Just One More Step on the New Rifle


This project is almost in the bag…or in the safe. Whatever.

I ordered the wrong size triangular hand guard cap by mistake. I didn’t check if the Colt one I purchased was for .750 or .625 barrels. I needed the latter, but ended up with the former. Not a big deal, since it’s a $3 part and already ordered the correct one from BCM.

Once I have that, the upper is off to West Coast Armory for pinning the FSB and final assembly.

I am very happy with the mock up pictured above. I assembled all the parts without final torquing, and it handles beautifully. Balance is right at the rear of the magazine well. The Rainier Arms upper and lower receivers have the tightest fit I’ve ever seen, and the whole thing just feels solid. I expect this may be a new favorite.

Not much longer until it’s off for a trip to the range.

This Video Explains Everything

This is, more or less, how I feel every time I get into an internet argument over gun control. This is also why I don’t do it nearly as often as I used to.

Enjoying the Path

I was recently put together a lecture about developing a winning mindset for my office. The gist of the lecture focused on goal setting, focused practice, and reinforcement of success. These were the same concepts I started talking about in the beginning of this blog. The things I wrote about then, and rediscussed in this lecture, came from the excellent work of Lanny Basham. But I don’t want to revisit that today. Rather, I want to revisit another book that I had these folks read excerpts from.

Mastery, by George Leonard is a fairly light and quick read. My copy is yellowed with sunlight from prominently resting on the coffee table for years, and I periodically glance through it looking for little tidbits of wisdom. Like Basham’s work, I wrote a bit about Mastery early on in my journey. Having gone through it again, there was something that stood out to me that I think we all struggle with.

Leonard talks about the concept of homeostasis. The idea is that every living thing seeks to keep its environment stable. In complex organisms, like us, that includes body temperature, blood pressure, hormone levels, oxygen levels, muscle tension, glucose, and millions of other processes that must be kept in constant balance. To these systems, survival means maintaining the status quo. This continues to apply even if we think the status quo is wrong. This is why it is often so hard to pick up new “healthy” habits when we decide we need to live a better lifestyle. Our body recognizes the change, and will trigger alarms to stop us from continuing. These alarms take many forms, from sore muscles to cravings. Given enough time and effort, the new healthy lifestyle becomes the new “norm” and your body will fight to maintain it.

Homeostasis applies to social pressure as well. Again, our natural instinct is to maintain the status quo. We don’t necessarily like change, and very often find it threatening- even if it is someone else who is doing the changing. Think of the times where someone has tried to quit smoking or drinking, and their circle of friends taunts them or encourages them to continue on with the old habits anyway. “C’mon mate,” they say,”nobody here cares. Have a drink!”

Backsliding is a universal experience. Every one of us resists significant change, no matter whether it’s for the worse or for the better. Our body, brain and behavior have a built-in tendency to stay the same within rather narrow limits, and to snap back when changed…Be aware of the way homeostasis works…Expect resistance and backlash. Realize that when the alarm bells start ringing, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sick or crazy or lazy or that you’ve made a bad decision in embarking on the journey of mastery. In fact, you might take these signals as an indication that your life is definitely changing–just what you’ve wanted….Be willing to negotiate with your resistance to change. (Mastery, p. 107-115).

This is true of any endeavor we undertake. People will try to challenge our decisions because they represent changes to their perceptions of us or the environment.

It could be marksmanship: “Why are you going to the range so much? You planning on killing someone?”

Or perhaps prepping: “Damn dude, how paranoid are you?!?”

Even fitness: “I could never do that, I like sleep and food too much. Want a beer?”

These negative pressures can easily dissuade us from continuing down our new path, which is exactly what they are designed to do. The trick, really, is to surround yourself with people and things that support you. Barring that, try to change the minds of others as well until they accept your change or even join you on the path. The bottom line, though, is that you will not engage in the required amounts of practice and focus that are required of you unless you overcome this tendency towards the status quo.

You must challenge yourself to become a constant student. Accept that you will probably never truly master anything. You will always be working on yourself. You may become better than most, or even be the “best” in some objective measure, but you will realize that there is always more to learn- and that is the beauty of it all. If you challenge yourself in this way, you will see that the world opens up to you and begs you to engage in it.

