Saturday, November 02, 2013

Want a Challenge? Try CMP's Four Gun Aggregate

Tricked out match guns are fun but, if you want to prove that you've got an eagle's eye and steady hands, the Formula One test is the Civilian Marksmanship Program's As-Issued Four Gun Aggregate.

4-gun is the combination of one's scores shooting a series of CMP John C. Garand 30-shot Course A's at 200-yards on NRA SR targets at one of the CMP Regional Games or the Nationals officiated by the CMP.  These are the only places you can earn the coveted neck ribbon CMP achievement medals.  

You will need four as-issued rifles.  The first is the M-1 Garand who's inventor the course of fire is named for.  This remarkable battle rifle will test your prowess at slow prone, rapid prone and offhand. The match winner will put almost all bullets into a saucer.

You do get to hear that classic ping when the en bloc clip ejects with this gun. :)  It's a good idea to write your firing point number on your hand for each match because you will move around over the course of the tournament. 

Next comes the hyper accurate 1903 Springfield. You can use either the WW I M1903 or the later WW II M1903A3 model with peep sights. A Springfield will typically shoot groups half the size of an M-1 with the same ammunition. Think potential in terms of tea cups instead of saucers.

The drawback with the Springfield is that the sight adjustments are cruder so you need to know how to favor that last bit of hold off in your sight picture to nail that pinwheel X.  It also introduces bolt manipulation skill and stripper clip reloading into the rapid fire stage.  Lastly, you are doing your trigger control through what is essentially a Mauser pattern military field trigger.

Next, up the degree of difficulty by removing the ability to adjust windage.  This gets you to Vintage Military Rifle with WW II and earlier machines designed to bombard enemy formations and trenches en masse; a form of warfare that predates the age of gunpowder. You'll see all manner of rifles from all over the world here. The big favorites are Sgt. York's M1917 Enfield and the Swedish 6.5x55 Mauser. The British SMLE and greater Mauser families are also present as are the very accurate Russian Mosin-Nagants and Swiss K-31's. One will even see the occasional Krag come to the line.  They are all as-issued and ready to race the Grand Prix once more.

The yellow tape means the gun tested and passed minimum trigger pull weight.  Triggers are always weighed.  The match winner's gun in inspected one more time.  Honor is paramount.

Last of the four is the newcomer.  This used to be a 3-gun aggregate. CMP added the As-Issued Modern Military Rifle to the series.  The rule book provides for many models but the gun of guns for this phase is the 1960's Vietnam era pencil barrel, triangle hand guard, 1-12 twist, A1 carry handle sights Eugene Stoner AR-15 pattern rifle.  Slick side even better.  Feed it 52 gr. BTHP's and try your best to shoot cleans.  Do not crank on the sling like a modern free floated lead weight laden Service Rifle.  It won't work.  You have to be even more careful with most other foreign military rifle models.

Can it shoot?  You betcha!  97-3x rapid taken through a spotting scope.  Note the happy face from the guys in the pits.  My slow prone stage was a 99-4X.  Those Mattel specials can hammer. 

These regional CMP Games matches are a gathering of the shooting family from far and wide. It's a level playing field for all using essentially the same stock guns, ergo like Formula One racing.  The winner truly is the marksman who makes the fewest mistakes over the next 72 hours.

But far more important, it's a learning experience and a connection to the true meaning of expected skills the predicate clause "well regulated" really stands for.  As in skating, before one competes in freestyle, one must qualify in the compulsories. This is it.

The 2013 haul,
M-1 Garand - Silver Achievement
Springfield - Bronze Achievement
Vintage - none
Modern - Silver Achievement

Note: I didn't get my fourth trinket in four gun in 2013.  My SMLE - well its ammo maker (me) - made a mistake, the subject of another blog entry of its own.  The fourth medal in the above photo is from a separate CMP M-1 Carbine match.

