Thursday, November 17, 2016

It’s the Little Things

Many times it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in the way we shoot.  I had a customer call me the other day and said the custom rifle he had bought from us would not shoot.  I asked him what he was doing and what type of ammo he was shooting through the rifle.  He told me that he had a gun shop mount his scope, they also sold him a lead sled and what they considered very good ammo. He wanted to return the rifle to have us check it out and figure out what we had done wrong.

We had shot the gun before we shipped it to the customer and knew it had shot very well.  However some things can happen in shipping or maybe we didn’t tighten a stock screw before it left.  When the rifle came in I took one look at it and started to laugh.  The “quality” scope was a $200 Japanese scope with “made in China” stamped on it.  The big box store who sold him the scope and had mounted it, had replaced the Talley Ultra-Light rings we had included on the rifle originally with a $15 dollar set of Tasco rings and not one of the screws had been torqued down or even tightened.  The scope was set at about a 10 degree angle from being straight and you could see where it has slipped in the rings from shooting.  Now, we never recommend shooting our rifles in a lead sled, they put pressure on the forend of the stock which changes the harmonics.  I don’t think you are going to take a shooting bench or a vice when you are out hunting, so we always shoot the gun off sand bags with it against your shoulder like you would in a hunting situation.  You could see marks on the stock where the vice had tried to hold the stock in place.

We mounted his $200 Japanese scope correctly in a set of good Talley Ultra-Light rings.  We made sure the scope was straight and perpendicular with the bore of the rifle.  If you don’t do this, your bullet will not only be dropping straight down but it will also be dropping to the side.  With a 400 yard shot, the bullet can drop 30 inches and be right 15 inches without any wind effect.  If a scope is loose in the rings, it can jump forward with every shot, then your groups will definitely open up.  With a minimal .002” slip on a scope, the rifle will give you 2 inch groups at 100 yards!
 With the scope mounted straight and tight we took his rifle back to the range and shot it at 100 yards.  The scope had very heavy cross-hairs and no parallax adjustment but we were still able to shoot .650” groups with the rifle.  Now this is not as good as when we shot the rifle before but when we shot the gun we had used a good 12 power target scope with good ammo which was built for this particular rifle. 

There are so many little things that can make a rifle shoot better and don’t cost a great deal of money.  First and foremost is to use good scope mounts.  A good set of rings make a big difference in knowing the scope will not slip or come loose when shooting.  Second, make sure the scope is mounted correctly and aligned with the axis of the rifle.  If you never shoot past 100 yards then you will never know the difference, but if you plan on shooting long distance then you will need to have a straight scope.  Make sure the base screws are torqued with a little Lok-Tite to the receiver.  If a base screw comes loose or breaks, your shots will be erratic.  You might get 2 or 3 shots together then have a flyer or your shots will start walking on you when you shoot.  Having a loose or broken base screw can be hard to find and many times you have to remove and remount the scope before you know what is going wrong.  Make sure the stock screws are snug.  A loose stock screw can cause you to shoot bad groups.  On a big caliber rifle which kicks hard, a loose stock screw can cause the action to slip in the stock and break a nice piece of wood.  Make sure the rifle is not too long for you and that the eye relief is set right for you.  If you are having to push your head forward to see clearly in the scope that either the rifle is too long or the scope is mounted too far forward.  If you have to stretch your head to see every time, your eye won’t be in the same place every time, so your groups will change with every shot.  Now we have just been talking about the scope, there are many other little things which make a big difference.

A good crisp trigger will make you a better shooter.  If you have to concentrate on the trigger pull then you are not thinking about the cross-hairs or where the bullet needs to go.  A clean gun will shoot better than a dirty gun.  If a bullet has to push copper or brass out of its way as it goes down the barrel then it will shoot different as the brass and copper build up.  Take the time to break in your barrel.  If you will take an hour or two when you first get your new gun with shooting and cleaning after every shot for 10 to 20 shots, then your rifle will shoot better in the long run.  Shoot good ammo and find out what your rifle likes.  Even a good custom gun will be particular about types of ammo and bullet weights.  You need to try several brands and weights to find what really shoots well in your gun.  Last, take time to practice at the range.  Don’t just shoot off a bench.  Simulate as closely as you can, a real hunting scenario.  Try shooting off hand or off a bipod or shooting sticks.  One of the best experiences for someone who wants to take shooting to the next level would be to go to one of the long range shooting camps here in Texas.  One of my favorites is the FTW SAAM course in Barksdale.  Their instructors are former Navy Seals who really know their stuff when it comes to guns and shooting.  It’s a fun experience and you come away with a new appreciation of what shooting is all about.  And finally, the more practice you get, the better chance you will have when you have to make that once in a life time shot.  The rifle and scope can’t do it all.  The person behind the trigger has to be just as capable.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gun Finishing . . . Then and Now