Another quote from Mastery sums this up well:

Our preoccupation with goals, results, and the quick fix has separated us from our own experiences…there are all of those chores that most of us can’t avoid: cleaning, straightening, raking leaves, shopping for groceries, driving the children to various activities, preparing food, washing dishes, washing the car, commuting, performing the routine, repetitive aspects of our jobs….Take driving, for instance. Say you need to drive ten miles to visit a friend. You might consider the trip itself as in-between-time, something to get over with. Or you could take it as an opportunity for the practice of mastery. In that case, you would approach your car in a state of full awareness…Take a moment to walk around the car and check its external condition, especially that of the tires…Open the door and get in the driver’s seat, performing the next series of actions as a ritual: fastening the seatbelt, adjusting the seat and the rearview mirror…As you begin moving, make a silent affirmation that you’ll take responsibility for the space all around your vehicle at all times…We tend to downgrade driving as a skill simply because it’s so common. Actually maneuvering a car through varying conditions of weather, traffic, and road surface calls for an extremely high level of perception, concentration, coordination, and judgement…Driving can be high art…Ultimately, nothing in this life is “commonplace,” nothing is “in between.”  The threads that join your every act, your every thought, are infinite.  All paths of mastery eventually merge. (Mastery, p. 141-150).

Don’t get caught up in the day to day status quo. Engage in the little things you do each day and make the pursuit of mastery part of your every day life, not just marksmanship, health, or whatever your pursuit. Life continues to exist between those special moments at the range, or with your family- you just need to engage.

The Skinny on Nitride Barrels

After I wrote about the Faxon barrel I’m using in the latest project, a question arose about the benefit of nitrided barrels. I’m not surprised, since the gold standard for so long has been chrome lining. Nitriding is just the “new thing” that all the cool kids on the internet are talking about.

But, what is it? Does it have any benefits over the tried and true methods? I want to dig into that for a bit.

Here is a quick description of the process from an industrial coating company, IBC Coatings, I’ve bolded some key elements.

Salt Bath Nitriding/Nitrocarburizing was originally created as an alternative to gas nitriding that would produce a more uniform case through surface contact between the substrate and liquid salt. When steel parts are placed into a preheated liquid salt, there is sufficient energy localized near the surface due to differences in chemical potential that then allows nitrogen and carbon species to diffuse from the salt into the steel substrate. The process is carried out at 750-1050°F, making it faster than gas nitriding. Lower temperature cycles produce an S-Phase/Expanded Austenite case in stainless steels. Post-oxidation after nitriding combined with polishing produces coatings with exceptional appearance (black color) and high corrosion resistance (greater than electrolytic chrome plating). To ensure part quality, our salt baths are continuously monitored, with chemistry adjustments made when necessary.

Salt Bath Nitriding/Nitrocarburizing is well known under various trade names, including ARCOR®, TENIFER®, TUFFTRIDE®, MELONITE®, and QPQ®.

The idea here is that the barrel is immersed in a sodium-nitrogen solution and heated to a high temperature. The ensuing chemical reaction causes the nitrogen to diffuse into the surface of the barrel (inside and out) and convert a thin layer of the surface into a very salt-bath-nitriding-dhn.gifhard coating. From what I can find, the surface of a nitrided barrel is in the realm of 60 to 65 Rockwell, while the typically gun barrel steel is 28-32 Rockwell. This surface layer becomes a very corrosion resistant “case” around the barrel steel.

Additionally, the surface layer created by the nitriding process has a much lower coefficient of friction compared to bare metal or chrome. Ostensibly, this would mean that nitriding barrels may present a small boost in velocity. I have read some accounts verifying this on Accurate Shooter, but it was only by about 1% or so. Still, a boost is a boost and nobody will ever turn down velocity.


The real benefits of this process is that nitriding performs all the same functions as chrome, such as increasing corrosion resistance and prolonging the life of the barrel, and it does it without the associated negative impacts on accuracy. Since the surface of the bore is being converted into a harder material, rather than adding a new layer of material, the uniformity of the bore is maintained. As I’ve mentioned before, consistency is accuracy.

From my reading, this process is not perfect, though. The surface may be harder than chrome, but it is not as heat resistant. Weapons fired on fully automatic for prolonged periods may burn through the nitrided layer quicker than a comparable chrome layer. This should not really be a factor for semiautomatic weapons, though. Also, per the bolded portion in the paragraph above, the barrel must be heated to a temperature of 750 to 1050 degrees fahrenheit. Coincidentally, this is about the same temperature that barrels are heat treated/stress relieved. There is a very real risk that heating to such temperatures (particularly with stainless barrels) can undo heat treatments already performed by the factory that machined the barrel to begin with. While I haven’t seen anyone mentioning decreases in accuracy after nitriding, I have seen many warnings to not perform the process on a barrel that’s already been fired a significant amount. The micro cracks in the surface of the bore and chamber of such barrels may be aggravated by the high temperatures, making them worse and degrading accuracy.

The Faxon barrel I purchased is my first real experience with a nitrided barrel. I’ve handled at shot some rifles with them before, but I’ve never done accuracy evaluations or had to care for one. For the most part, I’m told that care procedures are the same- except that some products (like those from Bullfrog) will tend to discolor the finish.

