Sunday, December 21, 2008

Clearance on Dickies Clothing

I just ran across this deal and pass it on.  Dickies makes workwear that's good for use out of doors in emergencies.  I ordered one of their Arctic Shield jackets for myself for $22.99 with free shipping.

Link .

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Deaths Caused by Natural Disasters in the US

Via Yahoo:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Heat is more likely to kill an American than an earthquake, and thunderstorms kill more than hurricanes do, according to a "death map" published on Tuesday.

Researchers who compiled the county-by-county look at what natural disasters kill Americans said they hope their study will help emergency preparedness officials plan better.

This is definitely worth a look.  It will help you see what the most likely natural disasters are in your area, or an area you'll be visiting, and assist you in preparing accordingly.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Trijicon Reflex II Gun Sight

Last week I picked up a Trijicon Reflex II model RX06-10 1x24mm sight for my Colt 6520.  The Reflex was considered one of the best non-magnified dot sights in the 90s but in the last several years has fallen behind Aimpoints and EOTechs in popularity.  That said, they are still worth looking at.

The reticle of the RX06 which I bought is a 12.9 MOA amber colored triangle.  I like the triangle as an alternative to the more common dot.  Like a dot, it offers quick sight picture acquisition but allows precise aiming with the tip of the triangle.

During the day, the reticle is illuminated by ambient light collected and focused through fiber optics.  In darkness it is illuminated by a tritium lamp.  No batteries are used in the unit.

When showing the sight to my father we discovered an interesting thing about the amber reticle.  Thirteen years ago Dad suffered a neuropathy in his right eye.  (Similar to a stroke but in his optic nerve.)  One of the effects of the neuropathy was to reduce his ability to see red.  He mentioned to me that he's having problems seeing the red reticle of the EOTech mounted on his Colt 6721 and can see the amber reticle of the Trijicon much better.  So, Trijicon may be making another sale soon.

The housing of the optic is made from cast aluminum and it very stout.  Sight adjustments are made using an Allen key.  While this means you need a tool to adjust the sight, it also means that once zeroed, it's not easy for the sight to become unzeroed.

My Reflex came with an RX10 mount (hence the "RX06-10" monker above).  This is a gooesneck mount that attaches to an AR-15's or M-16's carrying handle, placing the sight between the handle and the front sight tower.  It's very solid.  Because the mount and sight are lightweight, the rifle still balances fine.  If the sight were to go down, I can still use the irons just by lowering my head a little.

Side note: I bought my Reflex at a local shop.  When inspecting it before finalizing the purchase I discovered that the mounting bolt and wingnut were missing.  Having bought a lot of toys from this shop, I was able to get $20 knocked off the price.  After getting the unit home I was able to canibalize the mounting bolt and wingnut from an unused Hakko AR-15 carry handle scope I have, and mount the Trijicon.  I've since reached out to Trijicon through and should be getting the parts sent to me.  In the interim it's mounted and usable.

The main criticism of the Reflex sight that I've seen in recent years is that the reticle isn't bright enough and can wash out.  This is especially true when aiming from a dark area out into a well-lit area.  The RX06 comes with an adjustable polarizing filter (RX20) which screws into the front of the sight to mitigate this.  The downside to the filter is that although it increases contrast between the reticle and the target, it also reduces light transmission.  If the shooter keeps both eyes open when aiming, the effect isn't bad IMO.

Yesterday I went to the range to zero the sight.  I got it on paper at 25 yards then zeroed it at 75.  The triangle reticle lends itself to shooting tight groups on paper but still allowed me to do quick snapshots at some bowling pins.  The RX20 filter is a must-have for any of the 1x24mm Reflex sights IMO.  My firing point was under cover and my targets were in full sunlight.  Without the filter the reticle was washed out but with the filter it was easily visible, even against white targets.

The Trijicon Reflex II is a great little sight in my opinion.  It isn't the most modern tech but for most civvies it's certainly enough.  (Never having been in the military I can't opine on how well it would do in combat, but I suspect it would acquit itself well.)  It is light, rugged, and allows quick, precise aiming.

UPDATE 11/03/08:

I received the proper mounting screw and wingnut in the mail from Trijicon today.  Kudos to them for great customer service.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More About the Denison Smock

In my last post I described the replica Denison Smock I picked up last month, and my trial of Nikwax Cotton Proof water repellency treatment.  Last night tested I how windproof the smock is.  It was 48*F with a 15 MPH wind gusting to 20 MPH.  Wind chill was about 42*.  I took a 25 minute walk around the neighborhood wearing only a long sleeve cotton t-shirt underneath and remained comfortable.

Due to the large cut of the smock it'll work well for layering in cool, dry conditions.  For example, I have a Columbia Titanium fleece jacket made from Polartec 300, which is nice and warm but not windproof. I also have a lighter weight fleece vest from REI.  A combination of one or two of these plus the smock should be warm down into the low 30s, maybe a bit lower.  For layering in conditions when it's likely to rain I have a German surplus flecktarn rain parka made of something like Gore-Tex, which will fit over the Denison Smock.  (I picked up the German jacket at I. Golderg's last year in virtually-new condition for only $25.  I need to go back and get matching pants.)

IMO, the Denison Smock or a similar jacket makes a nice piece of gear for cool, dry conditions.  They should offer good wear resistance, and unlike synthetics, don't melt when exposed to flame (though of course it may burn).  For military use I'd pair it with wool for layering due to this factor.  The Brits still issue smocks, though they've gone to a full zip design and they're now made in the current DPM camo.  These are available as surplus for reasonable prices.

For what looks like the Rolls Royce of combat smocks, check out Drop Zone Tactical's Recce Smock.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Testing Nikwax Cotton Proof Treatment

Most of us have heard the phrase "cotton kills," when referring to clothing to be used in cold weather.  That's because cotton loses all of its insulation properties when it gets wet.

However, cotton does have some qualities which make it desireable for use in clothing.  It's common, mostly inexpensive, wears well, and the right weaves can be very windproof.  So, if there is a way to make cotton material less vulnerable to getting wet it's worth giving a try.

Earlier this month I bought a replica second pattern Denison Smock from What Price Glory.  The Denison Smock was issued to British paratroopers, commandos, and snipers during and after World War 2.  I'd wanted one since first learning of them in the book With British Snipers to the Reich.

The Denison Smock is made of tightly woven cotton twill fabric.  It should be pretty wind resistant (I haven't been able to test that yet since it's only September) but as it comes from WPG, isn't water resistant.  Wanting to use the smock while out in Fall and Winter weather, I looked around for a water repellency treatment.  After a bit of searching on the Internet I ordered a bottle of Nikwax Cotton Proof from Campmor.

Nikwax's directions instruct you to start with a clean article and then apply it with a brush or through washing in hot water.  You can do this in a clothes washer but I didn't want to have to get any residue out of my washer, so instead, I filled a 5 gallon bucket with hot water, and added the correct amount of Cotton Proof.  I then imersed the smock in the bucket, swishing it around to make sure all the fabric was wet.  I then let it sit for about 15 or 20 minutes, swishing the smock around a few times during the soak.  Afterwards I rinsed the smock until the water ran clear, and let it air dry.

