Thursday, June 30, 2011

“I sez, Shotgun shoot em for he run now.”

Jr. Walker & the All Stars got me thinking about shotguns. 

I’m exploring my tools' potentials and clarifying my assumptions about them.  This led me to the range to pattern my 20-gauge Remington 1100 shotgun.  It’s set up with a smooth bore slug barrel and I took a box of Federal 7½ shot shells with me.  Why 7½ shot?  I use the gun for local gun games and at the distances available, this load has enough oomph to break clay pigeons on a string and knock steel plates off posts.  I have a lot of it.

Equally important was my belief that the role of the shotgun in home defense would be that of heavy artillery.  I’d roll it in place and control a lethal funnel.  I also believe that the gun would play a role if local social order (limited zombie apocalypse!) broke down in my area.

Why 20-gauge?  Both my wife and I can shoot it effectively, and I have a bad right shoulder which makes me recoil sensitive.

My approach to patterning was simple.  I put up a big sheet of cardboard.  Put an aiming point in the center and backed off 10ft and fired one round.  I connected the dots on the outer edge of the revealed pattern, moved back another 10 feet and fired another shot.  I simply repeated this until the pattern opened up so much I had trouble finding the outer holes. Patterning a shotgun, however, gives you no information on penetration, a most important factor in stopping power.

Total  shotgun pattern

At 10 feet the 306 pellets make a nice 1.5 inch rat hole in the cardboard.  At 20 ft the rat hole grew to 2 inches and the pattern opened up to 10 inches.  Still not too bad from a sudden impact point of view.  At 30 feet the pattern opened up to 16 inches and it gets worse from there.

Two expectations I had were quickly shattered.  One, the shot would be uniformly distributed within the pattern.  Two, the patterns, if not circular in shape, would be shape consistent.  Both assumptions were wrong.  

I didn’t have a chance to study the patterns at the range, but I wanted to see the pellet density at some distance.  I chose 40 feet, a little over 13 yards.  I put up two sheets of cardboard, measured 40 feet and took a shot.

99.9% of all the 7 1/2 pellets are in that circle at 40 ft

Each hole represents some fraction of the total muzzle energy.  The round pellets are not very aerodynamic and lose energy fast.  To make up for this, you need to have a lot of pellets close to each other.  Being light they don’t have the energy to penetrate into deep tissue.  Low penetration equals low stopping power.

The result was pretty sad.  I sharpened the images as much as possible, but you can see the pellet density is pretty low.  In fact, too low to have a mass effect that would cause the shot to penetrate and stop a dangerous criminal    I’m not sure I have enough energy to knock a steel plate sitting on a post off at that distance.

The answer seems clear:  bigger pellets like 00 buck or slug.  00 buck is approximately .30 caliber, but a quick internet search suggests only 3 buck is available for 20-gauge.  3 buck is about the size of a .25 caliber bullet.

I’m still worried about over penetration, but excluding slug, that may not be a realistic concern.  Misses that leave my house and enter my neighbor’s is one reason I was thinking shotgun.  It looks like I’m still in search of an answer.

I have a tactical sling on the shotgun and I was reminded of early carry methods.  The first was called the American Carry.  

Bangs into your sidearm as well

It’s the way the Army carried while marching in all those WWII pictures.  Muzzle up and sling over the right shoulder.  You still needed a hand on the sling or the long gun would slide off the shoulder.   

The other was the European carry.  I have no idea where the name comes from, but I suspect it was from the hunting community.

Don't shoot yourself in the foot, Bobby!

The long gun was carried over your left shoulder muzzle down.  The gun still needed to be stabilized or it would slide off.  The best rational was it was fast to mount the weapon.

Stabilize the gun with your left hand on the fore-end.  The “draw” starts with simply swinging the muzzle up towards the right.  This slides the sling off the shoulder.  

Be quick and get it mounted before the charging rhino gets to you!

As the left palm rotates to the normal shooting position, the right hand comes up, establishes the shooting grip and pulls the gun into the right shoulder.  Safety, sights and trigger pull, that’s all that’s left to do.

It’s fast and adventure writers loved it, ‘cause they could work some nice color and action into the story.  But it still requires one hand to keep the gun in place.