I will continue reporting back on my results. If you are waffling back and forth on a standard barrel or chrome lined barrel, I don’t think you can really go wrong either way as long as the barrel is well made. Find one that suits your needs in size, profile, and accuracy and let the manufacturer worry about the rest.

Initial Impression: Faxon 18″ Gunner Barrel


I received this in the mail over the weekend. It is a Faxon Firearms 18″ Gunner barrel. Here are the key stats from Faxon’s web page:

  • Barrel Type: Button Rifled
  • Barrel Caliber: 5.56 NATO
  • Barrel Twist: 1:8
  • Barrel Length: 18″
  • Barrel Profile: GUNNER Light Hybrid
  • Barrel Gas System: Rifle Length
  • Inside Finish: QPQ Nitride
  • Outside Finish: QPQ Nitride
  • Muzzle Thread: 1/2-28 TPI (Threads Per Inch)
  • Gas Block Diameter: .625″
  • Gas Port Diameter: .093″
  • Gas Block Journal Length: 1.9″
  • Barrel Extension: M4
  • Magnetic Particle Inspected!
  • 11-degree Target Crown
  • Weight: 1.44 lbs

This is part of my KISS walk-around rifle concept, which I wrote about a while back. The intent is for a lightweight iron-sighted rifle that would make a great companion for walking around in open areas, or handing off to someone as an introduction to marksmanship. This is my original mockup done through Gunstruction.


I already have the lower assembly complete, which leaves the upper receiver, operating parts, and final assembly.

This barrel makes a very positive first impression. The QPQ/Melonite/Nitride coating is a nice even black. While not as flat as a parkerized barrel, it is not really shiny, either. The machine work appears very clean, with no sharp edges or burrs in the threading. I don’t have a bore scope or lathe to check for runout or rifling quality, but the buzz on the internet was that both have proven to be good.

The profile is the most interesting part to me, though. Notice that it continuously tapers from chamber to the gas block journal (which is sized to accept a standard .625 FSB), and then continues the taper down to the end. The muzzle end flares out a bit again to allow for solid contact with a muzzle device. The section in front of the gas block journal might be one of the thinnest profiles I’ve seen on an AR.

I happened to have enough spare parts on hand to get a better mockup and play with weight/balance a bit. I grabbed my old Spikes stripped upper, standard barrel nut, Samson/Rainier Evolution rail, and a birdcage flash hider and slapped it together (nothing fully torqued, of course). I borrowed a BCG and charging handle from another rifle.


I’m not going to lie, this feels pretty damn nice. I’m almost tempted to mount a gas block, torque it all down and call it good. The rifle feels very spright in the hands, with a good rearward balance at about the middle of the magazine well. The Samson/Rainier rail weighs 11 oz, not including the standard barrel nut. The Mapul MOE Rifle handguard I will be using weighs just a bit more, at 12.2 oz. I also have to include another .8 oz for the handguard cap and delta ring assembly, which I don’t have mounted here.

In any case, a bit more forward balance by a few ounces would still leave a very nice handling rifle. I still need to order a few more parts, and then send it off to have the FSB drilled and taper pinned. I will probably have final assembly done at the same time.

The more parts that come in, the more excited I am to have this project complete.

Product Review: GORUCK GR1



The GR1 is like one of those mythical objects that people on the internet talk about, but nobody you know actually has. To be fair, paying nearly $300 for a backpack that, from a distance, is nearly indistinguishable from a Jansport might be considered…excessive. As the saying goes, though, you get what you pay for. In this price range, there is a lot of competition from other gear makers like Kifaru, Mystery Ranch, Crye Precision, London Bridge Trading, and more. All of these are considered top notch. Yet, when you search around the web, the GR1 consistently has loyal advocates.

The company was founded by Jason McCarthy, a veteran of the Army 10th SFG. The story goes that he wanted to start a company to be a voice for good and take care of fellow veterans. Furthermore, he wanted to take the best elements from various rucks and packs that he carried and roll them into one exceptionally well-designed pack that would stand up to the abuse of combat. Sales were slow, but Jason slowly built a reputation by partnering with Tough Mudder and using his packs during their races. At the conclusion of each race, he sold his packs off the back of a truck. This partnership eventually led to the creation of the GORUCK challenges that the company has become known for (the above link is actually quite a good read about the origin of the challenges).

GORUCK also makes a variety of packs in different sizes ranging from  the 10L bullet to the 40L GR2. All of them are built to the same “bombproof” standards, but the GR1 remains the flagship of the brand.

I picked up a Ranger Green GR1 several months ago in preparation for the GORUCK Tough (GRT) challenge in Santa Barbara on August 5th. Unfortunately, due to a back injury flaring up, I had to move my registration to a different GRT event in December. I did still use the GR1 in a GORUCK “light” event. I was holding off on finishing the review until I completed at least one GORUCK and traveled a bit with the bag.

