Saturday, August 23, 2008

Simplicity and Elegance... Who Knew?

To complete the title thought... well, I should have. As many of you folks are undoubtedly aware by now, I am into the gun-thing. Specifically, hopping up the Ruger 10/22 has been my thing for a number of years. In a world full of thousands of custom parts and hundreds of forums to discuss how things need to work, the 10/22 is the perfect entry point into the DIY world of customization. Given all that, a funny thing happened at the range the other day and we can mark it as a seminal moment in my way of thinking about rifle function, firearms and artistry.

(This story is windy so if you need to skip around, no worries)

I had the Ghost at the range the other day. The optics were replaced and I wanted to get it out and get some range time and see if a better scope helped with the long range stuff I was doing. I had the damnedest time with that rifle. At 25 yards she'll cut a sub-dime sized hole, no sweat. When I move to the 100 yard line I can consistently (consistently) powder small chunks of clay pigeon with a single shot. When I point the thing at a target at that range I am all over the place and I honestly can't figure out why. By comparison, the Black squirrel rifle (green TS barrel, weaver scope, special single stage trigger work by me, etc.) will shoot like a house of fire. I have not printed it at 100 yards but at 25, I never seem to miss with it. I would be more that willing to blame my shooting if it were a consistent issue.

Anyhow, as I was working on the line, scratching my head and wondering why everyone loves KIDD triggers so much (because mine is just not that great. It may be me though so I am giving it a fair shake...) and trying to figure out a patern to what my rifle was doing, an older guy I've never seen there before arrived and started to set up. In listenting I heard that he had forgotten his rest. I always pack some extra stuff and had two sand bags to loan so I did. This is to me is not a big deal. I mean, sandbags are just that and replaceable as hell.

Anyhow, as I go back to what I am doing and the rifle continues to just piss me off because of how much money is in my hands and how badly it is doing its job, I notice that the old guy is not shooting just any rifle and I am unable to ID what it is that he has but I am sure it costs some heavy dollars. A single shot falling block rifle with bluing that seems to be endlessly deep, well figured and really well finished walnut fore and aft and on the lever for the action, a double set trigger.... and topping the damned thing is a 20x Unertilt scope from about 1920. (I did not know that at the time. All I knew was any scope I had ever seen that looked like that and worked was about $1200 and this one was spotless...) I continue plunking away and keeping most of my shots on the paper... then we pause so everyone can freshen targets, etc.

When we return, I decide to clean the rifle and begin again. Stupid Wistlepig barrel. I am totally aggravated at it even thought I know it is something to do with me that is not working right... and the old guy starts shooting. Now, one plus to the updated optics I put on is I don't need a spotting scope to see where things are hitting. Given that, I decide to watch a bit as that elegant bit of machinery next to me and its owner keep booming away. After 4 shots I am no longer able to tell the hole is growing on his target and by the looks of it, the hole is about a half an inch wide. Now, that's a shooter right there. Talking time....

I pull back from the lens on my own scope just in time to be asked if I am going to shoot or just watch all day... (all with a big grin from across the way) So, I do the usual and it goes about like this, "What the hell is that thing anyway? No kidding? Did you have to sign anything in blood to get it to shoot like that? What caliber? Do they still make that? Well, what's your load behind it? Cast them yourself?" and on and on it goes. At the end of it I am stunned. I am asked if I would like to put ten through it myself. Oh my... Now let's pause a second here. 'It' turns out to be a Stevens model 44 that has been restored and modified a bit. Barreled in 32-40 with a Douglas XX barrel, the stocks are all custom from his shop (made by him), all bluing is his work, and the scope mounts are his manufacture as well. Now draw a deep breath and be stunned with me. Of course, I did the only thing I could do. Ten shots later I knew what I would be doing for about the next 10 years and apparently I was laughing while I was shooting. So much so that he went and got a another couple of them out of his truck and let me shoot those too. (another in 32-40 and one in 22 hornet)

I have handled more than a few weapons in my time on the earth and very, very few of them came close to the feeling I got with these rifles. Truly amazing. Nothing modern or flashy. No fiberglass stock, no ultra-mega mag chambering. Nope, this was just about as good as I has ever been for me pulling the trigger.

One week later, not having the resources required to go purchase a model 44, I purchased a used and pretty new Stevens Favorite in 22 WMR and found, despite the inferior (or I guess less artistic) appearance of the weapon, even in reduced size, it still shoots and handles like a dream. I was able to plug Mr. Muskrat without a second shot with it and with no scope. It is the oddest thing.

