Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Built, not Bought: The little stuff

So, you've put your rifle together.  It will physically discharge a round of ammunition and send it downrange.  But you're not done yet, there are still a number of small but necessary purchases to make your rifle functional.  Some are obvious, some only to those of us that intend to use these firearms outside of a static range on a shooting bench.
***Forgot to mention this in the previous installment - Radian Raptor Charging Handle - I gave a mil-spec charging handle an honest try, and with the traditional "two fingers over the top" grip it works well enough.  What it does not even attempt to do well is allow you to "blade" your hand past the charging handle and actuate the bolt.  This easily remedied that issue, and I only chose this vs. some other options because I had personal experience with it in a friend's built and I know it would work the first time.***

Sling - Magpul MS2 - I have previously had some experience with a number of slings, of the single and two point variety.  My EXTREMELY brief excursion into three point slings has led me to never recommend them or use them again, so let's table that abomination.  With few exceptions I default to a two point sling.  They are versatile for carrying and steadying your rifle when shooting off hand, provide a means to allow you to take both hands off your rifle without it clattering to the ground (if you need to switch to your secondary weapon, or use both hands for any other purpose), and allow you to carry muzzle up or down depending on the situation.  The greatest benefit is the control they lend to your rifle that a single point simply does not. The Magpul MS2 is secured to the buttstock via a tri glide wound through the sling point, and via a QD to the handguard.  This gives me a means to separate the upper and lower (I can hit the button and disconnect the sling from the upper) and if I get tied up I can shed the sling quickly. Extra points for color coordinating the sling to the furniture (OCD is a thing.)

Backup sights/Irons - Magpul MBUS - The MBUS sights are affordable, and appropriate for their intended use.  MUCH better sight options exist if you intend to use irons more often than I do, but as a backup to a more capable and sophisticated sighting system.  They are plastic, so if durability is a concern you may opt instead for the Magpul Pro sights which best I'm aware are made of metal.

Primary sights/The Great and Endless debate - Vortex Strikefire 2 and Vortex VMX-3T - I debated, really debated, using a red dot and magnifier (separate debates) vs. using a Vortex 1-6 or similar scope.  My father, who's AR build is fairly similar to mine in parts and phylosophy, did opt for a Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6, so I have an opportunity for some very direct comparisons.

The Vortex Strikefire 2 is a notorious robust and reliable red dot from Vortex's catalogue, as such being backed by a company with a reputation for not screwing up products and an unbeatable warranty.  It has a 4 MOA dot which I initially was concerned may not be a fine enough point of aim, but I referred back to my phylosophy of use.  I don't see iron sights as being too imprecise, and the front sight post isn't dramatically different in size from the red dot as mounted on my rifle.  I was able to string together perfectly respectable 2-3" groups at 100 yards, and engage an 8" plate mercilously.  The red dot does run off of a single CR2 battery vs. the more common CR123, but I found them available and stashed a spare in my pistol grip.  Note, when things run on batteries, have spares onboard the rifle if at all possible, in your kit if not.  Extra points for the cantilever lower 1/3 cowitness mount included with the red dot.

The VMX-3T is Vortex's second go at a 3X red dot magnifier. I did opt, as many do, to reverse the usual arrangement of the included flip-to-the-side mount (usually flips to the left, mine flips to the right, call it personal preference) which was easily accomplished.  I found the magnifier to be clear, the mount to be very stable, and the limited magnification to provide just enough extra visibility to stretch out the effective range without slowing down target acquisition.  I would never call this a replacement for a 1-6 scope, but it does give you more tools in your toolbox for a red dot. With the two optics paired together, engaging 8" targets at 100 yards is easy.  It was certainly no chore before, but the magnifier does give me a greater degree of target ID and placing my shots than I had without it.  It also gives me a bit better clarity at intermediate ranges.  It will not give you that fine point of aim to make sub MOA groups, but it will stretch your natural eyesight out that much farther.

Mags, cause it ain't a semi auto without them - C Products Defense stainless steel magazines - I picked these up silly cheap from SGAmmo when they had some in stock.  They are a literal clone of GI mags, minus the anti-tilt follower and the steel bodies vs. aluminum.  Perhaps a little heavier, but hopefully also a little stronger, they have proven bomb proof in their reliability.  I'm less picky about a person's choice on mags as long as they run them enough to be secure in their reliability or weed them out as "range only" mags.

