Rifle Cartridges

While I spend more time teaching handguns, students sometimes have questions about rifles, so this will be a very short tutorial on that subject.

Rifles have a much longer history than handguns, as man has been obsessed since at least the 14th C. with finding new ways to kill the enemy.  Development has gone in many directions, always embracing new technology, from the muzzle-loading smooth bore flintlock and the “rifled” musket, to the machine gun.  The European wars of the late 19th C. ushered in the age of the bolt action rifle, which was the dominant combat weapon until WWII (although still common for hunting and sport).  The semi-automatic has been dominant since about 1950.  The full automatic (machine gun) actually predates those, going back to WWI, but initially they were not very portable, and not very reliable.  Why does this matter?  Because we now understand that the big bullets still fired from bolt-action rifles will tear up the guns that cycle rapidly. Semi-autos now frequently use cartridges with small bullets, but a lot of gunpowder.

There are now hundreds of rifle calibers.  Here are some very common ones, with notes:

5.56/.223       AR-15 rifle.  The two calibers are the same, with different powder load.

.30-30 WIN      One version of a 30 caliber cartridge. The 2nd number is length.  WIN = Winchester

6mm CM       A popular hunting cartridge. CM = Creedmore.

.243 WIN      Another hunting cartridge, slightly larger than 6mm.

.45-70 GOV      Very old, almost obsolete. GOV = Government.

7.62×51             (AKA .308).  Hunting of larger animals. Used by U.S. for combat (Afghanistan).

6.5 CM             Slightly larger than #3 above.

7.62x54R       Russian combat cartridge (1897-c. 1950).  Similar to the German Mauser.  WWII.

.270 WIN       Smaller than the last four above, but much faster.  Better ballistics.

.30-06 (30 aught 6).       A legendary, and powerful, rifle cartridge.  WWII.

.338 Lapua      Legendary long range sniper cartridge.

.50 BMG          Very long range sniper cartridge.

There are a few applications where rifles are built to shoot pistol ammo, usually 9mm.  They are called Pistol Caliber Carbines (PCC).  The famous Tommy Gun of the Prohibition Era fired .45 ACP.   The Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, used by Special Forces around the world, fires 9mm.

Introducing Kids to Firearms

For well over 100 years, it has been a rite of passage for fathers to teach their sons and daughters to shoot.  The reasons vary, but include bonding with children, introducing them to hunting, and (especially) ensuring that they have an understanding of the safety rules, and to never touch a gun without an adult around.  In teaching young people (often at age 10 or above, but that is negotiable), there are two specific types of guns that have proven to be the safest and easiest, depending on the immediate goal:

  If introducing the child to hunting, the .410 shotgun.  This fires a very small shell, with not a lot of recoil.  It is suitable for upland game, and is a great stepping stone to the smaller center fire rifles, like the Winchester .243.



If introducing a child to target shooting, or if that child might not be up to killing an animal, a great choice is the venerable .22 LR bolt action.  Note that this is not the same as .22 WMR (Magnum).

In both cases, one of the great benefits is that, being a long arm, it is very difficult for the child to shoot himself.  Of course, the child needs to be closely monitored to make sure they strictly observe these rules of gun safety:


Unlike the shotgun, the .22 LR rifle has some features you should understand before buying one:

  • Action. Bolt-action, semi-automatic, lever-action.  If the student is under about 14, I recommend bolt-action.  These only load one cartridge at a time.  That is safer, and requires more focus on the operation of the rifle.  Bolt actions are more accurate than most semi-autos, and are used in competition.
  • Dry-fire Safe. The .22 is a rimfire design.  For over 100 years, “firing” one of these without a cartridge in the chamber could lead to damage to the firing pin.  Most modern designs are engineered around this problem, but that is not a guarantee.  It is hard for a beginner to avoid dry-firing the gun, so make sure that will not be a problem.
  • Sights. The built-in sights are called “iron-sights”, or just “irons” (don’t ask why).  An inexpensive .22 rifle will usually have these, but since this type of rifle is often used for precision target shooting, and that requires a scope, more high-end guns will often not have irons at all, but they do not come with a scope.  That is an additional purchase.  Expect a decent scope to cost at least as much as the rifle itself.  Sorry, but these are precision optical devices.
  • Threaded barrel. Probably not needed in this context.  A threaded barrel is required if you want to use a suppressor (silencer).  They are a lot of fun, but they cost more than the rifle.