I’m sure people tried some kind of intermediate position.  I call it the 'Atlantian' carry.  That’s the muzzle over one shoulder; the long gun crosses your back and the gun butt on the other hip.  Now that gun isn’t going anywhere and your hands are free.  The draw however is a little cumbersome. 

Slip the sling over your head, move the gun to the front, get the grip, don’t forget to take the safety off… No-No, I got a better way, swing the butt up in a great circle route around the body and mount the gun while making sure you don’t shoot anyone behind you or get crud in the muzzle…   No-No, Wait! Carry the gun butt over one shoulder and muzzle over the other hip, then you just have to grab the butt and swing the entire long gun over your shoulder, making sure there’s no tree limbs or low ceiling in the way… that’s not so hot either.

Face it, it’s called the Atlantian carry because you’re sunk any way you do it.

No, I’ll stick to my tactical carry in front.  I wonder how long it took us to discover that.

The butt is just about placed right, my hands are free and nobody's foot is under the muzzle.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


What was he thinking?  Read the article, “Self-Defense Case: Pharmacist Guilty” in the Wall Street Journal from May 27 2011 and you’ll ponder that same question.   (

And yet we joke about it.  I don’t remember the politician, but after he left his sick wife, we all said if that was our wife the last words we’d hear would be “How do you reload this damn thing!”  Of course, the humor comes from the unexpected punch line.

Mr. Ersland is going to jail because after he shot one intruder in his store and chased the other from the building he retrieved a second gun and shot the wounded Parker five more times……Yipes!!

The Castle Doctrine doesn’t allow you to shoot a person with impunity.  You still need to be able to verbalize why you needed to shoot him in the first place and second, that his actions after being shot continued to place you in danger.
Ersland, as captured on the store security tape, is seen walking past the wounded Parker, retrieving a second gun and shooting several more times.  His defense: Parker was still moving and a danger.

Here’s my second guess on it.  Ersland should have reloaded his gun after chasing the second person from the store, taken a position of cover and concealment, if available, and waited for the professionals to arrive.  Not having a reload, he should have weighed the danger of walking by a wounded individual he thought was still dangerous with an empty gun to retrieve a loaded weapon.  I’m not sure I’d do that. 

If the person was so dangerous I needed a reload, which required me to walk past the person, then the person was too dangerous to go past.  No, it’s not circular logic; its survivor logic.

Ersland would have been better to retreat with an empty gun and wait for the police.  Unable to do that because of a hostile crowd around the store, unsafe weather conditions, or customers present in the store which he personally felt responsible for, Ersland would have been better served in finding a different route to the gun and then taking cover and waiting for the police.

What do I learn from this?  One, always have a reload.  Two, once you’re out of danger, stay out of danger.

Don’t let your gun rule your actions.  Don’t shoot unless the other options fall away.  And they can fall away faster than you and I can imagine.  Prior planning prevents piss poor performance, and perhaps going to jail.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Solving Problems

The 2011 Blade Show offers the unwary buyer more tactical knives than you can shake a broken pool cue at.  Simply assuming that a knife advertised as tactical or designed by former military personnel will meet your needs will put you in a world of hurt.  Still, there are opportunities out there.

The best opportunity is to handle each knife and ask yourself how that knife would solve at least one problem, preferably several.  Let me give you an example.   

TDI fixed blade with belt sheath
The Ka-Bar TDI self-defense knife answers several problems for both the LEO and armed civilian attempting to retain or access their holstered gun.  The small fixed blade doesn’t slip out of your hand, doesn’t slide backwards in your hand, and is small enough to be non-threatening but large enough to get the job done.
Ka-Bar has released a folding version of this knife.  The advantage of a fixed blade for easy deployment under stress is gone.  The folder is significantly heavier.  The ability to keep your hand from sliding onto the blade during a strike remains.  So who needs this knife?

TDI Folder

I suspect it’s aimed at the person who expects the need to defend himself but for one reason or another can’t carry a fixed blade or firearm.  Here the folder shines.  Still, you've got to get it out and open before you can deploy it.

