Monday, April 18, 2016

Old School Shooting and Reloading

Over on Blog O'Stuff, I've been writing about a Cimarron Firearms Uberti 1873 Sporting Rifle that I bought in March, along with handloading .44-40 ammunition for it. The gun is a replica of the Winchester 1873, "The gun that won the West."

Although it's a 19th Century design and by modern standards it's considered an obsolete weapon, one advantage these old guns and replicas thereof is that they can be kept going with low tech reloading methods. Ammunition can be loaded for these cartridges on modern equipment or with simple hand tools.

A modern reloading press like my Lee Classic Turret press is a lot more efficient than the hand tools. The hand tools are slow and don't allow you to resize fired brass, so it can be used only in the same gun in which it was first fired. That said, with a hand tool you can put together a portable, complete reloading kit that will fit in a toolbox. Perhaps the best of both worlds would be a Lee hand press, which uses standard reloading dies.

If chambered in one of the original centerfire rounds -- .44-40, .38-40, or .32-20 -- they are ideally suited for use with black powder or black powder substitutes like Pyrodex or Triple 7 and cast bullets. (Modern replicas are also available in .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, and .44 Magnum, all of which work great with cast bullets but don't seal the chamber as well when used with black powder, because of their thicker brass.)

Other lever action models have been chambered for the WCF cartridges, including replicas of the Henry, Winchester 1866, and original and replicas of the Winchester 1892.

This is an original Winchester Model 1882 reloading tool that I got off eBay, along with the original matching bullet mold. (The mold isn't pictured.)

This tool can perform the following functions without any adjustments:

  1. Deprime fired cases, if you have the original decapping pin, or can substitute a Lee Precision case length gauge in the right caliber.
  2. Seat a fresh primer.
  3. Seat and crimp a bullet cast from the original mold, or a bullet design with the same overall length (since it's not adjustable).

Under the tool, from left to right are a 200 grain bullet cast from the original mold, a charged case with bullet pressed in ready to be seated and crimped, and a complete cartridge. Above the tool are some cases charged with 35 grains of Swiss 3Fg black powder. The bullet was cast from reclaimed plumber's lead and lubed with a mix of beeswax, mutton tallow, and canning paraffin. There are other black powder compatible lubes you can make at home, e.g., a 50/50 mix of beeswax and Crisco.

The Ideal Tool Company (bought by Lyman in the early 1900s) offered similar tools, some with built-in bullet molds, and some with adjustable seating chambers to allow different bullets to be used. The Lyman 310 tool remains in production and can neck size spent brass, and has an adjustable seating chamber.

During the panics of the past eight years, black powder and BP substitutes remained largely available. In extremis, black powder can be made. There is plenty of info available online on how to do so, just be careful.

Primers are one component that tends to disappear quickly when panics hit, and cannot be easily made or reloaded, so it would be wise to stock up ahead of time.

Likewise, if you are setup to cast your own bullets, if you can obtain a suitable lead alloy and make some kind of bullet lube, all you need to worry about stocking up on are cases and primers. As of the time this was written (April 2016) cases for these "obsolete" rounds are easily available in quantity online. The primer supply is good now, too, either online, in stores, and at gun shows.

As a side note, the capacity of these leverguns is 14 + 1 for the 24" barreled rifles, or 12 + 1 for the 20" carbines. Either one has more firepower than a pump shotgun, with a lot less recoil, and a longer effective range.

The .32-20 is suitable for small game and varmints up to coyotes, but the .38-40 (really a .40 caliber) and the .44-40 are good on deer out to about 100 yards. The latter two also work well for defense, but when shot from a rifle, even the .32-20 is comparable to a 9mm handgun, so it's no slouch. The black powder WCF rounds may be "obsolete," but they are just as effective today as they were in the 19th Century.

In my opinion, the ability to load cartridges using components that you can get in times of scarcity or make yourself has value for preppers. It's something to consider if the rest of your preps are squared away.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

SignalLink USB

This morning a friend and I drove down to the Newcastle, DE Ham Radio Outlet, where I bought a Signalink USB, the jumper module to configure it for my Yaesu FT-817ND, a Diamond RH-707 folding HT antenna, a BNC-to-SO-239 jumper cable, and an MFJ-4103 A/C adapter for the FT-817ND. After getting home I set everything up in my den. Please ignore the clutter.

The antenna is a 7 to 30 Mhz AlexLoop. A lot of QRP operators favor one. I haven't used it enough to decide if I like it or not.

Setup of the SignaLink was pretty straightforward.

  1. Using the Allen wrench supplied, remove the front and back panels from the aluminum enclosure.
  2. Carefully align the jumper module and insert it.
  3. Reassemble the case.
  4. Connect a 6 pin mini-DIN to RJ45 cable from the SignaLink to the rig's DATA port.
  5. Connect an audio cable from the SignaLink to the rig's speaker jack.
  6. Connect the USB cable between the SignaLink and laptop.
  7. Since I want rig control, I connected my Valley Enterprises USB CT-62 cable between my MacBook Pro and the rig's ACC port.