CZ 457 Scout          Bolt action.


Savage MKII FVT Repeater          Bolt action.


Ruger 10/22          Semi-auto.



Smith & Wesson AR-15/22          Semi-auto.

All of these above come with iron sights, but have a rail for mounting a scope.

Top 10 Revolvers for Self-Defense

This is actually a landing page for a link to an external article of the same name, by another person.  It is a good article, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel, but I would like to add my own perspective.  I would change the order, drop one gun, and add one gun.  Here is my order:

Diary of a Gun Repair

Modern semi-automatic handguns are the result of well over 100 years of research and development.  Internal operating processes are well-defined, and seldom change.  The biggest differences between models are design, user features, and calibers.  Maintenance is fairly simple, and handguns often go for years without needing professional service.

The keyword there is “often”.  Sometimes, guns begin operating erratically, jamming, or misfiring.  We refer to these episodes as malfunctions.  These can be harder to diagnose than when a gun just stops working, which usually means something broke.  The problem is fairly obvious, and a part has to be replaced.  Malfunctions are a different issue, and might have multiple causes.

Keep in mind that a handgun is made up of three different types of materials:

  • Polymer.  While some guns are still made of all steel, most guns use a polymer material (similar to fiberglass) for the grip, trigger shoe, sights, and often magazines.  This is light weight, very strong, and seldom breaks.
  • Steel.  The slide, barrel, hammer (if used), almost every part inside the slide, and all linkages between the trigger and Fire Control Unit.  Wear and damage can occur to some parts, like the extractor, but that is somewhat rare.
  • Springs.  These do wear out, with time and use.  Many gun problems result from springs that have gotten weak.  The typical springs in a handgun, in descending order of failure rate, include: magazine springs, recoil spring, striker spring, trigger spring, slide catch spring, and safety plunger spring.

There are three types of malfunctions:

  1.  Failure to fire.  Sometimes user-error, forgetting to rack the slide.  Otherwise, either a defective primer (ammo problem), or a light primer strike (ammo or gun problem).  That is the subject of this article (this assumes that, when you press the trigger, the striker/firing pin moves forward, and pokes through the hole in the breech face.)
  2. Failure to extract.  After firing, the empty casing remains in the chamber, and causes a double-feed.  Usually an extractor problem.
  3. Failure to eject or feed.  Often user-error: bad grip, but can be the gun.  See notes below. 

Notes on Type 3 malfunctions: when these problems persist across different shooters, the problem often stems from inconsistency of dimensional specifications during manufacture, especially in regard to magazine lips, feed ramp, or transition from feed ramp-to-chamber.  How does that happen?  Modern CNC Laser cutting equipment is accurate to thousandths of an inch, but even the best equipment, used 24/7 for weeks on end, will get out of adjustment.  It costs money to stop the line every day for several hours to make those fine adjustments.  If they do it, anyway, the cost of the gun goes up.  As usual, you get what you pay for.  If they don’t do it on a timely schedule, that gun will have intermittent problems that can never be solved.

Finally, back to the subject, the Type 1  malfunction, Failure to Fire.