Today was the first time I was able to test the water repellency.  It's misting and 64 degrees F.  I put on the smock and took a one mile walk around my neighborhood.  I was out in the mist for about 25 minutes.  It's a short test, but during my walk the mist just beaded on the outside of the smock.  Underneath I stayed dry except for my sweat (it's a bit warm to be walking around in one of these things).  After I got home I stuck my arm under the water dripping from my roof to simulate raindrops falling on the smock.  While the Cotton Proof kept the mist out, the larger drops went right through, wetting my arm.

Based on this short test, the Nikwax Cotton Proof treatment adds a limited amount of water repellency.  It will keep mist out for awhile but rain is going to get through treated material easily.  For rain, you're going to want actual rain gear made from modern materials.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gustav After Action Report

OVer on Arfcom, "charlesb_la" posted an AAR describing his experience riding out Hurricane Gustav in an apartment in Baton Rouge. It's worth reading.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ike Looking Ugly

Brendan Loy at Weathernerd is blogging about Hurricane Ike. In short, while Ike is likely to remain a Category 2 Hurricane, it's likely to have a huge storm surge when it hits Texas. If I was in its path I'd be bugging out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Follow Up on Some Lessons Learned From Paintball

I received the following email from Jim Scott in response to my post back in April, in which I described some lessons I learned while playing paintball with a tactical approach. Jim has graciously given me permission to repost his email here, in order to spread additional lessons.

It was refreshing to read a post about simulated combat that didn't read like a failed Rambo script.

Taking lessons from simunitions fights, as well as real field conditions (Kuwait, Iraq x 2, and Afghanistan) I'd like to add a few points to what you said.

As far as gear goes, all of the gear used by military guys in combat, or areas likely to be attacked is of a flame retardant nature (i.e Nomex) this is due to the large number of individuals that get burned (gas from vehicles, IEDs, is surprisingly common in war zones). If you are wearing a moisture wicking fabric like UnderArmour the material will melt to your skin and cause all sorts of problems.

Additionally you mentioned gloves, some guys like gloves with gauntlets, personally I have a set of Wiley X gloves ( CAG-1) , they have this reinforced polyurethane pre-formed bit over the knuckles that protects them, but at the same time isn't restrictive. Also they are made of nomex, and leather, so they are tough, and still very easy to work in. (Not the best price, but the right item)

Another area you addressed was eye protection. Eye protection tinted during the day, and clear at night, is a must. Flying debris is EVERYWHERE. And Murphy's Law dictates the SECOND you take your goggles off, you're going to end up with dust, bugs, brass, something hitting you in the eye. Also, lets face it, even a small gnat hitting you in the eye feels like you just got speared with a C-130. The Army created a list of ballistic goggles and glasses that are rated for wear (APproved Eye wear List, or APEL) that all services use, and has multiple designs that accept prescription inserts. Note, I said inserts, not lenses. This is actually better, when your lenses get scratched to Hell, and they will, you replace only the cheap lens, and not the expensive insert. I have Uvex, WileyX, and ESS systems.... I like the ESS the best, they come in both a normal, and a narrow fit for smaller faces (like mine). A little anti-fog cream from a SCUBA store, and you are in business as far as fogging goes. (The downside is they will now attract dust like a magnet). Also the prescription insert (without which I would be hard pressed to hit the broad side of a barn) is fitted in a plastic frame that is a lot more comfortable than the other two. ESS ICE system

Now here is something you didn't mention. Knee and elbow pads. They are GREAT. No two ways about it, when you are getting mortared, shot at, or even just have to work on the ol' truck being able to drop to your knees and land on foam padding beats the heck out of getting the sharpest rock in the middle east jabbed into your kneecap. I like the type that have eleastic and slide over your feet. They stay put just fine most of the time, and unlike inserts, or strap-on pads, when you siddenly find youself trying to climb/sleep/take a dump, you can slip them down around your ankles and out of the way, without taking them all of the way off.

And then comes the last item. Hearing protection. You need to hear the bad guy, however explosions and gunfire tend to make it where all you hear is this time, I'm going to drop a mad expensive name...ready? Here it is : Surefire. Yep. The flashlight guys. They make earplugs that fit under helmets, glasses, goggles, whatever you are wearing, and block out hazardous noise (gunfire) while not blocking normal sounds (range commands, your buddy talking, haji-bob sneaking up on you, etc.) Plus as an added bonus you can plug them all the way up, and sleep through WWIII if needed. Also, they are 14 bucks, so you can get a few sets to replace the ones that walk off. (I've never lost mine...I have, however, had a number of sets decide that they wanted to strike out on their own with out me. Maybe go to California, become movies stars... I wish them luck) Earplus.

As far as tactics go, everything you said was spot-on. The only thing I'm not sure if you noticed was moving across open, or poorly covered areas can be ..... well, less than fun. The method we are taught, as dumb as it sounds, is "I'm up, they see me, I'm down." Basically, you have to get up (crouched running, move for no more than 1-2 seconds, then DROP...roll to one side or the other, spring up, repeat. This prevents the bad guy from getting a good, aimed shot at the time he acquires you, you are down and rolling. If you think "I'm up, they see me, I'm down" it keeps you on a good cadence.

On a side note, you were talking about sights. EO Tech holo sights are (pardon my language) F**king Awesome. They are damn near unbreakable, if you manage to break the lens, whatever is still there will work, they are waterproof, NVIS compatible and shock-proof. You're going to pay an arm and a leg for it, however with any luck you will not get that arm or leg shot off at a later point because of it. You don't have to be right in line with the thing to shoot, if you can see through it and put the reticle on the target, you're going to hit the target. Plus the big "pucker factor" friendly view port and bright "place bad guy here" reticle is second to none.

(I'd give you a link to the site, but my wallet cries softly, and my wife threatens to divorce me every time I look at it.)

Finally a note on training. Focus on using good habits (seek cover and concealment, remember the difference between the two, good muzzle discipline, etc.) whenever you are playing, training, or just goofing off.... when you suddenly find yourself in a high stress setting you don't think about what you are doing, you don't actively think about what is going one..hell you don't even really have time to be scared, you just react. and you react like you trained to react, be that good, or bad. So do everything you can to make it good.

That's my two cents,
Happy Hunting,

Thanks Jim!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Powering Your Home During an Outage

Popular Mechanics is running and article here on powering your home with a generator during an outage.

Monday, September 01, 2008

General Honore on Gustav

Lt. General Russell Honore led the military response to Katrina. With Gustav just about to hit Louisiana, he offers these comments:

We need to build a culture of preparedness. We need to assure that every kid who goes to school in America knows how to swim. The number of EMS teams and ambulances is not tracking with the growth in population. We need to teach more of our people first aid.