Friday, November 01, 2013

.303 Learning Curve

Updated:  1/4/2014

Case separations.  Thin Winchester brass and full sizing are not the best idea for wartime .303 British chambers.

I learned about the perils of full sizing twice fired .303 brass the hard way at the 2013 CMP Western Games.  Had five case separations and a number of other incipient cases during the Vintage Military Rifle match. The gun was a Savage No.4 Mk1*, one of the British Lee-Enfield family of rifles popularly known as SMLE's.

When a rimmed cartridge like the .303 British fires, the main body of the case expands and locks to the chamber.  The tail of the case is what expands and thrusts on the bolt stretching it.  If you full size them, they separate.  If the headspace is on the long side, maybe even on first firing.

The condition is not inherently dangerous.  With a known safe powder charge what actually happens is the round comes out slower, barrel time is increased and with it recoil motion rotation. The round will impact high on the target.  At 200 yards, around the top of the target frame above the scoring rings. This yields zero points for that record round.  Do it five times and your score plummets.


I did finish the match digging out each separated case and carrying on. Never DNF if you can. The best learning often comes from debacles. True to form from the shooting community, info and advice appeared almost from the moment I stepped off the line.

I was offered insights by other competitors about the idiosyncrasies of managing .303 brass and how that differs from setting up other match ammunition. By nightfall that network of shooters had expanded globally over the internet with links galore.  There is nothing as cool as being part of the high power community.

Old military chambers and bolt head spaces leave much to be desired. The voodoo magic trick with the .303 British is to use 7/16" o-rings serve to pre-thrust the bolt backwards on first firing so the case fire forms to the chamber enabling gun specific base to shoulder head spacing in future firings. In other words, it is wildcatting.  Once fire formed, collet dies and the occasional body die to ease feeding take over from there. The literature says 10 or more firings.  The cases are obviously married to that particular rifle for the duration.

I found the o-rings at the faucet replacement parts shelf at the hardware store.  The reason to o-ring the first firing is so that when the case blows out to fill the chamber it does so flowing forward at the neck. If you don't do it this way, the case will still fire form but the normal way a .303 British round works with the main body expanding in the chamber pinning it to the case wall with the bottom of case taking all the movement as the bolt is thrust back on firing.  The o-ring changes the dynamics of the fire forming process positively. Whoever originally figured this out was quite clever.

Fixings.  A Redding body die for bumping the shoulders from time to time.  A Lee Collet die for  neck sizing most of time.  O-rings for centering cases for fire forming.  European brass with thicker case webs.

The literature says to make things a little easier on the brass by tightening the head space of the UK military "work in any dirt" to something closer to SAAMI spec.  I tested a couple of my rifles.  Both close on a SAAMI NO GO gauge which is expected with a military gun. One I tested did not close on a FIELD gauge.  The other - the one I use for CMP Vintage Military Rifle matches - did close on the FIELD gauge.   Later model No.4's adjust head space easily by changing bolt heads; a remarkable innovation really.  Mine both have #0 heads.  I ordered some #1's from SARCO. They once came in #2 and #3 sizes as well but those are long gone.  If I can get my guns to close on GO and not on NO GO cool.  But I'm fine with just not closing on FIELD and using the o-ring fire forming method to marry the brass to the gun.

Improving the Head Space

Head space gauges and bolt heads.  There used to be 0's, 1's, 2's and 3's.  Today you're more likely to catch a unicorn under a rainbow than find a 2 or 3 bolt head.

By installing a #1 bolt head into the bolt body, I was able to get the rifle to barely touch a SAAMI FIELD gauge.  The improvement just by doing this was dramatic.  The photo below shows where the bolt stops when closing onto one of the cases I fired in Phoenix out of the same gun.  Definitely an improvement in the head space.

Quite a difference changing the bolt head makes.