Among the several guns I use for teaching beginner pistol classes are a Glock 17 Gen 3 (9mm, full size, often carried by police) and a Glock 19 Gen 4 (9mm, compact size).  These are both police trade-ins.  They are a few years old, but in good shape.  The ammo I use (by the case) is from a small company in Idaho.  I have used it for years, and the quality has always been very good.  However, they went through a buy-out and reorganization about three years ago, and Quality Control (QC) seems to have suffered a little since then.  Duds (cartridges with defective primers) started showing up at a rate about 1% (a little high), and one cartridge showed up with bullet setback of .15 inch.  Oops!  I stopped using that brand for a few months, but then started back, as they ship quickly, and almost always have inventory.  Ever since the pandemic, most ammo manufacturers have had QC problems.  Within a month, I started seeing duds again, about 1-2 per box, but sometimes none.  I began to think that it might be the guns.  Since I had thought that these failures were all ammo-related, I had not made a note of which guns were affected.  I tested the ammo with two other guns.  They did not have a problem, but unless I shoot at least two boxes of ammo, that would not prove anything.  One new gun in particular, a Kimber, had never had a dud with this ammo.  I then shot some very good Remington with a Glock; no duds would likely mean it was the other ammo.  However, I had one failure.  That points to the gun, but not definitively.  Any brand can have a dud.

L. New, unfired cartridge
R. Dud.  Primer was struck, but failed to ignite

The proof is not 100%, but the evidence points to “light primer strikes”, and getting worse.  What to do?  The striker (firing pin) rides in a channel inside the slide, and pokes the pointed end through a hole and into the primer.  The possibilities include

  1.  a weak striker spring
  2. debris in the striker channel
  3. the point on the striker worn off by use (however, it is steel)

Replacing the striker spring would mean cleaning out the channel as well, so that takes care of two items.  I ordered two springs.  After cleaning the channels and replacing the striker springs on both guns, I test-fired both guns with the suspect ammo.  The G17 went 20 in a row, no issues.  The G19 went 25, with a failure at number 23.  Then I got a box of Remington UMC 9mm, very good, but a little pricey for bulk use.  The G19 went 33 in a row, no problems.  A few minutes later, using the bad ammo, it went 12, and failed at 13.  That cartridge was fired again, and worked, so the primer was not completely bad.  Remember that, with one dud per box, it might be the last one in the box, so none of this proves anything.  It still might be the ammo, but my Kimber has gone at least 150 rounds without a failure, so the gun is still a suspect.  The next step: replace the striker.

A few days later, a new striker came in the mail, with another new spring (it was a set).  Since I now have an extra striker spring, I will put one in my Glock 23; it can’t hurt.  Now, it is time to test the G19 again.  Using the Remington UMC ammo, it went 15 in a row, no failures.  Back to the suspect ammo.  The very first round failed, along with three others in the first 40 rounds.  I switch to the Kimber pistol, using the same suspect ammo, and it runs 20 straight with no failures.  However, remember that this ammo has several times gone 20-30 rounds in a row with no failures.  Remember, too, that in almost every case, when a round has failed to ignite the first time, it has worked the second time.  That proves that the primers are not defective, per se, although they might be set too deeply in the pocket.

Time to analyze the results.
The most likely answer is that, in 2-8% of the cartridges, the primer is either set too deeply in the pocket, or is the wrong type of primer for this loading.  Why does the Kimber always work?  It is likely that, being a more expensive gun, they designed it to have a stronger spring than necessary, to allow a larger margin for variance in ammo quality.

Final Test.
After yet another inspection of the channel, and manual testing of striker action, I go to the range with three boxes of ammo:

  • Remington UMC, a very high quality commercial brand.
  • Blazer, a budget brand made by a major company, CCI.
  • The suspect brand, but a different lot number (an important difference).

Using the Glock 19, I shot the following strings:

  1.  Remington, 25 shots, no failures
  2. Blazer, 25 shots, no failures
  3.  Suspect brand, 50 shots, 1 failure
  4.  Using the Kimber and the known bad lot number, 25 shots, still no failures

My deduction now, is that probably all the guns needed was a change in ammo.  Refreshing the striker springs was a good thing, and well worth the little they cost, but nothing else was critically necessary.  In the bad lot of ammo, about 5% of the primers exceeded acceptable specs for installation.  The Kimber simply has a wider tolerance than the Glocks.  As usual, the simplest answer appears to be the best.








