Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Just One Rifle

I recently got this question from a reader:

I was wondering with all you testing of assault rifles, which one would you chose if given the choice, " I can have only one" ?????

First, to be pedantic, an "assault rifle" is a select fire rifle which fires an intermediate power cartridge.  However, in modern American vernacular the term has come to mean a military style semiautomatic rifle.  The meat of my answer follows:

It's not an easy question to answer. Pretty much off the bat I'd narrow my choices down to an AK, an AR-15, and M-1 Carbine, or a VZ-58. Rifles like the FAL, CETME, or G3 are great pieces but I'd want something lighter.

I think at this time I'm leaning towards a Kalashnikov with the following features:

1. Chambered for 7.62x39. With softpoints it offers better terminal ballistics on either criminals or medium game than 5.45x39 or 5.56x45. Ammo is plentiful and cheaper than 5.56, though military surplus 5.45 is the cheapest available centerfire rifle ammo.

2. Folding stock, for storage and transport. I have AKs with fixed stocks, an Ace folder, an East German folder, a Tapco T6 M4-style stock, and an underfolder. The Ace is the most comfortable of the folders but the E. German folder is probably the most robust. A regular fixed stock is the best for comfort and durability. (An exception for me are the Yugoslav fixed stocks. The comb is too high for me to shoot them comfortably.)

3. A flash suppressor. This is mostly to protect the shooter's night vision, not so much conceal him from anyone else. The Norinco Type 84 flash hider seems to work well. Muzzle brakes reduce recoil but greatly increase blast and flash.

4. A red dot sight. My eyes ain't getting any younger and one area a factory stock AK lacks is in the sights. They are OK at short range but suck for work beyond 100 yards. Worse, they are hard to see in low light. Also, if for some reason I don't have my glasses then I can hardly see the iron sights even under perfect conditions. The Combloc side mounts work well but most of them place the optic too high for a good cheek weld. Tonight I installed an Ultimak on my SAR-1 and mounted a Bushnell TRS-1 RDS. This setup is light and mounts the optic so that it cowitnesses with the irons. I.e., I can use the iron sight through the RDS if the latter dies.

5. A milled receiver is nice but not a must-have. In my experience, a milled receiver rifle just feels smoother and more solid than most rifles with a stamped receiver. On the other hand, my Yugo underfolder with a 1.6mm stamped receiver feels as solid as my milled Bulgarian rifles. For some reason my MAK-90 which also has a 1.6mm receiver doesn't feel quite as solid.

6. Plastic handguard with a steel heat shield, like those from K-Var. All you have to do is fire off a couple magazines in quick succession to understand why. Wood handguards, or plastic without a heat shield can get so hot you can't even hold them.

The main reasons for choosing an AK over an AR-15 is ease of maintenance and long term durability. AR-15s are reliable rifles but have a lot more parts, some of which are small, and overall the rifle requires more maintenance. Also, an AR-15 can be rendered inoperable if the buffer tube gets dented or bent. An AK could be made inoperable with damage to the gas tube but it's easier to replace than the AR's buffer tube. That said, the AR-15 has better ergonomics and is generally more accurate, often quite a bit more accurate.

For decades the AK had one big advantage over the AR-15/M-16 in the magazine department. Aluminum AR-15 magazines are about as robust as a soda can. As far as I'm concerned with the advent of the Magpul P-Mag it's now a wash.

My Century Arms VZ-2008 (VZ-58 clone) has turned out to be a reliable piece, after a break in period. My reason for not choosing it is that at least in the US, it's still a bit of an oddball, with comparatively limited access to spare parts or magazines.

Other rifles like the Robinson Arms XCR or the MSAR STG-556 are quality arms but like the VZ-58, spares could be an issue unless you stocked up in advance.

I'm a big fan of the M-1 Carbine. In my experience they've been reliable and they are certainly fun to shoot. However, they are 100 yard guns and .30 Carbine ammo is no longer as plentiful or cheap as it once was. And while .30 Carbine JSPs by all accounts work extremely well on bad guys, it's a marginal round for any game animal larger than a coyote. So, if it came down to having only one semiauto rifle, I'd have to pass on an M-1 Carbine.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my opinion at any time. :-)

Monday, October 04, 2010

US and Canadian Military Surplus Wool Shirts

With colder weather coming soon it's time to start thinking about Fall and Winter clothing.  One old standby for cold weather wear is the USGI M-1951 wool field shirt.

