece, I want even more for it to do what I'm hoping it will do.

Also in the box were two bags of Airsoft BBs, 5,000 rounds apiece.  The "biodegradeable" ones (I plan to test that to see what they actually do up here) came in white, and the plastic "competition ones" came in black.  The multi-color thing turned out to be a good idea since both bags decided to burst somewhere along the way, and nothing quite says "welcome to the world of Airsoft" like 10,000 co-mingled BBs loose in your box.

Yeah, I'm excited about this.  Testing will commence soon, and hopefully I'll document a lot of it here.  :-)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Not-so random notes.

Well, not to me, anyway.  :-)

I wanted to document, if for no one other than myself, a couple of interesting resources.  In doing some not-quite-random research in the YouTube landscape, I've managed to run across two people that I have found unexpectedly interesting.

It's hardly a secret that I've been a Jeff Cooper -phile for about thirty years, and part of that is a cultivated distrust of high-profile shooting experts.  I'm especially distrustful of the gonzo, high-speed-low-drag, tacticool "operator" crowd, so much of which loves to--vocally--treat all that came before it as obsolescence that absolutely will get you killed on the way to the john in your own home.

But there is the competing interest in continuing the learning process, as well, which nobody can ignore and still call himself a serious student.  (The irony in this, of course, is that Cooper would have heartily approved of this.  Most of his detractors love to focus on his obstinate resistance to a few specific things*, and conveniently forget that even the Modern Technique evolved over time--and, that at its core the Technique itself was an evaluated combination of both old and new, discovered elements.)  And so, in attempting a very informal overview search, while I've found some truly horrifying content out there, two people have started to stick out at me as being worthy of further interest.

The first is Rob Pincus of Personal Defense Network.  In short, I find myself liking his style.  As I see more of his work, I continue to be impressed by his presentation as an instructor, and often by the thinking behind what he is discussing.  There are certainly some points I can't quite find agreement with yet, but overall I find him worthwhile enough that I do intend to try even those myself, and give them a chance to play out with my eyes and hands.  Who knows, maybe he's right.

Consider this clip of Rob explaining one of his standard drills.  The principles seem generally sound, and I like that it's even more about the problem solving than it is about the shooting.

Here's another, a solid discussion of balancing speed and precision that seems like it would lend itself to personal practice on a square range.

And speaking of square ranges, I rather like this expedient of using the figure-8 motion with fixed targets...

Anyway, I'll continue looking at PDN and see how it goes.

The other person of interest is Ron Avery of Haley Strategic.  For me, the jury is still out on Travis Haley himself.  No doubt he can shoot--that's obvious--but I'm not sure yet I see him as a master instructor.  But Avery, now, he just sorta jumps out at me.  Haley Strategic seems to market him as "the scientist", and from what I've seen so far, that seems an apt description.

Here he works with a student on the draw stroke.  As an instructor his style is beautiful;  he quickly goes beyond the simple mechanics of the draw and spends most of his time in the psychology of the draw--with immediate and attendant results.

Today I ran across Avery discussing the "triggerstripe drill", and I'm going to bookmark it here as Something Important.  This is a very simple diagnostic concept, and Avery just thrashes it into something that is easily understandable.  Part 1:

and Part 2:

Now that's impressive.  I will have to seek out some more of Avery's work, and see if this impression holds.

Okay, documented.  More research to come.

* Oh, and it's certainly true that Cooper did not always manage these well.  He did seem to suffer at least a bit from becoming his own institution, and thus falling victim to the tendency of all institutions to self-ossify over time.  Nearly all his serious detractors dispense with any further context, and exploit the "old and in the way"** card to its fullest extent.

** Yes, that is a bluegrass reference.  :-)