Pistol Safeties

While all handguns have various safety features built-in, the ones on a revolver do not require the user to do anything, so we will only discuss semi-automatics in this paper.  Safety devices fall into five groups, with every semi-automatic having at least one of these features, and sometimes several.  Two of them require no action from the user, but will be included here so you have a more complete view of the features.  Please not that, as a safety protocol, you should never count on a safety working.  Failure of a safety device is extremely rare, but anything mechanical can break.  Never trust a gun, except in a combat situation, where you have no choice.  In this paper, I will use the term “True Safety”, meaning that a 3 year old child would be stopped from firing the gun.

  1.  Firing Pin Safety Block. Entirely internal, this feature makes it impossible for a gun to fire until the trigger is moved.  Almost all handguns have this feature.  NOT a True Safety.

  2.  Drop Safety. While all handguns have this feature, there are several ways to implement it.  Some are internal, and invisible to the user.  On some guns, it appears as a small blade inside the trigger.  It must be pressed as the trigger is pressed.  The blade does not have enough mass to be moved by the kinetic force of dropping the gun.  NOT a True Safety.



  1.  Thumb Safety (AKA Frame Safety). A lever mounted on the left rear corner of the slide or the frame.  Usually, up is engaged (on), and down is disengaged (off).  The user swipes down with the dominant thumb as he/she presents the weapon.  Ambidextrous guns will have this lever on both sides, for lefties.  True Safety, probably.


  1.  Decocker. This device looks like a thumb safety, but acts (on hammer-fired models only) to safely drop the hammer.  There are two types, which are quite different.

      Decocker only. After the hammer is dropped, the gun can still be fired, but    with a much heavier trigger weight.  Not quite a True Safety, but an impediment for a child.
      Decocker + Safety. After the hammer is dropped, the safety is automatically engaged, so the gun cannot be fired without first disengaging the safety.  True Safety.

Guns with decockers, though uncommon, are harder to understand and use than other types of guns.  Police never use these.

  1. Grip Safety. A spring-loaded lever on the back of the grip, this safety is engaged by default, and is disengaged by the action of acquiring a proper grip on the gun.  Dropping the gun automatically puts it back in safe mode.  This was developed in 1910, and has been used for 112 years on the “1911” pistol.  Smith & Wesson and Springfield Armory use it on some models, but it is still fairly uncommon.  A True Safety, unless a child figures out how it works.

The pistol above has both a drop safety and a grip safety, which are redundant.  Marketing.

This pistol has both a thumb safety and a grip safety.

Confused yet?  Keep reading.

Hammer-fired guns (old school) have more sensitive triggers, so they will always have a thumb safety or decocker, and sometimes both.

Striker-fired guns cannot have a decocker, and seldom have a thumb safety.  That is considered optional, for these reasons:

  1.  Striker-fired guns are harder to fire by accident, as cocking of the mechanism is not complete until the trigger is moved.
  2.  Gun safety is not the responsibility of the gun, but of the user. Your only true safety is your training.  Anything else is a dangerous crutch.
  3.  Police never carry guns with safeties. There is a reason.  Simpler guns are easier to use in a crisis.  Your brain works faster than your thumb.

Notes on Caliber Prefixes

For historical reasons, many caliber designations are followed by a suffix that positively identifies with specificity the size of that ammunition.  Remember that the beginning of the caliber name (9mm, .45) only indicates the diameter of the bullet, not the length of the cartridge.  After all, the AR-15 fires the same size bullet as a .22 pistol, but many times faster.

ACP = Automatic Colt Pistol
MAG = Magnum (high power)
S&W = Smith & Wesson (developer of that caliber)
SIG = SIG Sauer (developer of that caliber)
SPL = Special
LC  = Long Colt
LR  = Long Rifle (.22 LR is also used in pistols; it is a standard)

While there are limited exceptions with revolvers, semi-automatic handguns never fire more than one specific caliber, so it is important to get this right.

Example: .357 Mag is not the same as .357 SIG.