I also compared bolt bodies with some other No.4's and found that the lug dimensions on some are longer than others; probably manufacturing differences.   These old Enfield rifles - like many surplus guns - are very often mismatched parts guns as the years go by and the idea struck me that perhaps replacing the bolt body in this particular rifle might be a way to improve head space even more without having to stalk the online auctions for the elusive #2 and #3 bolt heads.

Gracious Elves

So I put in an online order to U.S. parts supplier SARCO for a bolt body with a note in the comments section requesting one on the longish side if possible.   To my surprise and delight, I got an email back from them asking for clarification of what I was looking for.  I wrote back explaining my plight about only being able to get to barely closing on a FIELD gauge with a #1 bolt head and my hope that a longer bolt body might improve the head space further.   The next email I got from them said they had rummaged their entire parts bin of No.4 bolt bodies and were sending me the longest lugged one they could find.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am that a mail order company would go to this trouble for a customer.  The people at SARCO are awesome.

Bolt bodies differ in length.  This offers another path to solving head space issues.

The replacement bolt body was indeed longer lugged; visibly so even when holding the two side by side.  So much so that I had to go back to the #0 bolt head.   The rifle now closes on a GO gauge and as the photo below shows, barely touches but does not quite close on a NO GO gauge.  That friends, is what one calls good as new!

Mix and match.  A longer bolt body an a 0 bolt head got this rifle back into the sweet spot.

Proving the Pudding

This is a standard NRA SR target at 200 yards shot using 174 gr. Sierra Match King ammunition with a conservative charge of Hodgdon H4895 powder.  Ignore the shots in the shoot and see sticker.  Those are just me touching up the zero on another scoped rifle for an upcoming match mid-range match. The real gem in this photo is that group in the white area.  It was shot using this Enfield with the fixed up head space. Iron sights in fading afternoon light. A blind run string just to see if it groups. And how!  I'll tinker with front sight blades and micrometer settings to center up the group later. For now seeing that it will print 10/X ring is good news.

1 1/2 MOA is not bad for military surplus machine bought out of a forgotten rifles bin in the 1970's

My main reason for test firing the gun was to collect an updated set of brass casings to measure to begin to load better ammunition.  Below is the product so far.  The case on the right is the unfired  .303 British reference.   The one on the left is the one mated to this specific rifle.   Notice that the body and shoulder have fire formed to fill in more of the chamber.   The case has been processed using a Redding body die to bump the shoulder just enough to make feeding smooth.  A neck size die takes care of the rest.

Fire formed case on the left.  That shoulder filled in quite a bit.

That's where we are at for now.   Waiting for a taller sight blade.  Then I'll re-zero the rifle and run test sets of both neck sized and first firing ammunition through it to check both accuracy and feeding.  Will update the article again after that.


The rifle has since gone to the range to be fitted with a properly centered and height selected front sight blade for the ammunition I'll be using in competition.

Setting up a better mechanical zero for CMP competition on 200 yard targets.

Armorer time again.  The front sight blades came from the U.K.  The front sight/firing pin tool came from Numrich.  Makes it easier when tools and parts come together.

Front sight tool and a selection of blades.

Next comes making neck sized ammunition and checking to see how the cases fare fired from the rifle much closer to the shape of the chamber.

Quite the change from the first photo.  Left to right, a full sized loaded round,
a neck sized loaded round, and four test fired empty cases.

So far, so good.  Sample cases made from firing rounds made from both Winchester and PMP cases look promising.  The cases do not appear to grow, bulge or show signs of incipient separation.  Shots remain in the 10 ring so the rifle is still shooting acceptably for competition use.  Hodgdon H4985 looks to be a very good powder for .303 ammo.  Time to load up enough to shoot two or three practice matches and give it a go.

I will yet get my coveted CMP achievement pins and medals with my Made in the USA Savage No.4 Mk1* to go with the other kinds I've already collected.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Reviewing Gabby Franco’s Book

I’ve now had a chance to read through Miss Gabby Franco’s instructional book on shooting, "Trouble Shooting Mastering your Pistol Marksmanship".   It’s designed for coaching beginners and I enjoyed her approach very much because it’s close to my own when it comes to instructing people in shooting the handgun.