The federal government ought to be there to back the states up, we need to build a culture of preparedness in each. Why are we sending people there to issue them ice and water? We should be empowering people to act locally. The key to hurricane preparation is family preparation. If families are prepared, we lose fewer lives.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav Diary

ShaneS of Listening to Katrina has a new section up on his site, dealing with Hurricane Gustav. Not much there yet but I expect that will change.

Ridin' Gustav

I just ran across this new blog: Ridin' Gustav, A blow-by-blow liveblog of Gustav, from Mid-City New Orleans. Marcus, the author, seems to be pretty well prepared. Hopefully, he comes through OK.

Hurricane Gustav

I've been a bit busy lately with other things so I haven't had the time to post regarding Hurricane Gustav. I see now that an evacuation has been ordered for New Orleans.

Here's NOAA's website tracking Gustav's progress
. The current forecast shows it hitting New Orleans.

Finally, ShaneS's Listening to Katrina remains the best website I've seen for showing you how to prepare for disasters, including hurricanes.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Choosing an AR-15

The following query was posted to a mailing list I'm on:

Am thinking about purchasing an AR15 but there are many different
models. Which do you recommend for both home protection and emergency
hunting? I would definitely want one that chambered both .223 and

Also what is the best scope for both quick target aquisition and very
precise (1 or 2 inches) shots out to say 150 yards? Would a zoom be
best? Also do they make a good scope that is also night vision?

And this is what I posted in reply:

I recommend going over to and perusing the technical forums,
along with the various tech manuals they have onsite.

In general, when looking for an AR15 to be used for defense I regard
the following features as requirements:

1. 5.56mm chamber. This improves reliability and allows you to shoot .
223 or 5.56 spec loads safely.
2. Chrome lined bore and chamber. Improves reliability and makes it
easier to clean.
3. Flat top upper receiver, which greatly simplifies adding optics.
4. Properly staked bolt carrier. Loose carrier keys contribute to
functioning problems.
5. Barrel twist of 1:9 is fine but 1:7 is better, because it will
handle heavier bullets.
6. A lightweight or M4 profile barrel is better than a heavy barrel on
a defensive rifle. HBARs are fine for target shooting but slow you
down for defensive work.
7. No match triggers on serious rifles. They aren't rugged enough.
8. Avoid the temptation to hang all sorts of tacticrap off your rifle.
9. I like having a telescoping stock. Aside from making the rifle
more compact for storage, it enables me to adjust length of pull for
different clothing (e.g., t-shirt vs. winter coat) or different

My rifle is a Colt AR-15A3 Tactical Carbine. The one feature I may
change on it is the barrel, it's a 1:9 twist HBAR. I'd prefer a
lightweight 1:7 twist barrel. Based on what I've read by instructors
who see lots of ammo go downrange, Colts tend to be the most reliable
of the major manufacturers. You pay a premium but on a defensive
rifle reliability is the single most important factor.

I've added a DPMS ambidextrous safety because I am left handed.

Unless you are running a suppressor or a short barreled rifle, a gas
piston upper is unnecessary. Learn to properly clean and lube your
rifle and it'll be reliable. (Hint: run it wet.)

For civilian defensive use the best choice for an optic is probably an
Aimpoint, non-magnified red dot. The Aimpoints offer very long
battery life, are very rugged, and fast. I have an IOR Valdada 3x25mm
CQB scope, which offers low magnification (important for me because if
I lose my glasses I'll at least have the scope) and is built like a
tank. I bought the IOR as a less expensive alternative to a Trijicon

I would avoid a zoom optic on a defensive carbine unless the highest
power is 4x. Murphy's Law dictates that when you need to use the
rifle up close the scope will be zoomed to the highest magnification,
which will slow you down. Illuminated reticles are a good, so you can
see them in poor light.

Stick with USGI milspec aluminum magazines or Magpul P-Mags. The
British and Singaporean steel mags are good, too, but may benefit from
replacement springs and/or followrs. HK mags are good but grossly
overpriced. Avoid no-name or USA-brand magazines, which are junk.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Site to Check Your Bank's Health

I ran across this today and thought it was worth passing on. This site will let you check on the health of your bank, something important in today's financial climate.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Potential Bio-Weapons Lab in Iran?

From Foxnews:

Hundreds of African monkeys are being taken from their natural habitat and sold for scientific experiments, as well to a "secretive" biological laboratory in Iran, London's Sunday Times reported.

In an undercover investigation by the Times, Tanzanian animal trader Nazir Manji said he sells some 4,000 vervet monkeys a year to laboratories all around the world for about $100 each


The biological research institute, which has headquarters near Tehran, has been accused in the past by an Iranian opposition group of conducting biological weapons testing, it is reported, further fueling suspicions that the monkeys are being used for nefarious purposes.

Full story.

Well, that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Picked up a Remington 870

I bought a Mossberg Mariner a couple of weeks ago, and earlier this week I got a LE trade-in Remington 870. I think I got shotgunitis. :-)

I traded off a Mini-14GB which didn't meet my reliability requirements, and got the 870 (plus some store credit). It has a 20" barrel, wood butt with recoil pad, wood corn cob forend, and a 20" barrel with rifle sights. It has the regular 4 round mag, no extension.

The bluing has some dings and marks. There are a few dings on the wood but not too much. I field stripped tonight and it was very clean on the inside with only a few wear marks.

According to Remington it was made around 1951, based on the serial number. This is a very early 870. I don't believe that 20" rifle sighted barrels were available then, so it's probably not the original barrel.

There are a couple of pics of the gun here.

Today, I installed a Fortman's left handed safety conversion. This took about 10 minutes, including getting out my set of gunsmith's punches. I still prefer my Mossberg's tang safety but this makes the Remington a lot more user friendly for me. The only other accessories I'm planning are a butt cuff or side saddle for extra ammo, and a sling. I considering maybe getting a magazine extension, since the gun hold only 4 rounds in the magazine. I may hold off on that and get a longer sporting barrel instead. In any event, I'm going to shoot it before I add anything else.

Along with the LH safety from MidwayUSA, I got a five boxes of Federal 2-3/4" low recoil 00 buckshot, and two boxes of the low recoil Tru-Ball slugs. The latter worked very well in my Mossberg Mariner, and I expect even better results in the Remington, with its rifle sights.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Mossberg Loc-Box Review

I recently decided to switch to a shotgun for my primary home defense piece. To that end, I picked up a Mossberg 500A Mariner in 12 gauge. Once the gun was proven at the range, I needed a way to secure it from curious kids.

I ordered a Loc-Box directly from Mossberg. It consists of two primary parts: the Loc-Box itself and a hook that goes into the muzzle of the gun.

Here's a pic of the main unit, with my shotgun in it:

The main reason for the hook is to stabilize the gun. The locking part of the unit is what secures it. Here's a pic of the muzzle:

Per the instructions, you are supposed to mount both parts to the wall by screwing them into a stud. Mossberg supplies three long wood screws for doing so. I did it slightly differently, attaching them to pieces of wood which are attached to the wall; one piece of wood was already in my closet, while the one for the muzzle hook is a scrap I attached to the sheetrock using Gorilla Glue and 8 drywall screws.