In many cases, you have no options: the most common revolver caliber is .38 SPL.  You can no longer easily find any .38 ammo that is not Special, so you have only that choice.  However, in 1898, most revolvers fired a weak cartridge called .38 Short.  With further development, that was followed by .38 Long, and finally .38 Special.  That has been the standard for about 80 years, and is unlikely to ever change.  There are people who collect, and shoot, historical weapons, so there are companies that make obsolete ammo for those people.  A Google search for “.38 Short ammo” returned 396,000 results.  While it is unlikely you would find any .38 Short in a gun store, it is possible, so looking for the designation “.38 Special” simply gives you confidence that you have the correct ammo.

If you have a .45 semi-automatic, that ammo will be described as .45 ACP.  Don’t confuse it with .45 LC (AKA .45 Colt).  That is used in cowboy-style single action revolvers.

If you have a .380 pistol, this is simpler.  Or is it?  I’m not aware of any type of cartridge for the .380 that is not marked “.380 ACP”, except that European ammo for this 9×17 cartridge will often use terms like “9mm Browning” or “9mm Kurz”.  I once used a dealer to transfer an old  pistol marked “9mm Browning”, and the clerk didn’t know that it was actually a Czech .380.

Speaking of the famous 9mm, there are at least 9 cartridges extant that can be called 9mm.  The standard throughout the world is 9mm Luger (also described as 9×19), but there are minor variations like 9mm Makarov (9×18), 9mm Ultra, 9mm Police, 9mm Browning (9×17), 9mm Steyr, 9m Largo, and others.  Some of these are aliases for what we know as the .380, and some are obsolete.  If you have a 9mm handgun that is less than 30 years old, it will be a 9mm Luger, and it should be marked “9×19”.

Clear as mud?  Sorry.  Obsolete firearms and ammo never go away, they just fall out of favor.  If you are new to shooting, you should not be fooling with 80 year old firearms until you are certain what ammo it uses.  However, if your gun is less than 30 years old, there should be no problem at all.  Terms like .22, .380, .38, 9mm, .40, and .45 are very standardized now.  If in doubt, research, or ask.

Optical Aiming Systems

Actually, that should say “Aiming Systems for Pistols”, but if you followed a link to get here, you are expecting to read about optics.  Technically, not all aiming options for handguns are optical, but more on that later.

Ten years ago, it was rare to see any kind of sights on a pistol besides the built-in ones, called “iron-sights” (no, they are not made of iron, and haven’t been for a very long time. Sorry.)  These days, not only is it not rare to see a handgun with alternative sights on it, more and more models are coming with them pre-installed.  New gun owners are often confused by this proliferation, and sometimes make mistakes in choosing a gun, so I thought it was time to write a post about this new paradigm.

First, let’s define what we are talking about.  All handguns have built-in sights.  Most rifles do as well, but not all, as it is often assumed that the owner will install another option.  It is worth noting that we won WWII with iron sights, and old-school riflemen often think optics are for weenies, but I digress.  The types of sighting systems (besides iron sights), in chronological order, include Telescopic, Laser, and Electronic.

As the name implies, this is a tube containing magnifying lenses that magnify the target.  Extremely common on rifles (hunting and target shooting), these are seldom seen on handguns.  When they are, they are usually special-purpose guns, used for hunting or target shooting.  The magnification varies from 1-4 power up to 9-12 power or above.  The greater the magnification, the greater the cost.  Inexpensive ones will often leak, and allow moisture inside.  That will fog the lens, and ruin the scope.


This is a device installed on a gun, that projects a beam of light out to the target.  Ten years ago, this was the hot ticket.  Some guns came with them from the factory, but the Crimson Trace company pioneered the process of adding laser capability to almost any handgun.  These are not as common now, although every crime-drama on TV uses the imagery of someone realizing there is a red dot on their chest, from a sniper on top of a building 300 yards away.  It is good TV, but lacks some realism.  In the real world, lasers have to be zeroed for the distance used, and, when used on a pistol, the red dot often can’t be seen further away than 25 feet, and never in daylight.  Another problem is that shooters have to focus their vision on the target, not the gun, so it is like driving a car by remote control.  It is harder than it looks, and is of questionable value for a new shooter, as they never learn to use their sights.  When the battery goes dead (which it will), you are stuck.