All the junk in the buttstock/pistol grip - The Magpul buttstock, as many fixed stocks, has a built in storage compartment.  So does the Magpul pistol grip.  I have managed to cram a few scraps of old tee shirts to use as cleaning rats and patches, a small bottle of oil(Ballistol), a GI cleaning kit (leftover from my Army days) complete with a chamber brush, and spare batteries for my light and red dot.  I would encourage anyone to use onboard storage for bare minimum gear to service the rifle, just so it's always there.  I also have a RATS tourniquet wrapped around the buttstock (not in the location pictured, it slipped and interfered with the charging handle) because Murphy is ever vigilant and things happen.

What I set out to build was a jack of all trades rifle, something equally capable of home defense as defending a neighborhood.  I don't see my max engagement range often exceeding 50 yards, 100 being fairly optimistic, and 200 being extraordinarily rare.  The 18" barrel gives me the velocity to insure terminal ballistics, rifle length gas system and A2 buffer makes for a soft shooting rifle that won't choke on odd ammo choice, quality parts insure I don't have to worry about premature failures, and a flexible optics package that grants me faster target acquisition than irons without any loss in capability in my chosen envelope.  The rifle functions, and is proving accurate as I spend more time behind it.

What else can I tell you about?  Any interest in me talking about my load development as I tackle this new cartridge? - Phil Rabalais

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Built, not Bought: What's going on up top?

When I decided to build a rifle, I sought the advice of those builders more experienced than I, and boy did I get an education in a hurry.

I was quickly introduced to some of the modernizations that have come up in the last several years that neither Stoner nor the US Army Ordnance Department ever dreamed of.  Of course, a change in upper doesn't usually cause such a ripple effect in your parts selection but it does when it's a drastic departure from a standard mil spec upper.

Aero Precision M4E1 Enhanced Upper 
Before I fell subject to this marketting slang, I asked very directly what the benefit was.  Aero's M4E1 upper already features excellent machining, a flat top picatinny rail for optics mounting, and comes in at a very reasonable price tag.  The "Enhanced" upper completely redesigns the barrel/handguard mounting interface in the name of additional rigidity and strength, picking up where Stoner's design and the many workarounds (attempts to integrate free float handguards into the legacy design) left off.  By integrating the handguard mount into the upper itself, the stress of that handguard is no longer concentrated on the barrel nut.  By taking all of that stress off the barrel nut, it could be made smaller, now only dealing with locating and securing a barrel.  And, but reversing the typical arrangement of barrel nut to upper (the upper having outside threads, and the nut threading on) the barrel nut now threads INSIDE the upper and the gas tube no longer passes through the barrel nut.  Way beyond making assembly simpler, it gives a rock solid mount for the handguard.  To which I mounted....
Aero Precision Enhanced Handguard 
Possibly the only downside to using this specialized upper is it restricting your options for handguard.  Quite frankly, Aero Precision has you covered with options ready to bolt on in various lengths, diameters, and colors.  The Enhanced handguard (M-Lok, anodized black, 15") was my choice, as I had intended from the outset to build a full length rifle and I wanted plenty of rail space and to push the front sight as far forward as practical.  Yes, I planned to run an optic, but I am a big believer is making a sight radius longer where practical.  Some will tell you it doesn't matter, it matters to me.  The handguard features a compatible mounting solution with the Enhanced upper (mounts with 8 screws and a little blue Loctite if you don't like things backing off), anti rotation tabs, and a monolithic rail that matches perfectly with the Picatinny on the upper.  I don't care to mount my optics on the handguards, but it's there if you need it.  The handguard is rock solid, and fills the hand, though the Quatum may be a better fit if you like your handguard a little slimmer and lighter.

Faxon Firearms 18" Gunner barrel in 5.56 Nato 
I had always intended to use a rifle length gas system and an 18" barrel, beyond that I was pretty open to suggestion.  I was immediately steered to Faxon Firearms and their Gunner barrel.  Faxon is well known to provide a good product at a fair price.  Being a Goldilocks build/jack of all trades, I was after a full capable rifle that could still shed ounces where possible and not compromise capability.  The Gunner barrel utilizes the "government profile" from the M4E1 extension (with matching feed ramps) to the gas block, at which point is narrows considerably to the lighter weight "pencil profile" for the remainder of it's length.  This maintains more material and ability to cope with heat near the chamber where it pays dividends, but removes crucial weight from the furthest extreme of the barrel aiding the rifle in transitioning side to side.  Having shot this side by side with my father's traditional government profile barrel, I can attest to mine making a noticeable difference in weight and momentum, with a small penalty in additional felt recoil due to the lower weight.  I call it a worthwhile tradeoff for a rifle meant to be carried and shot from the shoulder, not rested on a bench it's whole life.  The jury is still out on potential accuracy as I dig into hand loading, but Faxon is not known to make trash barrels.  I debated briefly on .223 Wylde, but shelved it for the time being as it didn't really add much to my concept other than price.