To use the Loc-Box, you unlock and open it. Then, slide the gun's muzzle up onto the hook, and then hang it on the hook through the open ejection port (the gun's action has to be open to put it in the Loc-Box). Then close and lock the unit. Here is a pic of the unit unlocked and open. You can see the hanging hook in the middle.

By hanging the gun on a hook through the open ejection port, there is no way to bring the gun into battery with the gun in the lock. Also, nothing goes inside the trigger guard. I specifically did not want a trigger lock because they can cause accidental discharges with loaded firearms.

As you may be able to tell, the hook that you hang the gun upon, and also the muzzle hook, are vinyl coated to protect your gun from scratches. The inside of the Loc-Box is padded, but the inside lip on the right is not. I covered the lip with electrical tape to prevent my shotgun from getting scratched.

The Loc-Box comes with two keys. I have one on a keychain on a hook hidden in the closet, with the other on the keychain I keep in my pocket. I can see fumbling for the keys in an emergency, especially in the dark, so I'll probably unlock the unit at night, then lock it in the morning. As shown in the picture, the Mossberg Mariner has the safety on, action open, one round of Remington OO buckshot on the carrier, and four in the magazine. A full reload rides in an Allen butt cuff.

Cost with shipping from Mossberg was around $40, which I consider reasonable. I do not believe that this will stop a determined thief. However, for those of you who need a device to secure a shotgun against curious children*, this is a good option. Aside from Mossberg's own shotguns, it will fit a Remington 870, and probably most other slide action gun, and many autos as well.

* I have two small children. I am firm believer in gun-proofing kids, rather than trying to child-proof guns. They know to not touch my guns without me there. But until they are older I wanted a second line of defense against curious hands.

Mossberg 500 Mariner Range Report

Back on June 24th I bought a new Mossberg 500 Mariner 12 gauge pump shotgun, to be used as a home defense gun. I got it to the range for the first time on July 3rd.

The gun has an 18.5" cylinder bore barrel and a capacity of 5+1. It's bone stock except for a Limbsaver recoil pad, a sling in QD Uncle Mike's swivels, and an Allen elastic butt cuff for spare ammo. The sling will be coming off once it's put into the Mossberg Loc-Box that I bought for keeping the gun in my closet; I don't want it hanging up on anything in the house.

I shot it at ~10 yards and 25 yards with three kinds of ammo, all 12 gauge 2-3/4" shells:

- Remington Express OO buck
- Winchester Ranger low recoil OO buck
- Federal low recoil Tru-Ball slugs

At 10 yards, the Remington buck stayed on a 9" paper plate. At 25 yards the pattern opened up significantly, but enough to put most of the load into an aggressor's chest. The Winchester Ranger buckshot did not pattern as well as the Remington. It would be interesting to see how each load would do through a choked barrel.

I had wanted to try Federal low recoil OO buck with Flite-Control wads, but the online vendors I checked with were all out of stock. I hope to pick up some and give them a try in the future. Another buckshot load that I think will be worth trying will be Remington's reduced recoil OO buck loaded with 8 pellets, vs. the standard 9 pellet loading.

I was very impressed with the Tru-Ball slugs. They recoiled noticeably less than even the Winchester low recoil buckshot, and seemed pretty accurate. My Mossberg has only a bead front sight but it was easy to keep all my shots on a paper plate at 25 yards with the slugs. I have no doubt that they would group much better if the gun had rifle sights. However, since my intended use for it is home defense at across-the-room range, I am planning to keep the factory bead sight.

The Mossberg had no malfunctions. The first round of Winchester buckshot which I fired required an extra strong tug on the forearm to eject it, but that's an ammo issue, not a gun issue, IMO. Follow rounds of Winchester also exhibited sticky extraction, though not quite as bad. Aside from that, the gun ran well and has a smooth action. I was able to rapidly put lead on target out at 25 yards, which serves my purpose and then some. I would not hesitate to grab it if I needed to go into harm's way.

The Limbsaver recoil pad works well. Compared with other 12 bore guns with recoil pads that I've fired, the Limbsaver is much more effective in taking the sting out. That is not to say the gun is a powder puff. About 30 rounds was all I could comfortably handle before the recoil started bothering me. Between my friends and I, we put about 60 rounds through the gun today.

In summary:

I'm dissappointed with the Winchester Ranger low recoil buck, so I'm glad I bought only 25 rounds of it. The 3 remaining boxes of Winchester buckshot will be used for practice only. (Note that this load may run fine and pattern well in your gun. Try it in your gun before writing it off.)

I am very pleased with the Mossberg 500 Mariner shotgun, the Limbsaver recoil pad, Remington buckshot and Federal Tru-Ball low recoil slugs. I'm looking forward to more trigger time with the Mossberg.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New Mossberg 500 Mariner Shotgun

Today I purchased a new Mossberg Model 500 Mariner shotgun. Main use for this will be as a home or camp defense gun. First, some background as to how I chose this piece.

After several years without firing a shotgun, last year I picked up a Stoeger Uplander 20 gauge double. Intended usage was sporting and home defense. After shooting it I liked it but decided I wanted a gun that ejected empty cases if I was going to rely on it for defense. Yes, I could learn to work with extractors but I want to eliminate ejection as one more factor to worry about if I have to use the gun to defend my home and family. One less thing to worry about.

Since I like double guns I looked around for a coach gun with ejectors. No dice. Since the target market for coach guns is CAS, and that requires extractors, all the new coach guns come with extractors. Phooey.

That left me looking at autos and pumps. I didn't want an auto. A pump will function with pretty much any ammo. There are reliable autos but I have more confidence in the reliability of a pump. YMMV.

Currently, there are two major pump guns on the market, the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500/590. For me the Mossberg has one feature which makes it more desireable: the top mounted tang safety. I am left handed and the Remington's cross-bolt safety (unless I found a southpaw 870) works backwards. Yes, I can learn to work with one but why complicate matters, if a suitable alternative exists?

The Dick's Sporting Goods near me had a couple of suitable choices. The first that I looked at was a 20 gauge Mossberg 500 Super Bantam All Purpose Field. This is a blued gun with a 22" barrel, recoil pad, and removable stock spacer. I really liked the idea of the short length of pull. The Super Bantam fit me pretty well but it was [I]light[/I]. Only 5-1/4 pounds according to Mossberg's web page. That would make a great gun for carrying but recoil with it is going to be [B]stiff[/B], even in 20 gauge.