These are, today, the most prolific types of non-iron-sight sighting devices in use on pistols.  They are also often used on defensive rifles, though not as much for hunting or target shooting.  As the name implies, these are, like lasers, battery-powered.  Electronic sights fall into two categories: red-dots and holographic sights.  Both types have to be turned on and off.

  • Red-dot
    Similar in appearance to a very short telescopic scope, these devices do not magnify, and do not project anything to the target.  You look through them, and a red dot is superimposed on an image of the target inside the device.  It takes less battery power, the dot is visible day or night, and at any distance.  Note that for people with cataracts or astigmatism, the dot may look like a star-burst, and not be precise.

Don’t confuse the red-dot with a laser, which projects a red beam through space to the target.

  • Holographic sights
    These are known by several names: reflex sights, RMR sights, and red-dots.  They have a different appearance, although they do a similar job.  The difference is that the image superimposed on the target will be a 3-dimensional object, like a dot in a circle, or a reticle.  Having depth to it, it is less affected by vision abnormalities.  These are more expensive than other types of optics for handguns.


Installation issues
Lasers, if they are aftermarket, are often attached to the grips, and activated by either an on-off switch, or a button under the middle finger.  Scopes and traditional red-dots are usually fastened to a mounting rail on top of the gun.  .22 pistols, and most rifles, often come with a rail, or have provision to easily add a rail.  Note that these kinds of guns do not have a slide that cycles, as red-dots are heavier, and would be thrown off after a few shots.  Holographic sights are lighter, have a lower center of gravity, and are attached by machine screws, to withstand the violent forces of a cycling slide (on handguns).  These require that the slide be machined to accept a mounting plate, on which the sight is mounted.  If the handgun comes to you Optics Ready (OR), the slide will be machined already, and a cover plate installed.  Here is the catch: the slide cut on the pistol has to match the mounting plate, which has to match the optic.  There are at least three different standards, so make sure you have a plate that fits the slide underneath, and the optic on top.  If you want to install a holographic sight on a pistol that does not have the slide machined, there are services that will do that work for you.  Buy the optic first, so the shop can make the cut to match the plate.

Co-witness sights
When an optic is set up to co-witness, that means that you can see both iron sights through the optic.  You would not actually use both options, but if your battery is dead (very common), you still have a way to use the gun in a crisis.  Sometimes the rear sight has to be removed to install the optic.  In many cases, the iron sights are too short to see through the optic.  Sometimes, the iron sights can be replaced with taller sights to fix this problem, sometimes not.  If you want this type of optic, it is probably worth the money to buy a gun with the optic installed at the factory, with the understanding that the iron sights will co-witness.

Battery issues
The top makes of modern holographic sights have very long battery life, sometimes a year.  You will still lose track of it, unless you make a note on your calendar.  In any event, if the optic has to be manually turned on, and you are in a crisis, you are hosed, unless your sights co-witness (and you have practiced that way).  There are some optics now that contain motion sensors, and will turn on as soon as the gun is moved, and will shut down automatically after the gun is still for a time.  For a gun destined for self-defense duty, this feature is not optional.

Training issues
The process of quickly acquiring a sight picture, firing, and follow-through, is quite different with any type of electronic sight versus iron sights.  They can be a benefit in slow fire, but a drawback in rapid target acquisition, or in target transitions.  For many of the reasons listed in this article, I don’t recommend any of these options for a self defense gun, especially considering that self defense usually happens at 5 yards or less.  There is a law of diminishing returns.  Pushing your defensive skills out to 10-15 yards with stock sights is not that hard, with the right fundamentals, the right training, and practice.

However, electronic sights are fun to use, and are very useful for target shooting.  Within a few years, I expect that most semi-automatic handguns will come from the factory with slide cuts and cover plates.  It will then be up to you to decide if those devices fit your needs.



AR-15 Pistol

A Viable Home Defense Option?