Gabby’s roots are in Olympic shooting for which she has credits any pistol shooter should be envious of. Her book seeks to teach the more knuckle draggy arena of defensive handgun marksmanship. It’s refreshing to see a combination of the principles of Pullam and Hanenkrat’s “Position Rifle Shooting” and Morrison and Cooper’s “The Modern Technique of the Pistol” blended into an insightful text that focuses on the needs of the shooter. Gabby’s book stresses core principles adapted to human physiology to find what works for each shooter. That’s the way it should be.

If you are a new shooter, this book will help sensitize you to what your instructor is and isn’t covering. If you are an experienced shooter or even an instructor who does not have the rarer combination of target shooting and defensive shooting experience in your kit, you’ll likely learn something as well.

And she didn't even complain about that impossibly rough Browning Hi-Power she was made to shoot when she tested for Top Shot. Bit of a departure from Free Pistol that was. 

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Do Ten Round Magazine Limits Make Technical Sense?

I’ve been pondering the assertion that legislative proposals circulating in Congress and in many State legislatures make regarding limiting the size of ammunition magazines.  The fear cited most often to justify such legislation is that a gunman gone mad could expend massive amounts of ammunition quickly, reloading over and over again spraying lead indiscriminately.  Proposals run from restricting the future sale of such devices to outright criminalization of the possession including those presently legally owned.

There is of course no disagreement that an “active shooter” attack – that’s what these incidents are called in police parlance – is an undesirable criminal situation to be sure.  They are destructive episodes that disrupt the very fabric of society leading to all manner of proposals to solve or avoid the problem in the future.   Some proposals are prudent and urgent. Others are political and outlandish.  Still others start off sounding sensible but ultimately prove to be placebos or worse, have undesirable consequences.  The great task of course is to sort things out.

It is firstly important to ask what is the likely effect of a limited capacity?  Can one say it means someone can no longer spray bullets indiscriminately?  Probably it does not.  Some therefore say that in the future firearms should be, by design, slower to reload.   Will that work? Probably no. People who carry arms for both good and bad purposes will adapt.  The argument against the notion that technical features limit lethality is a false one.   Proof of it comes from the 19th century in the days of the percussion cap revolver, a gun that held only a limited number of shots and was slow to reload.  The solution was to carry two of them.  There’s no reason to believe it will not be the case in the 21st century.  It’s already common practice.  Police officers carry a back up gun precisely around the notion that the fastest reload is another full firearm.  The bottom line is that regardless of the law, a determined gunman will still very likely have 30 to 50 rounds of firing capacity – remember this number -- even in the unlikely event that he or she complies fully with such laws.  And I have to ask in all honesty, what psychopath planning an attack would do so?

Ok so much for criminals.  The next question the begs asking is, “Is there is a need from more than ten rounds of magazine capacity by legitimate users of firearms defending themselves?”  We’ve all heard the assertion by Senator Diane Feinstein that a five shot .38 Special revolver is all anyone might ever need.  Is this assertion in fact valid?

There’s an adage well worth bearing in mind.  It goes along the line, “If you go to a gunfight, bring enough gun.”  To garner a technical answer to how much is enough we need to delve into the physical realities of wound trauma and marksmanship under stress. Punditry aside, a gun works no differently than a club in a fight.  The object is to inflict sufficient trauma to cause your assailant to stop the attack.  Reliably stopping an opponent with a firearm takes imparting a cumulative 400 to 500 foot-pounds of energy into the vital zone of the target.  This means hitting a truly incapacitating body part and not just something peripheral.   When training police officers, the emphasis of the training is to deliver two to three shots into the vitals, I’ll spare you the list of what constitutes vital.  This works out to at least two hits in the case of modern ammunition most commonly encountered in police use such as the 9mm +P*, .40 S&W and .45 ACP with hollow point bullets and at least three in the case of older, less capable ammunition technology* designs in these same calibers.