Once everything was hooked up I changed the rig from VOX to PSK31-U data mode, and in Fldigi, selected the USB AUDIO CODEC for sound input and output.

Below, I'm monitoring a PSK31 QSO in Fldigi.

I played around with this setup for about an hour and was able to receive several signals. I called CQ but did not make any contacts. I gave up when 20M died.

I was impressed with the ease of setting up the SignaLink and wish that I'd bought one awhile ago. It's easier to adjust than the internal sound card.

The MFJ-4103 power supply looks like a good buy, also. It looks like a laptop power supply and would be a good choice for anyone traveling with an FT-817ND or using one as a base station where there is 120VAC power.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Valley Enterprises Yaesu Programming Cable

Last week I got a Valley Enterprises FTDI chipset-based programming cable for my Yaesu FT-817ND. This is a USB version of the Yaesu CT-62 serial cable used for rig control and programming.

I took today off to finish my income taxes and after I was done I decided to play with the cable. I already had an FTDI driver on my MacBook Pro, so I was able to just plug it in, connect it to the radio, and use it to program the rig using CHIRP. I also tried it with Fldigi and once I selected the correct driver in the config screen, it worked. If I put the rig into memory mode and manually selected the frequency it immediately showed up in Fldigi. Likewise, if I used Fldigi to change the frequency it worked on the radio.

Tomorrow I'm planning to head down to Ham Radio Outlet and pick up a Signalink USB, among a few other things. The Easy Digi interface I have now works but it's a rat's nest of cabling. The Signalink USB should reduce the clutter and simplify setup and teardown. Combined with the Valley Enterprises cable I tested today, it should make digital mode operation a lot easier.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kelty Cosmic Down 20 Sleeping Bag

After my last overnighter back in January I decided that I needed a better sleeping bag rated down to about 20 degrees F. I got some good feedback from posts on THR, the Hill People Gear forum, and BCUSA, but held off on buying anything until today.

I used my REI dividend and 20% off coupon today to get a Kelty Cosmic Down 20 19*F rated bag (REI link to bag. Amazon link to bag.) It weighs 2 lbs. 9 oz., and is filled with 600 fill moisture-resistant DriDown. It came with a stuff sack but no storage bag so I also bought an REI-brand cotton bag to store it in uncompressed. 

If I'm expecting colder weather I can use my HPG Mountain Serape as an overbag.  The combination should get me down into the teens and still be a lot lighter than my USGI Military Sleep System.

While at REI I also grabbed a couple packs of Nite Ize Gear Ties, which are very handy for organizing cables that go with electronics. Between my dividend and the coupon, I was only out about $50.

Once I get the chance to use the Kelty bag I'll post a report, but it may be awhile.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Arc'Teryx LEAF Atom SV Hoody Review

A couple years ago I bought my first article of clothing by Arc'Teryx, an Atom LT Hoody. I've been incredibly happy with it. It weighs about one pound but keeps me warm down into the low 40s, and makes a great mid-layer when combined with an outer shell. It's also super packable, which is very handy when adding it to a bag for a trip, or when I wear it to work on a cool morning but want to shove it in my laptop bag for the trip home.

However, I wanted a warmer jacket that would still be packable. Last Fall I picked up an Eddie Bauer 700 fill power down jacket that is pretty nice, but the hood bugs me when I try to wear it over a ball cap. It simply isn't large enough. So, back in January I ordered an Arc'Teryx LEAF Atom SV Hoody in Wolf grey from SKD Tactical. It got to PA from MO in two days. SKD is probably going to get more of my business.

Arc'Teryx calls this jacket a hoody but don't compare it with a sweatshirt. This is an insulated technical jacket that is filled with 100gsm Coreloft with a wind and water resistant shell. The jacket weighs a little more than a pound.

"LEAF" is Arc's Law Enforcement and Armed Forces line. Arc LEAF items are built with a bit more durable material and have a fuller cut, which is good for me since I'm not exactly athletic. I ordered my normal t-shirt size, XL, and I find it pretty true to size.

As with my other pieces of Arc'Teryx gear, the workmanship is top-notch. The stitching is exceptionally well done, there were no loose threads, and it looks sharp.

The LEAF Atom LT has a generously-sized hood that can be cinched down with a shock cord accessible from the back, and one on either side of your face. The shock cords and cord locks are concealed by fleece panels that prevent them from rubbing your face. This keeps them neat but does make it more difficult to adjust with just one hand. When not in use the hood can be rolled up and secured with a loop and toggle.