Next up was a Mossberg 500 Mariner in 12 gauge with an 18.5" cylinder bore barrel with a bead. The metal has Mossberg's MarineCoat finish, which looks like electroless nickel (not sure if it's that or something more high speed). I like the idea of a finish which reduces the amount of maintenance I need to perform. It's not pretty like bluing but this is a tool. Also, the flat silver finish probably makes the gun look a bit bigger and scarier, which is a bonus if I ever need to unlimber it for defense. (I regard this as a [I]bonus[/I], not as something to be relied on.) Like the Super Bantam it came with black plastic furniture, though it lacks the removable spacer to adjust LOP. It does have a recoil pad. Weight is 7 pounds. It fit me pretty well, the price seemed reasonable at $369, so I decided to buy it.

Along with the gun I bought a 100 round value pack of Remington #8 target loads, just to get familiar with the gun. I'm going to pick up some reduced recoil buckshot and slugs for serious work. Aside from ammo, the only accessories this gun will get are a shell holder for the butt stock (already on though not shown in the pic below), a sling in QD swivels, for outside use, and a Mossberg Loc-Box so I can safely store it in my bedroom. I also picked up a 12 gauge Hoppe's BoreSnake.

Depending on how well I can shoot slugs in it, the Mariner might even see duty for deer hunting.

After getting it home I field stripped the Mossberg and lightly oiled it with Ballistol, and removed the plug so I can fill the 5 round mag. I BoreSnaked the barrel which showed signs of being proof fired and not cleaned thereafter.

My next step is to BA/UU/R.

Obligatory new gun pics here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Disaster Recovery Trial Run

Over on KSL, I've reposted an email from Alexander Rhoads of Iowa, who had to put his law firm's disaster recovery plans into effect, due to flooding.

Check it out.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ordered Some Mylar Bags

Tonight I ordered 100 gallon sized mylar bags, along with 100 O2 absorbers, as mentioned in my last post. We'll put some of the rice I purchased on Monday in canisters but at least half of it will get sealed in the bags to stay fresh until we get to eating it. I'll have plenty of bags left over, which I plan to fill with other bulk foods to be purchased in the near future.

I ordered the bags and O2 absorbers from Sorbent Systems. They have a page here which shows how to seal the bags using a regular iron, for those of us without commercial grade sealers.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Load Up The Pantry

From the Wall Street Journal:

Load Up the Pantry
April 21, 2008 6:47 p.m.

I don't want to alarm anybody, but maybe it's time for Americans to start stockpiling food.

No, this is not a drill.

You've seen the TV footage of food riots in parts of the developing world. Yes, they're a long way away from the U.S. But most foodstuffs operate in a global market. When the cost of wheat soars in Asia, it will do the same here.

Reality: Food prices are already rising here much faster than the returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in a bank or money-market fund. And there are very good reasons to believe prices on the shelves are about to start rising a lot faster.

Full article here.

I am currently looking into getting setup to seal bulk purchases into mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, so they don't spoil before we use them. I'll be posting about that. In the meantime, another good read is this food storage FAQ.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Food Rationing Hitting the US?

Americans hear about food shortaged in the Third World frequently, and to our credit, we're the most generous people in the world when it comes to sending foreign aid. But food rationing in the US hasn't been an issue here for decades.

Now comes this story:

Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks.

At a Costco Warehouse in Mountain View, Calif., yesterday, shoppers grew frustrated and occasionally uttered expletives as they searched in vain for the large sacks of rice they usually buy.

Full story here.

After reading the story above, I took a trip over to our local BJ's Wholesale Club (similar to Costco). There seemed to be no shortage at this particular store, but while I was there I figured it would be a good idea to pick up a couple bags of rice, along with some other staples.

No reason to panic yet, but this bears watching.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Yaesu Update

Now that I've had my Yaesu FT-7800R in the truck for a little while I have a better idea of how it works.  In a word: Great!

As I expected, it's a much more sensitive receiver than the VX-5RS handy talkie I'd been using, even with the same antenna.  For example, I listen to the radio on my short drive to the train station each morning.  It's common for me to pick up repeaters from Lancaster and even Harrisburg (I live just outside Philadelphia).

Last night I took my laptop with G4FHQ's FTB-7800 programming software out to the truck, and added a bunch of repeaters in anticipation of this weekend's trip down to Arlington, VA.  After loading in the settings for repeaters in MD, DC, and VA, I had the radio scan through them.  I picked up traffic from a couple repeaters in Baltimore.  Remarkable!  I haven't yet tried hitting those repeaters and suspect that I'll be able to listen to them from a much further distance than I can hit them with my transmissions, but this is still impressive performance.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Spyderco Sharpmaker and Gerber Diamond Pocket Sharpener

Part of every toolkit should be at least one sharp knife. Knives of course wear with use and require sharpening. Up until now, I've relied mostly on traditional sharpening stones or a Smith's sharpening system (similar to a Lansky).

Last weekend I asked my father to bring over his Spyderco Sharpmaker for me to try. I used it to touch up a couple of blades and was impressed with how easy and fast it was to get a good edge. So, Sunday night I ordered one from While I was on their site I also ordered a Gerber Diamond Pocket Sharpener. UPS dropped them off today.

Before using the Spyderco I read the included written instructions and viewed the instructional DVD.

The Sharpmaker consists of a base, a set of medium grit ceramic rods, a set of fine grit ceramic rods, and two brass rods to act as handguards. When assembled the ceramic rods are set to give you a selectable edge angle of either 30 or 40 degrees. (See a picture here.) You hold the blade vertically and move it against the rods.

After dinner, I used it to sharpen several of my knives: a Case Moose with chrome vanadium blades, an Ontario RAT-3 with a 1095 carbon steel blade, a Benchmade Griptilian with a 440C stainless blade, a Schrade LB7 Bearpaw with a stainless blade, and a Mora Swedish Army Knife with a stainless blade. None of these knives were dull to start with, but now they're sharp. I had especially good results with the RAT-3, the clip blade on the Moose, and the Griptilian, all of which are now like razors (and I have the bald spots on my forearm to prove it).

I am impressed with not only the ease of using the Sharpmaker, but also with the speed one can put a sharp edge on a knife with it. Also, as shown in the video, the tool can be used to sharpen other implements like axes, serrated blades, and even scissors.

It's much easier to keep the blade vertical and move it against an angled surface, than it is to keep the blade at a constant angle and move it against a horizontal stone. This is a large part of why the Sharpmaker works so well.

The Gerber Sharpener consists of two sets of diamond grit coated rods, one fine and one coarse, in a plastic handle. You place the blade in the "V" between the rods and draw it through. It works fine for quicky sharpening jobs in the field. I used the fine rods to touch up the large blade on my Victorinox Explorer SAK, and it worked well.

Freehand sharpening with a stone remains a valuable skill. However, for routine sharpening of most knives, I'm going to use the Sharpmaker because I get better results with it than anything else I've tried. The Gerber sharpener will go into my possibles bag after I add a lanyard of some bright yellow string, to help me find it if I drop it. It weighs almost nothing and will serve to put a usable edge on a knife if it gets dull in the field.