Toolcraft Nickel Boron Bolt Carrier Group  
I quickly learned that MANY of your big name companies are using Toolcraft as an OEM supplier of their own bolt carrier groups, and I felt no reason to spend more to have someone else's name on the part.  C-158 Carpenter Steel bolt, MPI tested, and nickel boron coated (made of good stuff and slicker than greased owl snot) it certainly looked and felt the quality part when it arrived at my house.  Now, I fight a neverending battle to keep it clean, typical of direct impingement guns.  The nickel boron coating, promised to make cleaning a wipe and go affair, hasn't alleviated the need to soak it in CLP and break out the brass brushes, but it does seam to make the BCG run a little nicer when things get hot and dirty.  For the minimal extra money, I don't consider it to be a waste.

Next week, I'll start meandering my way around the rifle hitting all the little things that make a rifle run, since we've gotten the major parts out of the way.  Let me know what you guys think and leave me your feedback positive or negative. - Phil Rabalais

Friday, June 1, 2018

Episode 66 - The Militia

"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials."
— George Mason, in Debates in Virginia Convention on Ratification of the Constitution, Elliot, Vol. 3, June 16, 1788

 "The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed."
-- Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-188

"That the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms ... "
-- Samuel Adams, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at 86-87 (Pierce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850)

 "What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms."
-- Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787. ME 6:373, Papers 12:356

Militia Act of 1792

Militia Act of 1903

ADJUTANT-GENERAL:Rifle ranges also are needed, not only for the National Guard, but also for the citizen population. To shoot well is a large part of the education of the soldier ; and if the Government can arouse such an interest in shooting, in not only the organized but also the unorganized militia, that our male population shall be familiar with the accurate use of the rifle, we shall have gone far towards evening up the advantage the foreigner gains by his universal conscription. Much can be accomplished in this direction, if the United States will offer free the use of the military rifle on ranges to be established near our large towns. Such ranges would also be available for the instruction of the National Guard. Their cost would be little in comparison with the benefits to be obtained. The cost of sufficient target ranges and camp sites for the whole country will hardly exceed that of one or two new battle-ships.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Built, Not Bought: Solid Foundation

Most would consider it foolhardy to build a house on a shaky foundation.  So would I, hence I started with parts I knew I could depend on, from companies with a well deserved reputation of not screwing up the simple stuff.

Aero Precision is well noted in the AR world for building quality parts at fair prices.  Not the fanciest, not the flashiest, not the cheapest, but Aero's offerings often intersect right at the point of "this is too good to be true" and "this is a quality part I want on/in my rifle".  Aero Precision Lower, check please.  In hindsight, I could have (and may have, had I had the option locally) chosen their "Enhanced" lower with the integrated trigger guard, slightly different design, and a few other modernizations to the classic AR lower but I can't complain about the stripped lower I picked up locally.  It was in spec, and even at full price very reasonable on my wallet.

Going into the lower, I wasn't terribly hung up on which parts kit to use (as I tend to think if it's all the right size and material, what point in quibbling over it) but I was sure about my choice of trigger.  Enter ALG Defense, the sister company to Geissele.  I'm the sort of person that is very happy to buy a Honda and skip all the trimming of an Acura as long as the performance and quality is where it counts.  ALG's ACT is not a Geissele 3 gun trigger, but it is a notable and economical improvement over a standard mil spec trigger.  Less creep, cleaner break, very tactile reset, there isn't anything I can see not to like and the price point is half to a third of Geissele price.  I'm not saying Geissele triggers aren't worth the scratch, just that I wasn't in that market on this build.