Seventy-five years ago the only type of gun refinishing we had was bluing and nickel plating.  But a lot has changed since then.  Gun bluing is not what most shooters think it is.  Bluing is not a coating or even plating, bluing is a controlled rust process.  Yep, that is right, a controlled rust metal finish process!  In my opinion, nothing looks better than a bright blue finish job, but how can rust be so darn pretty.  Bluing is all about the prep work.  The cleaner and shinier you make the metal before it is goes into the hot tank to start the rust, the better the finished product will look.  It takes many hours of polishing on the barrel and receiver to get a good quality blue job.  About the time of World War I, the military needed a finish that was fast to put on and corrosion resistant to the elements.  This is when phosphate was invented and used as a metal finish - better known as Parkerizing!  Parkerizing is a heated chemical reaction between the metal and the chemical bath in the tank.  The chemical will leave small deposits on the metal, which will protect it from the elements.  Most Parkerizing is either Zinc (old school) or magnesium phosphate.  The old gray color found on early WWI or WWII guns is Zinc Phosphate.  Magnesium is a more modern chemical which protects better and gives a better looking black color found on newer guns like AR15’s or M1A’s.  Parkerizing has been in use for a long time.  It works well at stopping rust on your guns and it looks OK.  Parkerizing is easy to install and takes little prep work to get a good finish on the metal.  But there is a much better and more versatile looking finish on the market for shooters to try today.

Teflon and Ceramic coatings are two of the most interesting metal finishes on the market today.  About 25 years ago, I saw Teflon being used on oil field pipe to keep it from rusting and galling.  Within a year I was applying Teflon on guns.  Teflon is high-grade paint with PTFE (polyterafluoroethylene) added and in some cases Moly is also added.  PTFE is one of the slickest and most corrosion resistant chemicals known to man.  If PTFE will hold up to the high pressure and salt water of offshore drilling, then it will hold up to nearly all types of abuse that shooters can do to a firearm.  Teflon is a spray on, baked on finish.  The gun will need to have all the old finish removed, which is done by sandblasting or polishing.  Then the metal is cleaned, heated and sprayed with the Teflon in the color you desire.  The final step in coating guns with Teflon is the baking process.  All metal parts need to be baked at approximately 450 degrees for about 30 minutes.  This baking process will bond the suspended PTFE and moly to the metal. The baking process makes the paint dry and become slick.  One of the great things about a Teflon coating is that it is high-grade paint and you can pick most any color you want.  The only thing that could keep a customer from having a yellow slide with a pink frame and orange parts on his favorite .45 would be the cost.  Teflon is not cheap; a gallon of Teflon in black will cost about $450.  It also takes someone who knows a lot about spraying metal coatings to be able to do a quality job.  Last, you need a good vented oven to cure the product in; without the curing, the paint never dries.  Most gunsmiths who do this type of finishing will have 3 to 5 different colors to choose from.  My company keeps about 10 different colors in Teflon, and for the discriminating customer who has to have the orange and black .45, we will custom order colors for them.  Another good thing about Teflon that it is so slick, parts will not gall.  You can’t make it rust or corrode either!  But Teflon will scratch or can be blown off parts like the rifle muzzle or a revolver cylinder.  With a little care most shooters never have a problem with Teflon coatings. The usual cost of having a gun Teflon coated will run from two hundred dollars up to four hundred dollars.

For the shooter or hunter who likes to drag his gun on the ground and over rocks there is Cera-Coat or better known as ceramic coating.  Cera-Coat is another super paint, which has Moly PTFE and ceramic particles embedded in the paint.  Ceramic coatings are applied to guns similar to Teflon but require a much longer heating and curing time.  Once ceramic coating is applied to a gun, it is almost impossible to scratch the surface.  For a Police Officer who has his handgun in a holster for 20 hours a day, ceramic coating is for you.  If you are real hard on you firearms or use them in a professional way, you should take a look at having them ceramic coated.  Cera-Coat comes in several colors, but the product price is very expensive.   Cera-Coat like Teflon is slick, corrosion resistant and tough as nails.  To have a gun ceramic coated will cost from $250 to over $500 depending on the type of firearm and how fancy you want the print job to be.
In the future you may see finishes using Silver Phosphate or even Titanium Nitrate, it would be cool to have a golden gun.  For now, with all the new finishes on the market, you have to decide whether to have your gun blued in the traditional way or to have one of the new paint type coatings applied to the gun.  Then of course, you have to decide do I paint my gun pink or not?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Back To The Fun of Shooting

During the month of May - 2010, I was in Alberta Canada hunting Black Bear.  Now I am not going to tell you a story about there being 50,000 Bear in this one Area of Canada.  I’m not going to tell you about all of the Bear in the different color phases (blonde, chocolate or cinnamon) that I saw.  I’m not going to tell you about having Bear trying to climb up the same tree I was sitting in.  I’m going to talk about all the fun we had shooting 22’s every morning before the afternoon Bear hunt.