So here I am now, 4 active 10/22's in my collection and my new favorite is my Favorite. Thank God for I guess. I will thin out a bit, raise some cash, and start on my new obsession. Let's hope gunsmithing (for real gunsmithing) is as rewarding as it appears to be. I am a student of something new again and this is really exciting. I am sure there will be stories posted here discussing my trials and errors and, hopefully, final triumphs.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Generation Kill by Evan Wright

When I first saw the mini-series on HBO I had not heard about this book. While I was in the book store a few weeks later I decided to have a look. I was really enjoying the show on HBO and, in my experience anyway, no movie maker ever does a book justice on the screen.

Standing by the rack I started reading and before I had given it much thought I was through 10 pages. This almost never happens for me. Needless to say I bought it. No disappointments in doing so it seems....

Evan Wright's tale of the 1st Marine Recon during the initial stages of the invasion of Iraq is a wonderful read. While moments of the story are as disturbing as hard combat in a civilian landscape would be, it is also an insightful bit of writing displaying the very human side of men hardly old enough to be adults in society who are trained to kill in a culture that prides itself on a tradition of killing, and being the best at it, for king and country.

In addition to this quality there are two additional elements to this story that are striking to me. First, as readability goes, Evan Wright is a master. For a guy who used to make a living writing Beaver Hunt for Hustler, he has a extraordinary voice that is clear and direct while maintaining the color of the world in which the story occurs. Also, having the bravery to ride with first recon on each mission and the presence of mind to make notes and record such a detailed account speaks to a true talent for the job. (Yes, I am really impressed by this... without exception)
So, to the ratings then:
  • Readability - 5 of 5 - As I think I noted above here, I have no trouble reading this book. Even the parts where the shooting dies off and the marines are just men in funny clothes are a good read. It's a true cast of characters, painted by a master.
  • Subject Matter - 5 of 5 - The book is the the story of the Marines of 1st Recon during the invasion of Iraq. In the entire book, any side explanation of background or person story never allows the course to be altered and things stay on track. The human element operating in the military during wartime is the only story present in this book.
  • Editing - 5 of 5 - Given what I have said above, you can infer the 5 out of 5 here. No goofs anywhere that I could find and just right for all things story.
  • Did I like the Story - 5 of 5 - So here's the thing that I think is the deciding factor for reading this book. If you want to know what it was like for these guys as told by the reporter who rode with them, then hell yes read this book. If military non-fiction is not your thing or you have no desire to know then you probably want something else. Either way, I loved it. I will probably let it settle and read it again in a year or so.
Do I think this book is worth read? You bet. Overall I give it 20 out of 20 and whole-heatedly say read it. It is well written, tells a story we should all know, and pays a wonderful tribute to the men it discusses and all from a first hand account of the story. Really well done.

Friday, August 15, 2008

My Critque Process

So, the idea behind this site is to provide some kind of rating for all the books I read. More than anything I am going to use it to keep track of what I thought and why as well as what I have read. So let's begin then...

One of the things I really can't stand about reading reviews is that nobody will ever step up and publish a basic set of what they are about or what they are reviewing or why. My site, my choice. I will publish just such a thing here. So, how do I rate a book? Like this:

  1. Probably the most important thing in my evaluation of a book is how easy it was to read. Not so much about it being easy subject matter but were the sentences well structured? Were the thoughts clear and concise? From reading page to page, did I get a sense that the author knew where we were going? If I think it is easy to read I'll give it 5 points. If I think it's not, it gets less. If I can't follow it at all... you get the idea.
  2. Subject matter is the next most important thing to me. If the book is about what it says it's about then this is good. Ancillary stuff is good sometimes and sometimes not. When I think it rambles away with no real purpose I get irritated. This, again, is rated from 5 (best) to 1 (worst). This applies mostly to nonfiction. In fiction, if the story just rocks then it gets a 5 and a 1 of I am unable to tell what the story really was.
  3. Next I would have to say editing is a truly important part of the book-process. If you think of it as a conversation between reader and writer, the editor's job becomes paramount in important as they mediate this one way dialog. Spelling and grammar are essential. Again, 5 to 1 scale.
  4. (Completely subjective part here) Did I like the story? If, for example, the story is Dune-like in my mind and I read it whenever I am bored of reading other things then it gets a 5. Should the story bear any resemblance to An American Tragedy or A Tale of Two Cities, they are headed for lower scores.