IMG_0916.JPGThe GR1 comes in two different sizes: 26L and 21L. Pictured at the top is my Ranger Green 26L GR1. I also purchased a black 21L GR1 for my wife (it has the curved straps to accomodate different anatomy, but it is not a necessity, by any means). The pack is relatively nondescript from the outside, save for three rows of MOLLE on the front and sides, a front slash pocket, and a 2″ x 3″ hook and loop panel on the front. There is no branding on the outside, which helps it comply with Army uniform regulation 670-1. That regulation forbids corporate logos from the exterior of backpacks. From a distance, you are hard pressed to tell the difference between the GR1 and any other simple school backpack. When you pick it up, however, it becomes a very different story.

The GR1 is made entirely out of 1000D Cordura. While 1000D has fallen out of favor as a gear material due to its relative weight compared to 500D, there is no denying that the pack feels tough. As one individual I work with put it when he handled it, “This thing feels like it is going to last forever.”

The stitching is top notch and overbuilt. The YKK zippers are beefy and appear to be easy to maintain. A nice touch is the removal of metal pull tabs from the zippers and replacing them with heat shrunk 550 paracord pulls. This helps cut down on noise as you are moving with the pack and provides a unique look. The zippers run the length of the pack, allowing the front flap to clamshell completely open. The GR1 has one main compartment. Once open, there is a sleeve that works well for laptops, hydration bladders, notebooks, rucking weights, or really any laptop-sized item. This pouch would also make a great host for a mobile transceiver like the Yaesu 817ND or other similar sized module. MOLLE is sewn into the top of the pack for attaching admin pouches, carabiners, or really anything you can tie down.

One of my favorite features is actually pouches sewn into the inside of the pack front. There are two pouches here: one at the top, and a mesh one taking up the rest of the space. The location of these make for easy access to items (cell phones, keys, headphones, whatever). I usually keep a folded up poncho in the mesh pocket, which has been great for impromptu picnics with the family and unexpectedly rainy ruck workouts.

The GR1 also has a zippered sleeve between the main compartment and the back padding. GORUCK calls this the “bombproof laptop compartment.” The 26L can hold a 17″ Macbook Pro, and the 21L holds a 15″ Macbook Pro nicely. Alternatively, I put my 30 lb ruck plate in this spot, or a water bladder. There is a removable polymer frame sheet located inside a discreet sleeve on the padded portion. It feels as though this frame sheet has molded to my back a bit over time, making it very comfortable and distributing loads well. The bottom of the ruck has extra padding to help protect the contents of the pack. Both the main compartment and laptop compartment connect to a hydration tube port at the top of the pack, right under the carry handle. Speaking of which, the top carry handle is extremely strong, likely designed for those moments in the challenges where you lose strap privileges and must carry the weighted pack by that handle for a few miles.

The shoulder straps are beefy, with a good 1/4 inch of padding. The combination of padding and 1000D Cordura is so sturdy, in fact, that it took a month of near daily use (with weight) to break them in. There is a single row of vertically stitched MOLLE running the length of each strap. This works for lashing items, or even attaching accessories. In my case, I simply put an ITW web dominator for controlling the loose end of a hydration tube. The straps are designed to be quickly cinched and carry the load high on the back, which works well for weighted rucking workouts.

Lacking from the package is a sternum or waist strap. Both are available as accessories for relatively low cost. The ones designed by GORUCK weave into the available MOLLE located on the sides of the pack or on the shoulder straps. GORUCK’s explanation for not including them is that they wanted to keep things simple and stripped down (alternatively, I’ve also seen that they didn’t have a good final design for these items until recently). For the amount of money that these packs cost, I would like to have seen the sternum and waist belts included in the package and leave it up to the user to decide if they want to use them or not.

That gets me to usage. To date, I’ve used this pack for EDC at work, picnics, hikes, farmers markets, cycling around town, diaper bag, range bag, laptop bags, a gym bag, a business trip, and a GORUCK event. It has performed flawlessly in every circumstance. I think the real benefit of the GR1 is that it is so generically designed. A lot of “tactical” packs have multiple compartments and sleeves for things like knives, pens, multitools, flashlights, etc. While nifty, a lot of those features end up going unused on a day to day basis. If I load up my SOC Three Day Pass for the range, it is one thing- but using it as a daily pack really doesn’t work well because of all the things I don’t need and the space I then have to do without.