The M-1951 shirts are easily found and cheap, even in near new condition.  Unfortunately, most are size S, M, or L.  The XLs are getting difficult to find.  Last weekend I checked one of the surplus dealers at the Valley Forge gun show and came home with a size Large M-1951 for $15.

The Canadian military issued a nearly identical copy of the M-1951.  I found a Canadian seller on eBay with them in stock and ordered one back on 9/10.  It arrived on 9/21.  After shipping the cost was about $33.

Both shirts appear to be unissued.  The fabric of the Canadian shirt is a little darker than the US shirt, and the Canadian one is made of coarser wool.  The US shirt is noticeably softer to the touch.  Both shirts are made from 85% / 15% wool / nylon.  I'd say construction quality is about equal between the two but the US shirt had more loose threads to snip.

Both shirts feature seams in the back taking in their girth.  If the shirt feels tight around your midsection you can carefully tear out these seams to make it a little larger.

The US shirt is a size L, the Canadian is XL. I am 5'6" and weigh about 180 lbs. (beer gut/built in SHTF food reserve). I wear 34" sleeves and 17.5" neck. The US shirt fits me OK but it would be nice if it was an inch or two longer. The Canadian shirt fits a bit more loosely in the shoulder area, which I find more comfortable. I tried layering them and the Canadian shirt fits comfortably over the US shirt.

I tried each one individually as a layer underneath my Mountain Hardwear Alchemy softshell jacket. For this use the US shirt works better due to the slim cut of the softshell's sleeves.

I wore the Canadian shirt as an outer layer when I went to the range yesterday.  Conditions were partly sunny with temps were in the 50s and it worked well as a light jacket.  Once the temperature got past 60 I had to take it off, since I started to get too warm.

Tonight I wore it on a one mile walk around my subdivision in a light rain with a little bit of wind.  I was especially interested in how weatherproof it is, even though it's not really designed as a wet weather jacket.  I was out for about a half hour and I stayed dry, however.  The contrast between my arms and torso and my legs, which were covered by my jeans, was dramatic.  As expected, the denim of my jeans quickly wet through.  The shirt did not allow any water to pass through until I stuck my arm under a stream coming off the corner of my roof.  The wool shirts won't be replacing my softshell for wet weather (especially if there's wind), but it's nice to know that if I'm wearing it and I get caught in some light rain, my core will remain dry.

One big advantage wool clothing has over modern technical garments is that it's  safer if you're around open flame, including campfires.  If a burning log pops and a spark lands on your wool shirt, no big deal, it'll go right out.  If that same spark lands on fleece, a soft or hardshell, it'll melt a hole in it.

The US and Canadian milsurp wool shirts are old technology but they still work very well.  The USGI shirts can frequently be found for under $20.  Even at $33 shipped, the Canadian shirt is a bargain compared with a similar commercial product.

Friday, October 01, 2010

East Coast Super Soaker

Here on the East Coast we've had a few days of rain, saturating the ground.  Last night we got another heavy storm which dumped about ten inches of rain in my area.  Some places got up to 21 inches.  That, plus the saturated ground resulted in widespread flooding.  The local news is currently showing some deep flooding in Delaware County, including a half-submerged school bus.

When I pulled into the parking lot at my train station this morning there were only a handful of cars.  I parked, turned the radio to the local AM news station, and pulled up SEPTA's web page on my Droid.  Service had been suspended on my train as well as the two other lines I can use as a backup to get into center city Philadelphia.  Parking a full size SUV in downtown Philly would cost me at least $25 for the day, plus getting home would be a real PITA.  At that point I decided to just work from home today.

Some things to keep in mind when dealing with storms involving heavy rain and wind:

  • Pay attention to the weather reports on the radio, TV and/or web.  Keep an ear open for flash flood warnings.
  • Related to that, a smartphone can be very handy for accessing situation reports on the web, aside from communicating via voice, SMS, and email.
  • Keep up with household maintenance such as your gutters, drainage ditches and make sure that any trees near your house are trimmed back.
  • Be aware of road and mass transit conditions, so you don't get stranded somewhere.
  • If possible, have alternate routes, but be aware that you may be stuck in one location for awhile.
  • Since you may get stuck somewhere for awhile, keep enough cash and a credit card with you.  It's also a good idea to keep some emergency supplies in your vehicle.  Don't forget a poncho.
  • Do not try to drive through deep water.  You won't know how deep it is and you can't see what's in it, which could damage your car.  Just as bad you could get stuck.  In some situations you may get swept away.
  • Employers should give strong consideration to allowing employees to work remotely via VPN or other remote access technologies like LogMeIn.