Some departments emphasize training in combat marksmanship to accurately accomplish the task.  Even allowing for one extra shot for good measure, at accomplished skill levels, this means an operator can apply lethal force, make an assessment, and apply a second string of lethal force if need and have an ever so small reserve of ammunition left in a 10 round magazine.  That’s a pretty thin margin that does not account for the possibility to multiple assailants or the need to immediately transition to the much more difficult headshot if the threat reveals to be wearing body armor, all are very real dangers to police and civilians alike.

Police departments have long since standardized around service pistols with 15 or more round magazines because these sidearm deigns better address the margin of performance a defensive shooting incident is likely to encompass before having to reload.  A police officer typically carries two additional magazines for a total of forty-six rounds at the ready, that’s one in the chamber and 45 more rounds in the three magazines.  Note that police officers qualified to carry lower magazine capacity side arms carry just as much ammunition.  They have more magazines on their person.  Remember that number from earlier in the article?  It’s a planning factor for combat readiness. It’s a constant figure of merit that will not change.

Let’s return to the 10 round magazines and the high premium they place on marksmanship under stress.  It is costly both in terms of dedication and budget to train all officers to such levels of marksmanship.  The reality is that not all officers are good shots.   Some police department policies account for this by training around a volume of fire approach to get to the required number of vital zone hits when applying lethal force.  The trade off is calculable.  Gross error rates – one of those military effectiveness mathematics artifacts – typically estimate that a less than perfect marksman shooting under the stress of battle will land one out of every three rounds fired in the right spot.   So if one needs to make three vital zone hits, it’ll take about nine shots.   That’s one shot shy of running out of ammo with a 10 round magazine.

Actual cases show that an officer in a panic fire situation will tend to totally empty his or her gun and keep fingering the trigger even after the slide has locked back, a phenomenon seen in massive amounts of ammunition being expended in shootings.  For these officers, their side arms are often one burst application of lethal force weapons.  Not ideal by any measure.  Usually, they miss and the two bullets that find their mark and end the gunfight comes from the more skilled cop that applied lethal force correctly.

Restricting magazine capacities below 10 rounds turns the math into an even riskier game of gunfight luck.  In Cuomo country, the future average officer's 7 round magazine will yield a 70% to 80% chance of incapacitating the target.  Like the theoretical active shooter at the beginning of the article, you better believe an officer restricted to "politically correct" survival risks will be carrying a readily accessible back up gun at least equal in firepower to their primary service pistol.   Recall the active shooter from earlier in the article.  The symmetry of need is eerily pragmatic.  I think its not unrealistic to expect that departments and citizens will adapt with a renewed interest in marksmanship and the use of higher energy loadings like the .357 Magnum and its semi-auto equivalent the .357 Sig or even seriously powerful rounds like the .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum that were being explored 50 years ago before the advent  of the "Wonder Nine" pistol in the 1970's.

So let’s look at that 5-shot .38 Special revolver assertion again.  The .38 Special cartridges deliver much less energy per round than the loads enumerated earlier in the article.  One needs to place at least three and preferably four rounds to approach the 400 ft-lb’s delivered into the vitals to end the gunfight.  It’s a far more difficult firearm to shoot accurately than a full size 15-shot service pistol; in fact, the snub nose revolver is an expert’s gun that even excellent marksmen work hard to master and maintain proficiency with.  A motivated civilian who trains reasonably will likely perform no better than a 1 good hit out of every 3 shots rate.  You might get two good hits in before the gun runs dry.  This means a person so limited probably has maybe a 50% probability of incapacitating an assailant to promptly stop a threat using a low capacity, slow to reload 5-shot .38 Special revolver.  That’s the math.  It is what it is.  No.  It is not enough gun.