The genericness of the GR1 means that it is not specialized for anything, which makes it pretty useful for just about everything (up to a point, which I’ll get to). The main compartment can be configured and organized as I see fit, rather than being forced into what someone else envisions me using it for. With the MOLLE on the outside, I can choose to add IFAKs, canteen pouches, ammo pouches, cell phone caddies, admin pouches, or leave it slick. Youtube is full of “one baggers” who efficiently pack it for trips up to a week or longer. The only real exception is the slash pocket on the front, which isn’t much good for anything other than flat items once the pack has some bulk. I really only use it for some patches, reflective bands, and maybe a thin Rite in the Rain notebook. If you are going to load up the bag with stuff, do try to keep it organized and compartmentalized. It’s one thing to lay out everything nice and pretty when the bag is laying flat, but unless you have actually organized properly, the contents will “tumble” to the bottom in a messy pile (as seen below).

Now, here is where I’m going to deviate from a lot of what has been said about the pack. As a daily use backpack for a variety of circumstances, the GR1 is awesome. For “tactical” use, I think it makes a great 24 hour assault pack to compete with the likes of LBT, Eagle, and Mystery Ranch. But I hesitate to call it a “Ruck” in the traditional sense. It’s one thing to carry 30-40 lbs in it for a workout, which it does well it. I would NOT want to use it if there was more weight or distance involved. The shoulder straps are good, but the truth is that putting large amounts of weight on your shoulders for extended periods is going to mess with your back. If you plan on rucking with 60+ lbs, you need a sturdy waist belt. I’m not talking about the GORUCK waist belt, either, which is mainly designed to help stabilize the pack during movement. I’m talking serious hip belts that transfer weight to your hips/legs, as you see on large hiking packs.

Realistically, those who have spent time doing serious hikes, backpacking trips, and ruck movements understand this and wouldn’t use the GR1 for that purpose. I’m sure there are some devotees out there who sincerely think that putting 60 lbs in the GR1 and moving long distances on a regular basis is a good idea, though. While it can be done, you really shouldn’t.

The Bottom Line


+ Crazy tough construction to withstand nearly any abuse
+ Generic design/size is both discrete and extremely versatile
+ Comfortable for carrying loads (within reason)
+ Just flat out good looking
+ Very high quality


– Price is perceived as high for “just a backpack”
– Does not include relatively inexpensive sternum or waist straps
– Takes some time to break in

The Final Verdict, Who Should Buy This:

This is one of those “nice to have” items that probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are a lot of great packs on the market that fall into roughly the same category. If you were comparing the GR1 to offerings from Mystery Ranch, Kifaru, Camelbak, and other quality manufacturers, I’m not sure there is anything here that definitely makes the GR1 better than all of the others. They are all in roughly the same price point and share high levels of quality. If versatility without being overly tacticool is a priority for you, then the GR1 is a great pick. The GR1, to me, represents the absolute best version of the classic backpack. If you need more built-in organization or the ability to carry heavier loads for long distances, then something else might work better.

On Iron Sights and Optics

I’ve been a pretty staunch advocate of the fixed front sight base, even if one plans to run a magnified optic. That’s not to say that I’m absolutely married to the idea of keeping it in all circumstances, because I’m not. I do, however, think that most people are discounting them these days because they see a lot of pictures of rifles without them, they look cool, and there are a lot of folks out there talking about the inherent benefits of low profile gas blocks.

In this post, I simply want to discuss the relationship of optics and iron sights on a rifle. There are really three ways to look at this: 1) Cowitnessing, 2) Sight shadow, 3) Necessity.

Cowitnessing is the practice of getting a sight picture with the irons while looking through the optic. This only works on non-magnified red dot sights that are mounted in alignment with the irons. The intent here is that the user can quickly align the irons in the heat of the moment in case the red dot sight fails. Some people also use cowitnessed iron sights as a quick way to check the zero on their red dot (I do not agree with this practice, for reasons I will get to). Cowitnessing is further divided into two general categories: absolute and lower third. With an absolute, looking through the irons will align with the red dot right in the middle of the optic. Everything is aligned in a straight line. With a lower third, the optic is mounted slightly higher than the sights. This latter configuration provides a slightly less cluttered sight picture for the red dot, but allows the shooter to drop his or her head slightly lower and still get an iron sight picture through the bottom third of the red dot sight. Larue Tactical has a good depiction of the two methods using their mounts.


I mentioned that some folks will check their RDS zero by seeing if it aligns with the iron sights, and that I do not like the practice. The reason I don’t like it is because the sight’s zero can move slightly as the dot moves around the window. I know red dot sights are often sold as being completely parallax free, but it is not true. It is best to zero the irons and zero the red dot separately. When you do that, you also have the option of choosing different zero distances for each system (if it makes sense for you). That might mean a bit more mental work and practice up front, but could offer some more versatility later.

However you choose to do it, you absolutely need to zero your irons. Red dots can and will fail you. Rain, fog, mud, battery failure, and other factors will all disrupt your sight picture through a red dot. To be fair, such occurrences (except for battery failure) will also limit your ability to use the cowitnessed iron sights, so I suggest keeping the RDS on a mount that you can quickly remove, if needed.