When I was a kid, I thought the most fun in the whole world was to go out and shoot either Rabbits or Varmints.  Back in those days, Deer hunting was for the meat. If I was able to shoot a nice Mule deer, we had a supply of meat for the winter.  The deer hunting season was short, just two weeks and when that was over, most hunters would put away their 30-30 or 30-06 rifles until the following year.  After the season ended, I was always looking for a way to be able to go shooting.  I knew of areas in the woods where plenty of rabbits and squirrels hung out.  I also knew of several great areas in the plains, where the farmers wanted you to come out and shoot prairie dogs and ground squirrels.  If I was lucky where the prairie dogs were, you could find an occasional coyote, and there was a two dollar bounty on coyote.  If I could happen to get two or three coyotes I could pay for my weekend of shooting.

I had a good 22 rifle which my mom had bought for me and it was great for rabbits and squirrels, but anything out beyond 100 yards was pretty safe.  The coyotes seemed to know my range and would hover about 150 yards away picking up the ground squirrels I had shot.  I needed more rifle and a longer range gun.  I decided to build my first wildcat caliber and selected the 17 Ackley Mag.  Now this rifle was great, it would vaporize the prairie dogs and ground squirrels out to 400 yards and the coyotes never had a chance.  There were a few problems with this caliber though.  First, if you shot anything that you wanted to keep and eat, forget it, there was not enough good meat left to make a sandwich.  Second, the barrel fouled or got dirty after about 15 shots.  So I would have to clean it before the accuracy would come back.  Third, it took special cleaning tools to clean a 17 caliber rifle. The cleaning rods were so small in diameter that I was always bending the cleaning rod and that would end my shooting for the day or weekend. The last problem was finding quality 17 caliber bullets.  All of the ammo I shot, I had to make and finding the bullets was getting harder and more expensive all the time. 

The next rifle I started shooting was a 22-250 which I borrowed from a friend.  This rifle was the perfect answer for my weekend prairie dog shooting.  I could hit dogs out to 400 plus yards and could hit a walking coyote beyond 300 yards.  I could shoot 40 or 50 times before I had to clean the bore and ammo was easy to make or I could even buy factory ammo if I had to. On a good weekend, I could make money with this rifle by shooting 4 or 5 coyote.  My normal weekend shooting would be to take out my 3 favorite rifles and set up above a dog town and blast away with the 22 at the close targets.  Later when the ground squirrels would get smart and not come out at 75 or 80 yards, then the big guns would come out and I could shoot 200 rounds of ammo in a good day.  The coyotes were curious about the shooting and wanted to get a free lunch and would come around to see what they could snatch up.  Any coyote that would stop for more than 5 or 6 seconds would be mine.  I soon learned how to shoot the smart ones that would never stop and just slow to a walk.  I would try a few running shots but that was just a waste of good ammo.

I started remembering all the fun I had when I was a kid on the first morning after arriving in Bear camp.  One of the other hunters asked me if I had ever shot ground squirrels.  I told him I had, but it was a long time ago.  He said he and his wife were going out to shoot some and asked if I wanted to go.  He armed me with a bull barreled 22 with a very old 4 power scope and we hopped into a Suzuki 4 wheel drive and headed out.  We didn’t have to drive far before seeing all of the holes in the farmer’s fields.  There must have been thousands of ground squirrels in this area.  The squirrels had done so much damage there was no way you could ride a horse in these fields.  I was surprised that the cows had not broken any legs in the holes.  The sun came out and the squirrels started popping out of their holes.  I became a kid again.  Any squirrel out to 75 yards would never make another hole in the ground.  We had 2 rifles so we would take turns with 2 shooters and one driver. Between breakfast and lunch we could easily rack up 100 or more ground squirrels.  

We would hunt bear in the afternoon.  From four to about ten every afternoon you would sit in a tree and count the bears coming into the bait.  I was lucky enough to shoot a very nice cinnamon colored black bear on the third day of a six day hunt. 

After I shot my bear, I had to do some filming to finish up a TV show, but as soon as I was done I was out in the fields shooting ground squirrels.  On the last day of the hunt, I spent the whole day blasting away with the 22 and had managed to shoot up 400 rounds of the outfitters ammo.  I had 5 bullets left when I noticed a lone coyote coming in at a trot.  He had his eye on a new calf that had been born that morning.  As he closed the distance on the calf, I set up rock steady on the hood of the Suzuki.  The coyote made a fatal mistake; he stopped at about 80 yards and looked straight at me.  Well, he never bothered the new born calf.

There are some great calibers for Varmint shooting.  I would lump them in to three categories short range, medium range and long range.  For short range shooting nothing beats a good 22 LR.  A 22 Mag or 17 HMR are just as good, but cost a bit more to shoot.  For middle range shooting out to 300 yards I like a 223 Rem.  A 222 Rem. or 17 Rem. or even a 6x45 work good but again 300 rounds of daily shooting can cost a lot more.  For long range shooting beyond 350 yards I think the 22-250 is King.  I also like the 220 Swift or even a 243 Rem. or a custom built 6mm-284 would be great for super long 600 plus yards.  None of these rifles are cheap to shoot, but if you want consistent kills at 400 or 600 yards you need a fast, flat shooting rifle.