So, given this, I think it's time to get to it. Currently working on my first book and am hopeful to get a writeup here in the next week or so. God Bless.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Hunting Season Warmup - Vermin in the Pond Wall

A side-angle shoot of my position, coming back from the head

Santa Claus landed early this year. It turns out that the folks (yes, I have parents) have acquired some guests in the dam wall of their pond. My Dad purchased a 22 Mag Bolt Action Savage to eliminate the critters however, as it turns out, they can see him at about the same time he sees them. They like to run back in the holes where they came from when this happens. As it turns out I was free today to go have a crack at them and to hide in the trees and weeds to do it. No running for holes today unless I miss...

It seems like season began today... This makes me happier than it probably should. Either way I had some fun. Let's have a look here. This is an aerial image cropped out of the highest res Gmaps will provide of my folks place. It's quite a bit old. The pond in this picture is only recently constructed an still filling. Anyhow, the red circle represents my firing position and the green circle represents where I expected to catch the little furry things. (approx 100 yd from the firing position) Somehow it did not work out that way. The blue circles represent where shots were actually placed. In each case the shots were missed. I the closer two the shots were over the head by not much at all and in the further, my shot fell short. This made me feel... rusty. (and a little old) I could blame the rifle but that would be silly. I just need to practice more. Either way, I think I have Mr Muskrat's attention.

Aside from missed shots, it was a fantastic day to be outdoors. The sky was telling a story early of weather impending for tonight. The clouds were full of faces at sunrise. Check it out. Like some marshmallow tiki parade. I loved it. I wish I could have caught in the sunrise red but the camera just made it look funny.

This is the view of the green circle area from the red circle. Said another way, this is the view from my shooting location to the target's hole complex. You can almost make out the worn foliage and dirt paths there. I wish I could have caught them on ground. A swimming critter head's is way harder to hit plus you really have to watch shallow angle shots into water. Bad luck if they ricochet.

The shooting spot itself. I had the good sense to bring my portable saw from my bow kit and hacked out a nice little spot to use again on the next trip. Next time, no sand bags and definitely a cushion for the backside.

The ghost shoots magnificently with no (that is 0) FTF / FTE errors today. I will rework the trigger weights a bit and it will be my main shooter. It is sooo much lighter than the squirrel guns I built. Really shocks me some. I should take this chance to plug CCI Mini-Mags. Damned fine rounds for those of you working with match chambers afield.

So I managed to make it until about 11 today and then I got to be a good son and have lunch with my Mom. She needed a lift into Cincinnati and we had some LaRosa's and stopped at a book store. Good times all around. I figure, in the end, it's her pond. If she'd rather spend time with me and just let the vermin ride for now, I am good with it. She's more fun anyway.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Hiatus, the Ghost, and the 30 day countdown

Today was a good day. For those of you keeping track, we're at 30 days until the opening of the fall festivities. I could not be more excited. To commemorate I decided it was time to finish the last build (see below) and get it to the range for some workups.

I've taken to loosely calling this one the Ghost. I really am pleased with the grey and black motif. I really lucked out finding the black and grey stock. It blended very well with the black to gunmetal grey fade the whistle pig guys put on that barrel.

The particulars are as follows:
  • 18 inch compensated Whistle Pig Barrel
  • Kidd Trigger with straight trigger lever and extended magazine release
  • CPC Bolt w/ Power Custom extractor
  • Bell and Carlson Anschutz Stock, Grey with Black Webbing
  • Volquartsen Extended Scope Base
  • Jack Weigand Rings
  • Bushnell 10 X 40 Elite 3200

It groups pretty well. Only about 300 rounds total are out right now. Aside from the flier here, this was a really solid group. I am anxious to get another 400 to 500 rounds through the tube and see where things are. There's also a good bit of tuning that needs to go into this. I had issues with two case head failures today as well as a serious problem with failures to eject. The good news is that when it works the way it is supposed to, it will produce a really excellent result.

On other notes, I decided to give MRE's for a hunting pack food a try. I ordered one and took it for chow today. Turns out they are damned good. I recommend the ones from Brigade Quartermaster if you are looking to give one a try. It solves the problem for packed food for travel and storage very nicely.

In closing, a reminder about where we are... It's time to pick your spots and collect your gear and start tuning up the hunting machines. Get the rifle out and see if it still shoots. See if you can still shoot it. Have some fun with it. I am going to. It's almost time to go hunting for the elusive and always challenging grey squirrel. Be ready and count it down with me...