As I previously said, cowitnessing only works on sights that have zero magnification. As soon as you introduce lenses that bend light, cowitnessing is no longer an option. As much as it may appear that you can cowitness through a 1x-4x sight set at 1x- you cannot. This is a picture through my TR24 set at 1x behind a the rifle length FSP on the Musket.


“Well, that looks pretty cowitnessed to me!”

I assure you, it doesn’t work. The reason is that the TR24 is still bending light in such a way that the sight appears to have no magnification. The image is still being taken at the objective end of the scope, a full twelve inches in front of my eye, and about eleven inches in front of where a rear sight might be. The way light moves through this arrangement is simply not the same as how an RDS or bare sights work. If you attempted to cowitness (assuming you could fit a rear sight behind the scope), you are really just aligning the rear sight to a picture rather than a physical front sight.

This is where people start recommending ditching front sights with magnified optics. In truth, a physical front (and rear) sight serves no purpose when you are employing a magnified optic. They exist only as backups. Furthermore, as you can see above, the front sight will be somewhat visible through the scope. How visible it is really depends on the field of view of the scope, though. This is the same configuration, but with the scope set on 4x.


From this perspective, you really can’t see the front sight at all. That is because the TR24 has a fairly narrow field of view. This next photo is on the same rifle but with my fixed 4x ELCAN, which has a much wider field of view that better includes the front sight.


This is for illustrative purposes only, and is not definitive. In actual use, the front sight is not that visible through the ELCAN. Your eye focuses and captures light differently than a camera lens, so the blur at the bottom is much less obtrusive in actual use than this picture would have you believe. That said, it is still there and quite detectable if you are looking for it.

Here is another photo I found through an ACOG that is closer to how it appears through the ELCAN.


The important thing to remember is that if you are doing your job and focusing on the target, you will hardly notice the dark blur. The higher the magnification goes, and narrower the field of view goes, the less visible the front sight becomes. At 10x, as with my 2.5-10x scope, I don’t see the post at all.

That said, a fixed FSB can sometimes reflect light back into the objective. When I’ve run 10x scopes behind an FSB, there are some circumstances where reflected light briefly distorts my sight picture (though not enough to actually cause a problem). For most users, under most circumstances, this simply isn’t something to worry about.

That brings me to necessity. Do we actually need backups? When you see optics mounted behind fixed sights on military rifles, it is because that is how the rifle is issued to the user. Military users don’t have much leeway on how their rifles are configured, so they “make it work.” On civilian rifles, it is mostly done either because the user purchased a complete rifle with FSB and just ran with it, or they are copying the look of military weapons. For most people choosing a configuration with a lot of leeway, going without fixed sights (or even backup) will probably work just fine. For new users, the uncluttered sight picture offers a slight boost in speed.

I will readily admit that I prefer using optics without FSB shadow (both RDS or magnified), but I’ve come to accept the trade off. The fixed front sight tower is simply the strongest front sight solution available. If I choose to move back to irons, then that sturdy front sight will be there for me. But that is me. 

Just because you see everyone slapping backup sights on optically-sighted rifles doesn’t mean you need to as well. Analyze your situation, your needs, and make a decision. If you have an optic that has short eye relief, like a TA31 ACOG, it is okay to delete the backup sights in order to position the scope for comfortable shooting. As far as I’m concerned, backup sights are a nicety, not a necessity. I’m sure some will argue with me on that, but it really comes down to personal preference.

As always, look at how you actually use your rifle and what your needs are.


New Rifle Update


Not long ago, I mentioned having the urge to start a new project.  My observation back in June was that my main rifle, which began life as a KISS iron sight rifle, had grown in weight and capability to become my go-to for most things. Despite that, I still really enjoyed the basic configuration. I started sketching out a new lightweight minimalist project, which I’m designating my “field rifle,” or “walking around rifle.”

This is the original mockup I did on Gunstruction.


At this point, I have the lower assembly completed.

  • Rainier Arms lower receiver
  • Sionics lower parts kit
  • Magpul MOE Rifle Stock
  • Hogue overmold pistol grip without finger grooves
  • ALG ACT trigger
  • Magpul MOE trigger guard


I’ve been playing with this assembled lower on my 20″ upper to see how I like it. So far, so good. The Rainier lower, which I presume is made by Mega Machine based on some of the features, is very nice. The roll pin holes were tight, which is not a bad thing, and took some finesse on my part. I’m not one to mind my lowers looking a little “used,” but I can see some people being concerned about the effort required to drive in certain pins (particularly the trigger guard).