The Need for Legislative Diligence

What this should tell legislators is there are technical reasons why guns have come to be configured how they are today.  These configurations are not arbitrary.  They are legitimate mission driven.  They can mean the difference between life and death for persons in need of defending themselves be they police officers or citizens.  Firearms have evolved continuously to fit the mission needs of police officers and citizens defending themselves against the same criminal threats.  Regardless of the rhetoric of politics, for handguns, their present configuration embodied in the 15 shot service pistol is what makes them a “credible threat” to potential criminals, a valuable tool for legitimate defense.

It seems to me that legislators should take more time to study and understand this complex balance.  Already we see the gun industry preparing to refuse to sell to law enforcement any tools that citizens cannot have, tools they need to be that thin blue line that augments the efforts of civilians in an America where 95% of law enforcement still happens because of voluntary compliance.  It is actually a very legitimate policy question for these manufacturers to ask what is the difference between a policeman and a civilian when it comes to their needs to resist a criminal threat.  They are acting like an NGO when they point out that the question is not just some some bargaining chip to create a separate privileged class of citizen to co-opt law enforcement to supporting a law in the same way other interest groups vie for advantaged privileges from a benevolent government.  Is a cop's life more valuable than his next door neighbors?  Is one less worthy of equal protection under the law?  How soon will it be before some zealous politician places the patrol officers in a jurisdiction in the awkward position of being under gunned?   Who will take the blame when one of their names is added to the roster of the FBI’s LEOKA* statistics?

Consequence Always Happens

So what criminal adaptation consequences might stem from changing America’s firearms so they cannot be employed efficiently in self-defense?  The most common criminal adaptation seen is a phenomenon called swarming, gangs of assailants who overwhelm the defender.  The technique is as old as conflict and the equations governing the risk-reward go back to the methods from the Age of Muscle of warfare.  Simply outnumber the capacity of the ill equipped defender to resist and you win.   In today’s America, the cost to try this is still mostly unbearably high for most criminal’s tastes because of the defensive potential of firearms.  Criminals, like all predators, follow the cardinal rule of predation.  Don’t get hurt.  They prefer victim-able prey.

We risk changing this balance inadvertently as we pursue a myopic focus on the matter of mass shooters, a group that has shown a remarkable propensity to apply the principles of predation to great effect particularly in selecting locations and moments where the risk of armed resistance is remote.  The perpetrators here seem to fit a definable set of mental instability profiles that are not insofar as I have seen the subject of urgent legislation to deal with them; that's a troubling thought of another kind.  

* The 9mm +P and +P+ ammunition is a version of the 9x19mm Parabellum round designed for use in modern pistols.  Propellant is loaded to pressures exceeding U.S. SAAMI specifications designed to protect older guns from excessive stresses.  Loaded with modern expanding bullets, these rounds perform equally with other civilian semi-automatic ammunition in common use by law enforcement when shots are placed in vital zones of a target.

* Older technology ammunition includes non-expanding ball ammunition that is much less effective at delivering incapacitating trauma even when hitting a vital area.   Geneva Convention compliant “ball” ammunition authorized for use in military side arms is of this lesser effective type.

* LEOKA stands for Law Enforcement Officers Killed or Assaulted, statistics compiled annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year's Eve "Belly Gunning"

I'm not really much of a prone shooter.   My competitive focus in the shooting sports tends towards Service Rifle -- the hunt for "leg points"  -- and tactical precision matches that help hone my understanding of unknown distance shooting.  But on New Year's Eve each year I take to my "belly" and assume the position to participate in the fine sport of Any/Any Mid-Range competition.  Truth be told, I do this more to have a day hanging out enjoying the company of friends and the heckling we subject each other to.  It is the music to my ears that a good New Year's Eve party should be.