Likewise, the bottom hem can be tightened against wind via shock cords. These are also captured in tunnels, unlike in every other jacket I've seen. This prevents them from snagging on items on your belt, like a holster, or on things you brush against. Simply brilliant.

The jacket has three pockets -- two large handwarmer pockets and one internal left chest pocket. All are zippered.

There are inside ports on both handwarmer pockets that allow you to route earbud or microphone cables from a device up through the inside of the jacket.

Since the LEAF line is marketed towards law enforcement and the military, the upper sleeves have Velcro patches. While I'm neither, I figured that I'd adorn the jacket with a couple -- an American flag that I bought with the jacket, and a Gadsen patch in Hebrew that I got from

The cuffs are a light, stretchy material that seals out drafts but is light and dries quickly. They are the same as on the Atom LT.

I've had the Atom SV now for about a month am very pleased with it. I've been wearing it as my winter coat during my daily commute with temps down into the teens. When it dips down to 20*F or below I'll add a light fleece underneath. (I'd expect to get too warm with the fleece if I were active, but my commute consists of a two mile drive to a train station, then a half hour ride on a commuter train into town. I.e., pretty sedentary.)

The outer shell is more robust than the shell of the Atom LT. It's highly wind resistant and the DWR finish shrugs off light snow and rain. Despite the light weight of its outer layer, it's durable. I wore it on a January overnighter in a Pennsylvania State Forest, when I had to abort in the middle of the night due to unrelated gear issues. While walking out to my truck I had to do some bushwhacking, which included going through some thorns. I thought for sure that I'd just trashed a $270 jacket, but nope. Remarkably, the Atom SV showed no signs of wear when I was able to inspect it in daylight.

For cold, dry conditions, the Atom SV works well as an insulating layer under a German surplus flecktarn parka. I tried this combination while getting my snow blower ready for Winter Storm Jonas. The temp was 23* F. with a wind chill of about 11*. That's pretty cold for those of us living in SE Pennsylvania. The inexpensive German parka adds further protection against stains and tears, while extending a windproof layer down to your thighs, and has a good camo pattern if you need it. Underneath I wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a Duluth cotton flannel shirt. After being outside for about 20 minutes and mildly exterting myself I started needing to vent. It's a good combination.

As good as the Atom SV's shell is, it's is still a synthetic. Care is warranted if you'll be spending time around a campfire, and an outer layer like the German parka, a British smock, or similar cotton or wool shell would be a good idea to prevent the Arc hoody getting holes from sparks.

The only changes I'd make would be to add a left side Napolean pocket on the outside of the coat and move the inside pocket to the right. I like stashing my phone in a Napolean pocket since it's easier to access while seated in my truck or on the train.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with both SKD Tactical's fast service and the Arc'Teryx Atom SV Hoody. It's a light but warm jacket that will serve for the vast majority of my winter coat needs.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Hill People Gear Kit Bag Pictures

In my previous post (q.v.), I listed the contents of each pocket of my Hill People Gear Original Kit Bag. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, this post should be worth about 6,000 and change.

First, the zipped up Kit Bag and then the back compartment with my S&W M&P Shield 9 and a spare magazine. When worn, the pistol doesn't move at all, but I will probably buy a kydex holster that covers the trigger guard.

If you click on each pic you should get a full sized version.

Next we have the middle compartment with an assortment of survival gear.

Finally, the outer compartment with a few more items. This is where I stow my keys and iPhone. It provides easy access to the phone without having to worry about everything falling out when I'm consulting the phone's GPS.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Hill People Gear Kit Bag Loadout

A couple years ago I bought a Hill People Gear Original Kit Bag. This is the gear that lives in it 24x7. I use the bag on day hikes and overnighters. I have found the Kit Bag to be the most comfortable way to carry a pistol while hiking when carrying a pack. It also provides a very convenient and comfortable means of carrying a basic survival kit, and an easily accessible but secure way to carry my car keys and phone when off-pavement.

I augment the contents as dictated by the particular trip. E.g., add a Cliff bar or two.

Rear compartment:

  • Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9 with 8 round magazine
  • One spare 8 round magazine, held in place with a Maxpedition Universal Holster

(The gun and spare magazine are loaded with Federal XM9001 9mm 115 grain JHP. In PA, I'm not worried about wild animals larger than dogs. The gun is there for defense against people. I've also carried a Beretta M9 and a CZ P-09 but switched to the Shield to reduce weight.)

Middle compartment:

Outside compartment:

Items marked with an asterisk are dummy corded to light aluminum caribiners with bank line. I replaced the Slick Clips that came with the KB with the 'biners because they are easier for me to open and close.

Once I get to the trail, I'll stow my car keys and iPhone 6 in the outside compartment. Depending on the trip I may also bring a larger compass and a Garmin GPSMAP 62 GPS unit, but not necessarily in the KB.

Also, I removed the Grimlocks from the outside of the KB, since I don't use them.