Remember, dull knives are dangerous. They require you to exert more effort to cut something, which increases the likelihood you'll slip and cut yourself. Sharp knives are much safer. The Spyderco and Gerber are good tools to help you keep your knives sharp.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Some Lessons Learned From Paintball

Yesterday I went up to Skirmish USA in the Poconos to play paintball for a friend's birthday. Aside from a chance to run around in the woods and get muddy, I tried to approach it as a force-on-force learning experience. Keeping in mind that there are certain rules which decrease realism (e.g., hits below the elbow or knee, or on the gun don't count, the paintball guns hold a lot more ammo than any gun that's not belt fed), and the fact that rather than a bunch of trained operators each team was more like an uncoordinated mob, I think there were a few lessons to be gained as to the use of *real* force. In the end, it was still an exercise in which two groups of "armed" people were trying to shoot each other.

In no particular order:

1. People hide behind things when you shoot at them. If this was a real firefight, I'd want a round that offers good penetration. E.g., 7.62x39 or 7.62 NATO. I've witnessed multiple 5.56x45 bullets get stopped cold by a sapling which was maybe 3" in diameter. For home defense this may be an advantage. For combat, give me something that will turn cover into concealment.

2. Peering out from concealment is frequently enough to get you shot in the head. I think I got hit in the face/head 3 or 4 times yesterday.

2(a) Frequently, the only shot you may get on an opponent is of a head or other body part sticking out. For anything further than 20 yards, you're going to want a rifle, unless you have a shotgun with slugs and you can shoot it as well as a rifle. I hope to have a rifle if I ever get in a firefight.

3. Even when behind cover or concealment, frequently you will get shot by someone you didn't know was around.

4. That said, it's safer to stay hidden than to try closing with your enemy. Let him come to you and you'll survive longer.

5. When operating in thick woods or a built up area, there may be 40 people within an acre or two, and you may still not see anybody, friend or foe. The same applies if it isn't a paintball game. Some kind of short range radios for tactical commo would be *very* valuable.

6. Gloves are good. They allow you to drop to the ground without scraping your hands and provide limited protection against glancing blows. I wore Mechanix brand mechanic's gloves, which are thin enough to allow you to be reasonably dextrous. I wore these gloves in a practical carbine match back in December and they worked well for real shooting (I won the iron sight class, AAMOF). I got them at Lowe's.

7. Well-aimed suppressive fire can keep your opponent pinned down so he can't shoot you or your buddy. This is NOT "spray and pray." Rather, if you see an enemy behind cover, you can put rounds close to him, which will prevent him from poking out at you. Obviously, civilians don't usually have the luxury of using suppressive fire in defensive situations, since we need to be careful about not shooting innocent bystanders. Unfortunately, your opponent may not care. Keep this in mind so you can adapt your tactics to fit the situation.

8. Plain black iron sights won't be easy to see in the woods or inside a dimly lit building, especially when it's overcast or near dawn or dusk. At a minimum, your front sight should have a white or orange insert or paint. A (real) gold or ivory bead, or fiber optic front sight will be much better. A red dot sight is better yet. Fiber optic sight inserts and illuminated optics are two of the best innovations in the gun world ever, IMHO.

9. Even though I wasn't in any kind of danger, this kind of exercise made my adrenalin level skyrocket. Unless you are the kind of person who's unfazed by anything, expect your heart to be pounding. This is less of a factor if you're in good physical shape. Unfortunately, I'm a fat middle aged guy.

10. If you wear glasses or goggles, get some anti-fog coating if it's at all humid. Until I got some "Fog[Tech]" wipes from the pro shop I couldn't see much because my glasses and protective mask kept fogging up. If you can't see, you can't fight.

10(a) If you wear protective goggles, pick ones that wrap around so they don't limit your peripheral vision. The masks supplied by Skirmish USA eliminated peripheral vision, which exacerbated my inability to keep track of my surroundings. OTH, this helped simulate the tunnel vision many people report in the aftermath of a real encounter.

11. When involved in a force-on-force encounter (real or simulated), getting shot is a very real possibility. There's a good chance you won't even see who shoots you. Unlike the movies where the hero gets shot in the arm but goes on to prevail, expect to get shot in the hands, arms, face, head, chest, back, butt, and groin.

11(a). Yes, I got hit a two or three times in the crotch. Thankfully, I was wearing my spare ammo carrier so that it covered up my boys, so it didn't hurt. If you decide to practice force-on-force with airsoft or paintball, wear protection down there.

12. "Too much ammo" is an oxymoron.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Listening to Katrina

Arfcom's ShaneS has started a new blog to share lessons he learned during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I highly recommend it.

Pics of my New Yaesu FT-7800R Installation

I finally got my Yaesu FT-7800R 2M/70cm mobile installed in my 1997 Ford Expedition today. This is my second FT-7800R. I use another one as a base station.

First, the control head mounted on the center console, mic, and Radio Shack speaker:

The body of the radio is mounted under the passenger side front seat. Front:


No antenna pics. I'm using a Diamond MR-77 mag mount, which I've had for awhile and used when I had my VX-5RS in the truck. It works great and allows me to tip it over in case I need to park in a garage. I've only used the new setup briefly but I've already received traffic on repeaters up to 50 miles away. Compared with the VX-5RS, this is going to give me greatly improved mobile communications capability.

I had Automotive Sound and Protection in Conshohocken, PA do the install. Cost was $80.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Getting my new radio installed

This morning I made an appointment for Thursday morning to drop off my truck at a local auto sound and alarm place to install my second Yaesu FT-7800R radio. I could probably do this myself but for under $100, it's worthwhile to me to pay someone else to handle it in an hour or so. It would probably take me quite a bit longer and no doubt I would wind up with a skinned knuckle or two.

Currently, I'm planning to have the main body of the radio installed underneath the passenger side front seat, connected to the control head on the dash via the Yaesu separation kit. Before I go buy an external speaker I want to see if the built-in speaker will be loud and clear enough. I suspect I'll wind up with an external speaker, though.

For the time being I'll still use my Diamond MR77 mag-mount antenna. It works quite well and I like the fact that I can easily remove it if I need to park in a garage, or just want to be a bit more stealthy. At some point, I may get an antenna installed on a mount near the lip of the hood. While not as stealthy as a mag mount that's removed, it will at least avoid the height problem of a roof-mounted antenna.

Tonight I'll putz around with how I have the various repeaters programmed in and try to group them logically in the FT-7800R's memory banks. E.g., one for Eastern PA, one for Central/Western PA, one for NJ, and one to cover the area between here and the DC metropolitan area. I have family in Arlington, VA, and we go there or visit my wife's family in MD a couple times each year, so I'd like to have those repeaters programmed in and ready.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

FTB7800 Radio Programming Software

Awhile ago I'd purchased Yaesu's programming kit for their FT-7800R radio. The kit consisted of ADMS programming software and a cable. The software works but it's clunky. Recently, I tried to install it on my MacBook Pro's Windows XP Parallels virtual machine, and it would not accept the serial number.

So, I decided to spring for G4HFQ's excellent FTB7800 programming app. I downloaded it, sent in my order, and received a license within minutes.