It's usually bitter cold for these 600 yard matches.  It's the rainy season in what passes for winter in California.  2012 did not disappoint in the need to wear one's long undies and feather filled jackets.  It wouldn't be December 31st if one did not see gray skies and hear the crunching of ice under the tires driving into the range.  At 2,600 feet altitude in Southern California, there usually isn't snow.  What there is is freezing wind coming from the snow covered mountains chilling the air at a good 10 to 12 miles per hour.  Ice stays ice.  It adds to the ambiance and tests one's down filled clothing fashion sense; the more field savvy arrive in classic Filson's oil garb.

The gun rack is a multicolor display filled with Eliseo tube guns in a bright livery of color reminiscent of jelly beans.  This is the land of the NRA high-power rules compliant boomstick.   The tactical rifles with their recoil managing muzzle breaks and eye busy measuring reticle optics are left at home.   Plain ended barrels and simple crosshairs are what you need for this game.  Joining the gathering of tube guns here and there are the wooden stocked glass bedded rifles and this year even a Euro fantastic target rifle that costs more than a Toyota.

My gun of choice is a classic.  An old 1970's Winchester Model 70 target rifle originally made by one time US Team Captain gunsmith Creighton Audette in the hey day of these guns as the match rifle of choice.  I admired and envied those that had them when I was young and snagged mine about seven years ago from someone who had shot his example too little.  This particular rifle was purpose built to perform with surgical precision, a fact I have tested to be true numerous times seeing how easily one can pick which leg of the letter X to target at 200 yards and hit it with near perfect control.  It's been updated with an adjustable cheek piece by master sprinkler of competition rifle holy water, Doan Trevor.  Looking over Audette's handiwork, Doan also told me not to mess with the gun's perfectly lapped Hart barrel until, well, ever.  It now sports a 6-24X Vortex fine crosshair dot scope replacing the boat anchor heavy 15X Unertl Varmint that was its original 1970's topper, POSA bases and all.  Repeating, this is the better and cheaper Vortex not the so-called "tacticool" ones.  A Weaver T is the classic scope for this application where you set the knobs during the sighting shots and hold for wind the rest of the string.  A new set of irons with the latest adjustable everything's completes the ensemble for the compulsories of Regional or Palma matches.

The group I shoot with is smothered in High Masters who make simple work of shooting out the centers of the targets over and over.  Winning scores at these "club matches" run into the 599-40X.   My once per annum appearances put me in the lowly Expert class in the NRA competition divisions record keeping computers.  Still, I try to get better at it every time I shoot and my goal has always been to shoot a "walk on" Master score on New Year's Eve.

And so into this adventure I arrived with my gun and an ammo can of carefully hand loaded ammunition; your basic 168gr Sierra Match King over 44.5gr of Varget seated to 2.800 l.o.a. if you are curious.  I tend to like middle of the road rounds that deliver delightfully tiny standard deviations on the chronograph.  These particular ones said 6 fps when I tested them; yes that is an amazingly good batch.

Mid-Range matches at the Burbank Rifle and Revolver Club (BRRC) are a 60-shot 3x600 yard affair with each stage having unlimited sighters and 20 shots for record in a time limit of 30 minutes.   The objective is simple; put every bullet into a teacup sized X ring.   Complex wind patterns in the BRRC canyon invariably conspire to prevent this from happening.   It is normal for each wind flag to point in a different direction and for the mirage to agree with none of them; and it always shifts the moment you put your head down into the sights.  We call this "fun".