In the last few years, an unusual variant of “pistol” has developed, the AR-15 Pistol.  This is a very short version of an AR-15 rifle, often called a Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) (and incorrectly called an Assault Rifle).  The pistol variant is shorter, and is distinct in having an arm brace.  By slipping your forearm through the brace, this gun can be fired by one hand, which is what makes it, legally, a pistol.

Really, a pistol?  Not what I call a pistol.  Here is the catch.  The ATF defines a pistol as any firearm that is designed to be fired one-handed, AND is not designed to be fired from the shoulder.  That doesn’t mean it can’t be.

A rifle, on the other hand, IS designed to be fired from the shoulder.  However, a rifle has to have a barrel at least 16 inches long, and have an overall length of 26 inches.  Any rifle shorter than that is designated a “Short Barrelled Rifle” (SBR).  SBRs are restricted by the terms of the National Firearms Act of 1934, the same as machine guns and suppressors.  NFA items are legal, but require a lot of paperwork, a $200.00 tax stamp, and an approval wait time of typically 8-12 months.

So, what is this thing, and why do I care?  It is a device that gets you around the SBR loophole in the law.  In the image above, the shooter is using the arm brace (which is shaped like a stock) as a stock, which is perfectly legal.  If he takes off or modifies the arm brace, he is now in violation of Federal law.

Think of this as a large capacity, easy to shoot, home defense rifle, adapted to an urban environment.  Easy storage, and easy to manipulate through rooms and doorways.  With a scope installed, it could even be used for hunting, or as a bug-out gun.  Besides the normal rifle calibers (.223, 5.56, .308, .300 Blackout), they are also made in pistol calibers like 9mm.  Some versions even take Glock magazines, and Glock makes a 31 round mag.

So there you have it, another option for home defense.

2020 Ammo Shortage

The date today is Aug 9, 2020.  We are in the midst of a critical nationwide ammo shortage, and industry insiders predict it will last 6-12 months.  To the extent that you can find ammo (availability varies by caliber), prices are at least double what they were last January.

The reasons are complex, but involve a perfect storm of circumstances: a pandemic leading to civil unrest and uncertainty about the future, and then race riots (hijacked by Communists) in places like Portland, Seattle, New York, and other cities.  There are millions of new gun owners now, and hoarding of ammo.   Besides the insane demand from the public, manufacturers have long-standing contracts from Federal, State, and local law enforcement, plus the U.S. military.  The major manufacturers (Federal, Speer, Magtech, Hornady, CCI, Remington, and others) are already running 3 shifts, and making ammo around the clock.  They can’t increase production.  The smaller companies (Freedom, Defender, Black Hills, etc.) can increase, but that would still be a drop in the bucket.

What to do?  It is still possible to get ammo, but it will take time, patience, and money.  The time is past for you to stop by Cabela’s or Walmart and grab a few boxes of ammo.  It will likely be a year before that comes back.  Here are some suggestions:

  1.  Go to a gun show.  Those are starting up again, and there will likely be some vendors there with ammo, although there may be quantity restrictions.
  2.  Go to a gun range.  They buy ammo in large quantity, as they cannot operate without it.  They will not sell it out the door; you have to be using their range to shoot.  Check in, and buy whatever amount they will sell you, probably 1-2 boxes.  It will cost you whatever it costs to shoot there, plus the ammo.  If you have a membership where you can shoot for free, there is no overhead, and you usually get a discount on the ammo.
  3.  Use these websites:  ammoseek.com and ammobuy.com.  These are search engines for ammo, and display the current inventory of about 75 online retailers.  They are updated several times each day.  That is the best way to get ammo (but expensive), but you may have to check them for several days to find a price you can live with, and it will often take 3-10 days to get it. 

At this time, you can’t be too choosy about brand names; take what you can get.  Right now, the best prices are on Russian ammo (Tula, Wolf, Barnaul).  Lesser-grade ammo is not dangerous, it just may not be as accurate, and may include a dud now and then.  It is what it is.

In terms of calibers, it appears that .380 ACP is completely gone, except at unbelievable prices.  All other calibers appear to be available, at inflated prices.  The most popular ammo in the world, 9mm, is in short supply, but because they make so much of it, it is being restocked, but at very high prices.  It will get higher before it gets lower, so you should buy as much as you can afford, ASAP.  Besides range ammo, don’t forget some hollow point.