I was able to install FTB7800 inside the XP VM, but couldn't get it to talk to the radio. I'm using a Keyspan USA-19HS USB-to-serial adapter, since the Mace doesn't have a serial port. The VM sees the adapter but I'm not getting FTB7800 to see the COM port. (In contrast, I was able to get this working fine with Yaesu's software for the VX-5.)

As an interim measure until I get this working on the Mac, I installed FTB7800 on my old Compaq Presario 710US laptop, which I keep around for one of my kids to use. I still need to use the Keyspan adapter, since it too lacks any serial ports.

Initially, installation of the Keyspan failed with an error, but it was usable after a reboot. I was then able to read my FT-7800R's memory, and import a list of PA repeaters which I had created using the ARRL Travel Plus for Repeater software, which is installed in the Mac's VM. (I transferred the FTP7800R installer, along with several repeater lists from the Mac to the Compaq using a thumb drive.)

I now have over 200 repeaters plugged into the 7800R. Tomorrow, I'll fire up the second 7800R which I bought earlier this month, program it with the repeater list (and probably some more), then hopefully get it mounted in my truck in the coming week.

Compared with Yaesu's software, FTB7800 has a better user interface. Just as important, G4HFQ's customer support is simply outstanding. I had a question about importing repeater lists in the app yesterday, sent him an email, and got back a helpful reply in about an hour or so.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Victorinox Explorer

Yesterday I received in the mail from Amazon a Victorinox Explorer Swiss Army Knife. It's a four-layer SAK with the following tools:
  • Large blade
  • Small blade
  • Bottle opener with large screwdriver tip
  • Can opener with small screwdriver tip
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Magnifier
  • Scissors
  • Corkscrew
  • Awl with hole for sewing
  • Multi-purpose hook
  • Tweezers
  • Toothpick
  • Keyring
It packs all this into a knife about twice as thick as a Pioneer. It isn't much heavier than a Pioneer, due to the Cellidor (plastic) scales vs. the alox scales on the Pioneer, and the fact that the Pioneer's knife blade is a bit thicker than the Explorer's. The knife feels light for its size and I find it easily pocketable. As with every other Victorinox knife I own (which is six, if you include my SwissTool RS), the knife blades came very sharp. Workmanship is up to Vic's normal high standards. Of the implements packed into the Explorer, there are two which for me are mostly superfluous. Specifically, the mult-purpose hook and the corkscrew. The hook is mostly meant to assist you in carrying a package tied with string, something I never do, and when I want to open a wine bottle I want a better corkscrew. What I will do, however, is use the corkscrew to hold the small eyeglass screwdrive which came with my CyberTool 41. (It threads onto the corkscrew.) Since I leave the CyberTool in my bag unless I'm using it, putting it on the Explorer means it'll be more likely I have it on me when I need it. I like the Explorer. It has a very useful selection of tools without being too large to easily carry around in my pocket. I'm going to let it take its turn as my EDC knife.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ontario RAT-3 Knife

Last week I picked up an Ontario RAT-3 knife from I've posted a brief review with a couple of pictures over on The Rally Point.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Marlin 336 Spare Parts Kit

In the past I've posted about the Marlin 336 as a good addition to your toolkit. It's rugged, reliable, and is chambered for rounds suitable for self protection or hunting medium-sized game.

One of the reasons that I prefer the Marlin over the Winchester 94, its main competitor, is that the Marlin is much easier to perform maintenance upon. For example, to field strip the Marlin all you need to do is remove the finger lever screw, remove the lever, then pull the bolt out the back of the receiver (watch for the ejector falling out when you do this). In contrast, the Winchester is not easily field stripped.

A possible downside to this ease of disassembly is that because you're more likely to have the gun apart, the likelihood that you'll lose a small part is increased. And even if you never lose any small pieces, it's possible for them to wear out or break. So, keeping some spares on hand is a very good idea if a Marlin 336 is part of your serious toolkit.

Last night I ordered from Brownells several parts to put up in an ammo can with spares for other guns in my collection. I ordered items 1 through 7, below.

Marlin 336 Spare Parts List with Brownells Stock Numbers and Prices as of 3/15/08

1. Finger lever screw. #550-301-192 $2.73

2. Ejector w/spring #50-501-168 $10.18

3. Extractor. #550-301-169 $6.01

4. Firing pin, rear. #550-401-199 $6.64

5. Firing pin, front. #550-000-588. $11.33

6. Firing pin spring. #550-401-295 $2.73

7. Firing pin retaining pin. #550-420-299. $2.73.


8. Spare mag spring. #550-401-395. $6.30

9. Spare mag tube. #550-000-042. $16.53

I've listed the spare magazine spring and tube because it is possible to wear out the spring or dent the tube. Doing the latter might damage the spring as well. I regard this as less likely than losing other parts so I held off on these for now.

It is my opinion that you should have a spare parts kit for any firearm which you include as a "survival gun." Even if you're not expecting TEOTWAWKI, parts breakage may occur at the most inopportune time, rendering your gun inoperative.

Along with the spare parts, you need the proper tools to work on your guns. You don't need a complete gunsmith's toolkit, but the following items are a good start:

  • Screwdriver with interchangeable, replaceable bits which properly fit gun screws. Use hollow ground bits for flat screws. Don't forget hex and Torx bits, if you need them. I like the Lyman Mag Driver.
  • A set of gunsmith's punches and a mallet with a brass head and a non-marking nylon head. Again, Lyman makes a good set.
  • Non-making inserts for a vice, or some kind of a clamp to hold guns while you're working on them.
Brownells, MidwayUSA, and Cabelas are good sources for these items.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mountain House Chicken & Rice

Tonight I tried out one of the freeze dried meals I bought last weekend at REI.  I picked the Mountain House Chicken and Rice.  This comes in a ziploc pouch.  To prepare, you pour in 12 oz. of boiling water, seal the bag, and wait about 8 or 9 minutes.

To make the trial a bit more interesting, I boiled the water in an Olicamp Space Saver cup on an Esbit stove (both from my possibles bag).  Based on past experience with the Esbit, I used two fuel tablets and also covered the cup with a piece of aluminum foil.

It took about 6 minutes for the water to boil.  The Esbit tabs were still burning, lasting for about 10 minutes total.

I followed the directions by pouring in the boiling water, sealing the pouch, and waiting about 8 or 9 minutes.  Then open, stir, and eat.

It was quite tasty.  There wasn't a lot of chicken, rather, it was mostly rice.  However, I found it to be pretty filling (the Newcastle I drank with it helped, I'm sure).

Freeze dried meals like this one have a few advantages: they are light, can be prepared in their containers by adding boiling water, and they have a long shelf life (at least 7 years).

On the downside, you need to be able to provide boiling water, which of course requires not only the water but a way to boil it.  They are also high in sodium, which can be bad for those on restricted diets.