The Hogue pistol grip is quite nice, it has the nice rubberized texture Hogue is famous for, a subtle palm swell, and is shaped more or less like an A1 grip. The Hogue grips have a little lip protrusion that is intended to fill the gap created by the standard AR trigger guard. However, since I’m using a Magpul MOE trigger guard, which is designed to fill the gap itself, I had to cut the “lip” off the top of the grip. No big deal, less than a minute with my Leatherman.

The MOE Rifle stock is awesome. I installed one on an unfinished 308 lower years ago, and have shot them on rifles I’ve built for friends, but never put one on one of my own ARs. It offers a very nice cheek weld and fits my length of pull perfectly.

The ACT trigger has been in my stable for years as a backup to my Geissele triggers. It will be front-and-center now, though. It’s just a good all-round mil spec style trigger. The single stage has a very minor amount of creep, but I don’t really care given the style of shooting this project is intended for.

Going forward, I plan on using a Faxon 18″ Gunner barrel (with a Criterion Ultralight 18″ in close second). Following that, I’ll be finishing the project with a Rainier Arms forged upper receiver (without forward assist), Rainier bolt carrier group, and Magpul MOE rifle handguards mounted behind a standard F-Marked front sight tower. For a rear sight, I will likely use the BCM carry handle I already have on hand, but may go with either an LMT sight or Larue A1 style sight in the long run. I plan completing this project before pre-election panic buying gets into full swing, which will make parts dry up pretty quickly. That is, of course, assuming the parts I want are available in my desired timeframe.


Defining Practical Marksmanship

Since the beginning of this blog, I’ve but an emphasis on “practical” marksmanship. The tagline at the top reads, “Practical, Not Just Tactical.” Something I realized, though, is that I’ve never really talked about what “practical marksmanship” entails.

The term itself is nebulous. Practical as opposed to what? Tactical marksmanship? Precision marksmanship? Dynamic?

Allow me to reference the Cambridge Dictionary:


adjective /ˈpræk·tɪ·kəl

    1. Relating to actual experience or to use the knowledge in activities rather than knowledge only or ideas
    2. Fitting the needs of a particular situation in a helpful way; helping to solve a problem or difficulty; effective or suitable

Ok, there, I made it sound official and a little academic. I suppose that is interesting, but it’s not really satisfying. What am I really getting at?

To me, practical marksmanship is really about keeping the end goal in mind. I do not discount the value of competition and a focus on precision, those are both vital components of my vision. However, to me, winning a competition is not the end game in of itself. Rather, the focus is on the ability to apply the skills learned through practice and competition and apply them to real world use of hitting targets that need to be hit. That could manifest itself in hunting, field competition, or defensive action. The long term focus is not on the skill in a vacuum, but how that skill will be applied in the real world.

How is that different than tactical or precision marksmanship? I suppose it is not, really. In my view, tactical marksmanship is primarily focused on relatively close range defensive marksmanship (as opposed to hunting or competition); it is a subset of the practical. Precision marksmanship is a bit more vague, and I more closely associate it with competition or long range shooting with more time and planning available.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, but its just something that I’ve been thinking about. My vision has always been one of being able to walk around with a rifle in the field, recognize the need to take a shot, take a stable position, and hit the mark. I want to do this at any range I can see the target under any weather condition. That is practical marksmanship.

You can see this manifest in a variety of ways. My gear choices and weapon configurations could easily migrate towards specialized setups that would be better for precision, or better for home defense, or better for shooting 3-Gun. But they don’t, because I realize that such configurations are really tailored to specific circumstances. “Space Guns” that run on the ragged edge of reliability in order to decrease shot split times work well enough in a relatively sterile USPSA match with a tailored hand load, but would probably choke after being exposed to cheaper surplus ammo and a healthy dose of dust. Long and heavy barreled F-Class rifles are great for maintaining those tight shot clusters at range, but you sure wouldn’t want to hump one for miles up a mountain on a hunt.

Keep the end goal in mind, and work towards it.



Why Marksmanship?

Over the years, I’ve been involved in many discussions/debates/arguments with folks who do not understand or respect the importance of their 2A rights. In fact, one of the more memorable debates occurred when my interlocutor tried to explain why AR-15s should be reclassified as weapons of mass destruction. I made them feel quite foolish about their opinion when I informed them of my background as a nuclear weapons launch officer, and the actual capabilities of real WMDs (though, I’m also quite sure they continued to use such foolish language after I was done with them).

Every so often in these debates, someone will say that people like me are just upset about having my hobby limited or taken away. They tell me that I need to get over it, and that I should want to give up my hobby if it meant saving lives. “Why should anyone,” they will ask, “be involved in a hobby that is all about killing?”

While I will certainly admit that I laugh at these kinds of arguments, as they come primarily from a place of ignorance, I cannot fully write them off. It is easy for us to parry such an statement with pointed language about competition, and how our guns have never killed anyone, but such a counter has never quite felt complete, if not hollow. The question has always lingered in the back of my mind: why do I enjoy what I do so much? Why is it that I fight so vehemently to keep my rights as they are? If this was purely about marksmanship and competition, then logic would dictate that I could do just as well with a bolt action or a simple .22 LR.