Flashlights are in a similar boat.  Originally we wanted a light that was bright, used small batteries, and was sturdy.  Diodes met this challenge.  Almost indestructible and so efficient, they just sip electricity, and produce almost unheard of amounts of light.

The first diodes didn’t project light forward very well, but new designs of reflectors and diodes have improved that significantly.  The problem then became add-on features.

The computer chip that regulates current and voltage to the diode for constant light output is capable of so many other things.  Soon we had click once for dim, a rapid second time for bright.  Two rapid clicks for strobe, press and hold for SOS, five slow clicks for off and alternating slow and rapid clicks to contact the mother ship. 

Some flashlights added a back cap which had to be rotated to a position before the clicks gave you different functions.  I once found a flashlight that could be connected to your laptop and programmed to product a Morse code message (Drop your weapons and come out with your hands up).  Now you just had to make sure the person at the other end could read code fast enough to translate the message.

When 4Sevens gave me the hard sell for their eight-function tactical flashlight I had a comeback.

“All I really want in a flashlight is the choice between maximum brightness and a strobe.”  (I really believe the strobe is disorientating in a dark room or enclosed space.)

“We got you covered.” The salesman told me.  “The Quark 123 has 230 lumens for 1.5 hours and you can program the light to give you either strobe or max illumination.”  It takes two CR123 batteries, has a pocket clip and now it’s mine. 

It's a 4Sevens and I want 2 of eight

I think it will solve the two major problems I wanted to address, max brightness and disorientating strobe.  The pocket clip means I’ll find it where I’ve clipped it, and the relativity small size means I’ll have it with me when I need it.
Is it a tactical light? 

I don’t know, but it solves two major problems and several minor ones for me and creates only a tiny complication. It needs two CR123 batteries which I already keep on hand. 

No biggie.

By the way I picked up 3.25-inch fixed blade from Shadow Tech knives at the show.  

Shadow Tech Knives
I find I’m interested in thick, fixed blade knives.  I just don’t see an 18-inch long Swamp Rat as useful everyday carry.  The blade length and weight makes me fantasize about pulling the knife Crocodile Dundee–style during a conflict.  But I know that’s unreal.

Swamp Rat's M-9 with a 9-inch blade
Keeping it real makes me appreciate a knife 7 inches long and 0.2 inches thick.  Construction from 1095 steel and wrapped in kydex is a bonus.  I can pry, cut, spark and still wear it without drawing attention to me.   So I’ll be more likely to have it when I need it.

Last note:
Benchmade is using Cerakote Gen II on all their BK and SBK blades made in 2011.  I heard this from my friend Bob and later found it on the inside of Benchmade’s professional catalog.  The coating is reported to reduce visibility ~ “…provide a visual, near infrared and thermal management….”  What does that mean?  I’m not sure.  I know what the words mean but not how it translates in the field. 

Benchmade has a green and black photo showing the knife.  It is less visible.  It’s not a Harry Potter cloak of invisibility, but if you need to control/reduce your visibility, it’s a start.   

Hint: I bet you can find a link to a studio that does powder coating with this same material.

Friday, June 10, 2011


I was at an earlier edition from Wedgehead’s blog and it was pointed out to me that we need to insure our proficiency with the weapons we carry.  This isn’t anything new.  The temptation to shoot exclusively the new gun, or the current favorite can be overwhelming.  Couple this with mental complacency and we will drift out of real proficiency.  One of the weapons I carry on a regular basis is a S&W 442 J-frame.  It’s a hard gun to shoot with big hands, or with smaller and less strong hands.
I didn't notice it too much until I was done shooting that string.

I don’t practice it enough so I took it out to the range with a bucket of put-back ammo.
‘Put-back’ ammo?  That’s the odd-ball collection of ammo left over from reloading that didn’t fit in the boxes, or the few commercial rounds that didn’t get fired at the range.  There was everything from bull’s-eye rounds to Hydra-Shoks.  That’s one of the best things about a revolver.  If you can get the cylinder closed, the gun will go bang.  Revolvers are almost completely ammo insensitive.
I set up an IDPA target at 24 feet and fired two-handed standing without support.  The trigger was longer than I remember, but each one was a surprise break.  I kept them all in the inner circle or the head.  I’m happy about that.