Stage one was COLD and shifty.  I hadn't fired this gun since testing the ammo in March and I wasn't sure if the scope was sitting at a 200 or 600 yard zero.  The elevation and windage knobs were at zero but the parallax knob was at 600.   The notebook containing the required information was of course sitting safely on the desk at my office where I had used it to transcribe data just before the last tactical match.  FML.  Adapt, overcome, prevail.  The first sighter shot impacting in the berm below the target but generally good on windage confirmed the BZO was the former so up we come 11 MOA to get on paper.  Bang.  The target comes down reassuringly and a shot spotter turns up in the lower quadrant of the paper where its supposed to.   Up 2 1/2 and left 2 MOA and we are in the 10 ring.  Left 2 clicks more and the X marker shows up.  Fire again to make sure the same hold and pressure on the stock goes in the same place.  Call for record.   Twenty rounds later and a few wind shifts that slipped by me I had a 189-5X on the score sheet.  Off comes the shooting coat and back on comes my down parka.  I'm happy.  That's not bad for a rifle I haven't fired in competition in over three years.

It's a four relay match so my next turn doesn't happen for another hour and a half.  I take another turn being line officer -- we trade the job around -- and use the time to gossip with the score keepers.  The topics range from the what's the best combination of base color and top coat to paint one's tube rifle so it will blind one's opponents utterly -- Gary Eliseo says a good choice is fuschia with metal flake with a clear coat to add depth but you'd better be shooting high master scores all the time to back it up -- all the way to getting tips from an 11 year old on how to win when playing "Call of Duty" online.  When you need to now about the art of the kill streak, ask  a pro.  Heckling centers around reminding service rifle shooters using optics that the knobs turn in the opposite directions and no amount of muttering Hogwarts spells under one's breath will change that.

My turn at stage two comes at last.  It's warmer now.  The sun is shining on the firing line and it really helps one's shooting.  Kumbaya!  I'm also now realizing that the work I've done all year to improve my slow prone shooting with the AR-15 in Across The Course matches combined with the gingerly sensitive holds one has to use to connect with smallish tactical rifle targets has remarkably positive influence on one's belly gunning potential.  I spend most of the time this string getting perfect NPA's and identical cheek tension on the gun.  The wind's picked up a minute but that also means it's shifting less so the hold off in the scope is much smaller.   The annoying part of this string is that I get about a half dozen duds rounds.  Noticeably light strikes.  Not sure why.  On my list to check the firing pin protrusion and cocking piece clearances.  Still, the guys remarked I never flinched on any of those duds.  I think that's a compliment.   Despite the annoyance, I'd managed a 194-8X for the string.

Back to running the line and bantering.  It's getting well into the afternoon and daylight is short in BRRC's canyon.  The targets go into shadow well before 4:00pm and I'm on the 4th and final relay so I'm beginning to think about shooting into a cold, dark tunnel.   The timeline does not waver from this prediction and when my turn at my firing point at last returns the 600 yard targets are in the full shadow of a New Year's Eve setting sun.  Thank goodness I'm shooting Any/Any with a big light gathering objective scope.  The preparation period rewards me with a good clear picture; the kind of light one hopes for waiting for the deer to meander by after a long day in a blind.   Sunset also means a pause in the wind and the flags are now wafting gently; the air swirling softly at around 2 miles per hour.   It's X count weather!  I switched to another box of ammo based on Lake City LR cases instead of the once fired Federals I had been using hoping the duds would not persist.  It was a good move.  First sighter 1 MOA to the right.  Correct windage.  Fire again and it's in the X.  Call for record.  The zen of a string of fire with perfect cadence staying in touch with the wind is like playing a perfect solo with a fine musical instrument.   It just feels right as 10's and X's slip effortlessly into the target.  Twenty rounds later I had shot a 196-11X not knowing or caring about it until after I had reinserted my empty chamber indicator and meandered over to look at the scoresheet.   Breaking the magic 50 percent X's is always the sign of being as one with the gun; something to smile about when it happens.

Tally for the day was a 579-24X; nowhere near enough to win around the BRRC crowd but that's still a 96.5% to go into my NRA Competition Division log records.  Yippee do!  I got my "walk on" Master score.  Not a bad way to end the year.  Certainly worth penning into a blog while enjoying a cup of coffee.

Happy New Year!