For me the good points outweigh the bad, so I'll probably pick up some more.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

New Toys With My REI Dividend

REI dividends are out and this year I managed to rack up $47 worth. I also had a 20% off one item coupon. Today I went over to the local store and spent it (and then some). Anyway, I bought:

I've used the Storm Proof matches for awhile. They burn like mini-flares and will not go out even if you drop them into snow. I once tested this by dropping a lit one into about a foot of snow. It melted its way down to the ground without going out.

The Lightning Nugget fire starters appear to be pine chips that are soaked in paraffin, then formed into hemispheres. The manufacturer claims they'll burn for up to 15 minutes. To use, the instructions on the box tell you to place one on the ground, round side down. Then light it with a match and wait until its going well before placing your kindling on it. I used a bit of Coughlin's tinder (wax-impregnated cotton) ignited with a fire steel to light it. It worked well, and I plan to add two or three Nuggets to my kit, each one wrapped in some aluminum foil to protect them in storage and shield them from damp ground in use.

I've wanted to try one of the Gerber Gator folding saws for awhile now, having read many favorable reviews. (HERE is a pic I took, along with my Victorinox Pioneer for scale.) The blade is fairly thin, which when combined with the plastic handle, makes it very light weight. The teeth are pretty aggressive and designed to cut on the pull stroke. Some reviews I saw on REI's web page reported people breaking the saw. I think what may have happened was that those users tried to cut on the push stroke, bending the blade and wrecking the hinge. However, if used as designed, it looks like it should be fine.

In my brief testing, the Gator cut both hard and soft wood well, requiring less effort to do so than using a large knife would. Using a saw is also a bit safer than hacking away with a big knife. As one part of a modern "Nessmuk trio," one of these makes a lot of sense, in my opinion. Finally, at $15.95, the Gerber is cheaper than most large knives.

Another item which I've had my eye on for a little while is the Open Country folding grill (PIC). Even though it's small, it's easier to cook over an open fire by using a grill than by impaling the food on sticks or putting a vessel right in the fire. The OC Explorer Grid seems well made for the price (about $11) and strong enough to hold a kettle or small pan. It didn't come with any kind of a case, so I'm going to make something up with some scrap denim or muslin. A leg from an old pair of jeans might be big enough. That way, anything it gets packed with after being used will stay clean.

I haven't tried the Mountain House meals yet, and I got the Space Pen just because I thought it was neat.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A USB Thumb Drive for Emergencies

Like many people nowadays, my life involves dealing with a lot of data. Especially important items include the many usernames, logins, and account numbers for loans, credit cards, and various websites which I use. I keep a spreadsheet in an encrypted file on my laptop to keep track of them. But what happens if my laptop is stolen, lost, or destroyed?

For awhile I've carried a copy of the spreadsheet along with other important info in encrypted form on a USB flash drive on my keyring. This way, it's always with me even if the SHTF. The drive I've been using has been a Microcenter bulk 1 GB stick, and it's worked just fine.

The prices on USB thumb drives have plummeted over the past year. So, over the weekend I bought an 8 GB USB flash drive at Microcenter. Like my old stick, it's one of their bulk, house-brand units and the cost was only $29.99 + tax.

I keep only the most essential data on the USB stick, and I formatted the stick as FAT32 so that it can be read in any PC or Mac I may need to use. It's organized like so:

Root directory
-A plain text file with contact info, including next of kin and the number for my childrens' daycare.

Documents folder
-Backup of my Safari browser bookmarks
-Backup of my OS X Addressbook
-Backup of my iCal database
-Separate encrypted images for financial data, logins, client data

Installer files folder
-Contains installation files for several Windows programs (AVG Antivirus, Firefox, Foxit PDF reader, Spybot, and the anti-spyware hosts file from

Mac Portable Apps folder (apps that can run directly from the USB stick when connected to a Mac running OS X)
-Portable Firefox
-Portable AdiumX instant messenger client

Windows Portable Apps folder (apps that can run directly from the USB stick when connected to a Windows PC)
-PuTTy (a telnet and SSH client)
-Portable Firefox
-Pidgin Portable instant messenger client

Over 6 GB are still free.

Running applications from the USB drive is quite a bit slower than from a hard disk, but this isn't for regular use. Since flash memory has a limited number of read/write cycles, and because I don't want potentially sensitive information saved in an unencrypted folder on the thumb drive, I configured both Firefox installations to not cache files locally.

The new thumb drive has replaced my old one in my pocket. It rides on a keyring along with a Victorinox Rambler SAK, a Peanut Lighter, and a SO-ARES LED light.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Course Review: Winter Survival

Yesterday I took a one-day overview of winter survival course.  A class review is HERE.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Follow up on Debris Shelter

We got a light rain last night which allowed me to see how good of a shelter I made yesterday.  Pretty good as it turns out.  I went out back this morning and checked the ground underneath the shelter to see how damp it was.

Near the entrance it was damper than it was yesterday, but back underneath it was about the same as yesterday afternoon.  An "eve" extending over the entrance would've helped.

Another way to improve this kind of shelter is to use heavy duty contractor garbage bags or drum liners.  Two or three of these weigh hardly anything and take up little room in your woods kit.  You can use one as a tarp over the shelter frame for additional waterproofing and wind blocking, with another as a ground sheet.  Arranged right, you could even use one as a door to keep rain and wind out of the entrance.  I have one such bag tied to the outside of my possibles bag.  I'll be adding a couple more.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Backyard Bushcraft: Shelter Making

Last month, one of the arborviate trees in my yard blew down during a wind storm. Today I went out back to cut it up for disposal, when it occurred to me that I had the perfect opportunity to practice making a debris shelter. So, with golok and bow saw in hand, I made a debris shelter.

First, here's a picture of the tree after some cleanup, before I started making it into a shelter.

My daughters spent the morning out with their grandmother. When they got home they wanted to see what Daddy was doing in the backyard. They helped out a little before going inside for their nap. Here's a pic of them in the unfinished shelter.

Finally, a few shots of the shelter from different angles.

If one got stuck out in the woods without a tent, e.g., due to a plane crash, car running off the road, loss of gear, etc., this kind of shelter can make the difference between making it and dying. It can provide insulation from the cold, if made thick enough can block rain and snow, and will help to block the wind. Just like I used a tree blown down in my backyard, you can often find trees in the woods that have blown down and which can be used as the basis of your shelter. For example, note how I used the tree as a ridge pole and leaned other branches against it.

Make sure that when covering the structure, you orient your thatch so that the twigs, leaves, or pine needles are pointed downwards. Also, start at the bottom then work your way up, overlapping the upper branches over the lower. Doing so encourages rain and meltwater to drain outside the shelter.

Don't make the shelter too large. Doing so will require more effort and will be harder to keep warm. On the other hand, as long as it's structurally sound it's probably impossible to put too much thatch on it. The more you use the more weather resistant it should be.

Be careful about is locating the shelter where it'll have good drainage and where it's unlikely to have anything else fall on top of it.

Finally, this kind of shelter can be hard to see from afar. If you're trying to be found keep this in mind. If you're trying not to be found, so much the better.