Sooner or later, we must dig into our motivations. I’m not talking about whatever thing first drew us to firearms in general. Some people like the noise and flash of shooting. Others enjoy the engineering and mechanics of it all. Yet more appreciate the historical context. Those are all great in their own right, but those things are what got us started. What is that actually makes us want to keep practicing?

I’ve written before on how we should communicate and the culture we should strive for. I’ve also written about the challenge of mastering marksmanship. I’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing the why *I* think it is important to continue teaching marksmanship, but not everyone will agree with my reasons. Something I’ve never really tackled, though, is the question that the antis present: why get involved in a skill/sport/practice/hobby that is so closely died with death and destruction?

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we shy away from that truth. We deflect by talking about competition, history, collection, and maybe hunting, but we rarely confront it head on. When presented with the notion that firearms are primarily designed as weapons, we recoil and redirect- perhaps to our own credibility’s detriment. Like any martial art, becoming proficient in the use of firearms is to become proficient in the application of violence. Whether or not we actually intend to use it is immaterial. I believe, culturally, we avoid the subject because we want to believe that “violence never solves anything.” Deep down, though, we know that this is simply not true. Violence, as horrid and unsavory as it may be, can be used to solve problems when necessary. For example, all forms of law are ultimately backed up with the threat of violence by the state. That is a simple fact that many forget. Sooner or later, someone committing illegal acts (even relatively benign ones like parking tickets) will be confronted by an armed agent of the state and will be threatened with violence. By becoming proficient in the use of violence ourselves, even if we never intend to use it, we presumably challenge that monopoly by the state. That fact terrifies a lot of of folks on the anti side. This is not a post about the benefits of breaking that monopoly, however. Instead, I want to discuss some of the other benefits and reasons that I enjoy practicing and encouraging marksmanship.

First, we build confidence in ourselves and our capabilities. This is true for anyone who has taken a self defense class, whether armed or unarmed. This is true for people who compete in athletic events like marathons, Spartan Races, Tough Mudders, and even GORUCK events. This is true for anyone who learns and practices a new skill that demonstrates control of yourself and your surroundings. When you become proficient at marksmanship, you understand that you now have a capability to take care of yourself- be it defensively, putting food on the table, or any other reason. When you succeed at these challenges, you feel more “in control” of your destiny. That is a significant revelation, and a scary one. I’ve taken a handful of folks shooting who were scared at first, but them came to enjoy it “a little too much.” Perhaps these folks recognized some dark trait in themselves that drove them to choose not to become firearms owners, but at least they now understand what shooting is about. Confidence and self reliance is a powerful thing.

Secondly, becoming proficient at marksmanship builds self control. Getting really good at shooting requires a lot of time, practice, focus, and self discipline. Marksmanship also requires a relentless awareness of safety and a conscious effort to ignore impulsive behavior in order to maintain that safety. Shooting in the real world is not like the movies, where the average person picks up a rifle and shoots like a USPSA Pro. People have practiced martial skills for millennia, be it boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, defendu, krav-maga, archery, fencing, and many more. None of these disciplines will be mastered quickly, and all of them require self control. I find it interesting that individuals who are into shooting probably also engage in these other activities as well. Perhaps this it out of an appreciation for martial arts in general. To me, a good day at the range is almost meditation. When I am shooting, I am focusing on breathing, relaxing into positions, visually focusing on a small point, and controlling small muscle movements. All of these things help build self control by teaching the individual to be mindful of their actions, thoughts, and bodies.

Third, shooting is a useful skill. While this is related to confidence, I wanted to break it out as a separate category. Proficiency at marksmanship means that someone has a skill useful to society as a whole. The need for security is a fundamental component of life. Just as we need farmers, tradesmen, and teachers- we need people who can provide security (and food from hunting). It is naive to think that our high standard of living will also go along uninterrupted. The flooding in Louisiana happening right now is a good example. You never know when you might unexpectedly thrust into a situation where you are responsible for the safety of yourself and your loved ones. When that moment happens, you will either be able to meet the moment with your learned skills, curse under your breath about “shoulda woulda coulda” and improvise, or perish.

I know that these things can all be achieved by other means, but that is irrelevant. I understand the desire to be viewed as a “normal” person when engaged in these discussions. We don’t want to come across as violent people obsessing over a hobby that kills thousands per year. At the same time, however, we must also own the fact that we are practicing a military skill, no different than the hundreds of other martial skills that have killed billions throughout history. Ours is simply the modern iteration of personal small arms. This is not a bad thing. These skills have value both personally and societally, and we need to remember that fact.