The furniture is simple Magpul, their MOE + grip and fixed rifle (A2 length) stock.  I decided early in the conception of this build I wanted to use an A2 buffer in concert with a rifle length gas system.  Call me traditional, but I really do feel like Eugene Stoner nailed the original setup on the M16A1.  Rifle length guns are consistently soft recoiling, reliable, and consistent in their operation.  I did opt to come down a little on the barrel length (more on that later), but the buffer and gas system are very traditional because they work.  That limited my butt stock choices a bit, and Magpul's stock is a nod to modernity while working around this legacy buffer system.  The MOE+ grip is their standard MOE with a rubber over mold.  I can attest to it providing a good grip, no discernible downside I can think of.  Both pistol grip and butt stock have storage compartments which are stuffed full (of what?  patience)

Please leave me any feedback or questions you have.  The comment section below is available, and we can be found on Facebook on our page and in our closed group. More to come as we get into the upper next week. - Phil Rabalais 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Built, Not Bought: Building your first AR from a bucket of parts

Today marks a new entry in the blog (that you all thought I forgot about) to try and walk everyone through the decicions I made building my first AR.

    Certainly someone out there has recommended a first timer buy one complete for their first rifle, but I have a couple small problems with that advice.  Firstly, I am a tinkerer by nature.  Second, I wanted to build a very specific rifle for a fairly exacting purpose and I have definite ideas about how to accomplish that task.  Lastly, I am a glutton for punishment and I like a challenge.

    Every week (or perhaps more often, leave a comment and let me know how often you would like blog content to come out) I'll be concisely detailing a part or two on the rifle I ended up building, giving some critique on how I like it (or what I feel I could've done better), and talking about how that part adds to the overall concept.

    Speaking of concept, other than keeping up with the cool guys on the internet, I always tend to think of gear or firearms in terms of WHAT is this supposed to be doing?  What I set out to build was a general purpose rifle, a jack of all trades.  I wasn't after an SPR (special purpose rifle, intermediate to long range), though I wanted to have the legs if I needed them.  I wasn't after a CQB (close quarters battle, short and lightweight) rifle or carbine, but I wanted something I could maneuver in a hallway.  I didn't want to light Instagram on fire with all of my operatoresque coolness and I still don't care if the rifle looks cool or not, it does what I intended it to do.

    The rifle is built around an 18" barrel with a rifle gas system, long 15" handguard, flat top upper with a monolithic pic rail for mounting optics, and a fixed stock with an "A2" buffer system.  It has so far proven to be fairly soft shooting and extremely flexible and forgiving of what ammo is fed into it.  While many manufacturers have figured out the details of making shorter AR's more reliable than in years past, I wanted a known commodity that was likely to work in less than perfect conditions.  Leave me some comments, and I'll be back around to start talking you through the parts, and the method behind the madness. - Phil Rabalais

Friday, April 6, 2018

Why feminists should lose their minds over gun control.

Feminists should absolutely have a fit about gun control.  My reasoning is pretty simple, if perhaps a little sexist.  My wife for example is a beautiful and confident woman.  She is not tread under by her husband (ask her, she'll laugh), and is by all accounts a very independent lady.  She's also Hell on wheels with a rifle, and is turning into a very accomplished pistol shooter with some practice.  She is also woefully unprepared for a hands on violent encounter if she is unarmed.

There is simply, factually, no contest of strength or violence in which I can see my wife being able to overtake and subdue me for example.  I'm a 250 pound Army veteran, with several years of martial arts training under my belt when I was younger and skinnier.  The deficit between us in terms of raw strength is something she can not reasonably be expected to offset with her bare hands.  But, put a handgun in those hands and suddenly we are very obviously equal.  She, armed, is easily able to fend off a violent attacker, and that is why gun control frustrates me so badly.

With my bare hands, or one of my everyday carry knives, I would give myself equal odds fending off a violent attacker.  I would always prefer a carry gun for defense, but I like my odds without a gun a lot better than my wife's, or any woman's for that matter.  Contrary to whatever tarted up feminist fantasy Hollywood has rolled out recently, women are at a phenomenal disadvantage in a violent encounter against a physically stronger and often larger man. This is why I have always asserted that women, the elderly, and the physically less capable are harmed by gun control much more readily than are men.

So, the next time someone starts to trumpet gun control as a means to protect the innocent, gently remind them that gun control laws are a poor substitute for a person's ability to defend themselves in the manner in which they see fit.  Remind them that Smith & Wesson, not diamonds, are a girl's best friends.  Remind them that the people most disadvantaged by restrictions on the 2nd Amendment are the people that are already at a physical disadvantage in a violent encounter.  

The 2nd Amendment is the ultimate equality, making all people able to equally defend themselves regardless of sex or ethnicity, applying equally to citizens from all walks of life. - Phil