Two hand free style

One out of three positions --- Check!
Then I transferred to strong hand only.  That also wasn’t too bad.  The gun seemed to kick a bit more, and I had a little less control.  But I managed to keep the rounds on the target, even though the group opened up a little.  FBI reports seem to indicate that 50% of all self-defense shootings occur one-handed.
Strong Hand Only

Still not too bad.  I seem to be centered in the target, but practice, especially for rescue head shots, is indicated.
Two out of three positions --- Check!
That left weak hand only.  It was smooth sailing until I hit that reef.  My camera seems to have refused to take a picture of the results.  Still on paper, still roughly centered, but call me Dr. Kildare.  ‘Cause I’m stitching the target from stem to stern.  Clearly, no rescue head shots with left hand only for me.
Box score at this point: two out of three good, one passable.  Not too good for self-defense and clearly I need to practice.
Still, that’s 24 feet with a sub two-inch barrel.  Let’s move back to 45 feet and see what we can do.
At that distance I found myself slowing down and controlling the trigger more.  I needed a surprise break and good sight alignment with the micro sights on the 442.  Most of the hits were in the center ring, so that’s acceptable shooting.
Two hand free style at 45 feet

All of this, I should explain, was shot behind a barrel I was using for my table.  No movement.  One fantasy from self-defense cloudland is the western-style shoot out.  You plant your feet, quick draw and shoot it out.  That’s not real.
Every good trainer will tell you to move off line, use cover and concealment if available and incoming bullets have the right of way.  That’s next in my practice regimen.  But it will have to wait a week or two.  I’m at the Blade Show in Atlanta, Georgia.  Stay tuned for that later.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


When I run training activities I try to tell the students they can fill magazines, speed loaders or strips anywhere but the gun can only be loaded at the line on command.  The goal is to reduce confusion and to improve performance. 
So it’s a little confusing to hear about bullet stopping power.  Most of the time we say ‘bullet’ when we really mean ‘cartridge’ or ‘round.'  It’s a common misuse.  It’s not the bullet that is responsible for stopping power; it’s the cartridge composed of primer, powder, case and bullet.  But even with all that, we’re still missing a vital component: shot placement.
Stopping power is one of the great ice breakers at shooting clubs and gatherings of shooters.  Ask, “What do you think is the best bullet for stopping power?” and instantly you’ve established yourself as a member of the shooting community.  It’s much more successful than “What’s your sign?”
Gun writers make a living testing and prognosticating the newest cartridge/bullet combination.  The ammunition industry seduces us with new designs and promises of enhanced performance.  Getting any police force bigger than Mayberry to carry a specific round could mean huge profits to any bullet manufacturer from the civilian market.  One might think it would be better to give the NY police ammo for free and make the money from the rest of us.
Do I think performance rounds are bogus?  Just a flim-flam on the unsuspecting shooting market?  Absolutely not.  Performance ammo is the finishing touch.  It’s the cherry on the ice cream sundae, the twelve coats of hand-rubbed wax on a walnut rifle stock, the end of a perfect day.  I am a true believer.
But more importantly than any caliber, bullet or cartridge is shot placement.  A dynamic hit on the center of the available mass with hardball of any caliber is more important than a near miss with a 300 Win Mag with a hollow-point, nuclear-fragmenting, tissue-destroying, water buffalo-stomping bullet.
Only hits count.  Equipment does not make up for lack of skill and practice.

While I’m waxing on ammo, I recently heard of an interesting conversation on tactics.  I believe my source implicitly.
Bobby Boattail: “I got my CCW and I bought a Kimber 1911 in .45ACP as a carry gun.”
Norm Shooter: “Oh, that’s great!  Do you like it?”
BB: “Yes, but I carry one round in it.”
NS: “You mean you carry just one magazine.”
BB: “Oh no, I carry only one round in my gun.”

One filled magazine or eight reloads?
NS (confused but still in the game): “Why would you do that?”
BB: “If I shoot at someone and miss, I don’t want them taking my gun away from me and shooting me.  So I only carry one bullet.”
NS: “Are you a graduate from the Fife Shooting Academy?”

I swear it’s a true story.  I couldn’t make up stuff this good.