Fine-tuning Your Handgun

Many people think that learning proficiency with a handgun is as simple as

  • buy a gun
  • buy some ammo
  • start shooting

While that will work, up to a point, the optimal accuracy is achieved by fine-tuning the performance of your gun.  This will almost always involve ammo choices, and may involve upgrades to the gun itself. Let me discuss those in a little more detail.

Choosing the right ammo for your gun is very effective, and very easy, although a little tedious.  A semi-auto only fires whatever caliber it is designed for, so you don’t have any choices there, but those cartridges come with bullets of different weights (usually at the same cost).  Depending on your gun, the caliber, and the length of the barrel, different weight bullets can have a significant impact on accuracy. Here is how you can resolve that issue:

I will explain the process for a 9mm handgun, but it would be similar for other calibers.  9mm ammo comes in bullet weights of 115 grain, 124, and 147.  Grain does not refer to gunpowder, but is a unit of weight.  A heavier bullet will typically travel slower, and a lighter bullet faster. A lighter bullet will often wobble or tumble in flight, which has an effect on accuracy, while heavier bullets tend to stabilize better.  Buy one box of each bullet weight.  If they can be the same brand, that is a plus, but not required.  Use a target with multiple circles or bullseyes, set out to 10 yards.  With your hands resting on a bench or sandbag, fire 3 shots of each weight, using a different circle/bullseye for each group of 3.  Take your time, and get the best group you can.  Repeat the process, but make sure you know which ones are which.  By this time, you should be able to tell which bullet weight works best for your gun.  Note that self-defense (HP) ammo does not usually come in multiple weights, so this process would involve different brands.

Upgrades to the gun may involve sights, grips, triggers, or other internals.  Some of these are relatively easy, and some more complicated, so I will discuss them in the order of increasing difficulty/expense.

Grips.  Some guns have easily replaceable grip panels or backstraps.  Changes here can have a small effect on accuracy, as the guns will fit your hand better, and you may have better recoil management.  A more common and serious problem is when you cannot get your little finger on to the grip.  In that case, you can buy magazine base plates that extend the magazine further down, to solve that problem.  It is very important that you can get your little finger on the grip.

Sights.  Most non-competition pistols do not have sights that are adjustable for elevation.  If you really need that, there are aftermarket sights available.  Usually, the only adjustment you might need is windage.  The rear sights can be moved (not easily) with a drift punch, or easily with a sight-mover tool.  Even if the sights are correct, everyone’s eyes are different, so if you consistently shoot a little left (or right) (and this is not a flinching issue), adjust the sights so that you can consistently shoot to Point-of-Aim (POI).

Other internals.  Every time you clean your gun, you have to remove the guide rod and recoil spring.  If the guide rod is plastic, replace it with stainless steel.  That keeps the parts from moving laterally during cycling, and will make a huge improvement in accuracy.  If the guide rod and spring are one unit, it is easier to replace the whole thing.  This is especially an issue with Glocks.  In addition, replacing the safety plunger with one that is chrome-plated will remove some friction from the system, and help the trigger action (and accuracy) slightly.  The difficulty of doing this depends on your make of pistol, but there are many videos available to help.

Triggers.  Most semi-autos under $1000.00 have mediocre triggers, but these can be improved considerably.  There are trigger kits available for most popular makes of pistol, like the Apex Tactical kit ($150+).  These are quite easy to install on Glocks, but often a little trickier on other makes.  The kit manufacturers will have videos available to help you.  Some of these kits will include a new connector and safety plunger (referenced above), and will reduce the trigger pull by 1-2 lbs.  This helps accuracy a good bit, because you are not having to pop the trigger to get it over the break.

NOTE: if you take any actions resulting in a “hair-trigger”, that could be viewed as reckless in a legal setting, like a jury trial.

Attention to ammo choice and some other features of your gun can make a big difference in baseline accuracy.  Don’t forget to practice!