January 2018

NICS Gets Attention, Good and Bad

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has been getting a lot of attention recently. If you’ll recall, a court-martialed Air Force veteran purchased a rifle illegally and used it to kill 25 people inside a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church on Nov. 5. Turns out that the Air Force had not provided the FBI with details of the court martial. The Air Force also missed the shooter’s initial arrest on domestic-abuse charges and his 2012 escape from a New Mexico behavioral health facility. Had NICS been properly updated, it’s likely the system would have blocked the sale of the murder weapon to the shooter.   More...

Hurrah for Slide-Racking Effort!

Todd, thank you very much for starting to include the slide-racking forces on your pistol tests. As I age, I am starting to develop arthritis in my thumbs and find that it is becoming hard or impossible to rack the slides on some pistols. For example, I have no problem racking the slide on my 1911, CZ 75, TCP, and Buckmark; but I could not comfortably rack the slide on my buddy’s SIG. I still enjoy shooting pistols and hope to be able to do it for a few years before I have to switch to revolvers. Slide-racking force will definitely be one of my considerations when I consider purchasing pistols in the future. Keep up the good work!   More...

Running the Bullpups: IWI, Kel-Tec, Steyr, and FN Compete

Bullpups were designed for close-quarters battle (CQB) use in cramped environments where a longer weapon can be a liability. They are smaller and more compact than the typical AR-15 rifle. What also differs is how a bullpup functions. These firearms are configured with the action located behind the trigger group. Your nose rests above the action, not behind it like with an AR or AK. That means the magazine is aft of the trigger, not forward. Thus, your reloading technique changes. Because the action is housed in the buttstock, the overall length is reduced, yet a bullpup still deploys the same barrel length as a civilian AR-15. The balance is different with a bullpup, with the weight of the rifle in the butt, not forward of your firing hand. The ejection port is located in the butt, and each bullpup we tested had a different philosophy on how and where empty cases should be dumped. The muzzle is likewise closer, so reaching out with your support arm and pulling the rifle into your shoulder — like with an AR — is not possible, but the bullpups offer other support-grip options. Basically, then, everything from reloading to grip and handling changes when running a bullpup, so we wanted to see which bullpup we could adapt to more easily. Our quartet of bullpups included three chambered in 5.56mm, which was the IWI Tavor X95 XB16, the Steyr AUG A3 M1, and Kel-Tec’s RDB. The fourth bullpup was the FN Model PS90 Standard chambered in 5.7x28mm. This is a nice sampling of bullpups because the AUG could be considered the Rolex of bullpups, while the Kel-Tec is the Timex at a much lower price. All performed without malfunctions, so they all took a licking and kept on ticking. One, the IWI, was modular and offered easy caliber conversion. All were optics-ready except the AUG (pronounced “A-U-G” not “awg”), which came from the factory with an optic. One, the FN, we had to study to even determine how to pick it up and shoulder it, but when we did we experienced a clear engineering solution to bad bullpup ergonomics. With the Kel-Tec, we ended up calling it the working man’s bullpup. Nothing fancy, but it kept pace with the other three. In hand, the bullpups feel like an AR-15 short-barreled rifle, or SBR, which require special tax stamps to own. We tested all except the AUG with either a SIG Romeo4B or a Mepro Tru-Dot RDS. Both are red-dot sights that excel at close-to-medium range. At ranges out to 100 yards, the dot suffices for most targets, but a crosshair reticle would shrink groups. The Romeo4B allows the user to toggle between four different reticles: 2-minute-of-angle dot, 2-MOA dot with ballistic holds, 2-MOA/65 MOA Circle Dot, or 2-MOA/65 MOA Circle Dot with ballistic holds. The ballistic holdover points are calibrated for 5.56 NATO and 7.62x51mm NATO rounds. A feature we liked was the activated motion sensor that immediately powers up illumination when the red dot senses motion and powers down when it does not to extend battery life. The Mepro Tru-Dot RDS we like and have used it for a number tests on AR-style firearms. It features a 1.8-MOA dot reticle and is constructed with an aluminum body and tough polymer frame around a large viewing window. This sight is easy to use when shooting with both eyes open. It runs on one AA battery, and you don’t need any tools to change the battery or adjust the sight. It also turns off when not in use to conserve battery life. Both are good choices for AR applications, and as we found out, these bullpups, like ARs, have a straight comb and optics needed to be mounted high. Be aware that a bullpup is capable of hitting targets at the same ranges as an AR-15 with an appropriate optic. Two of the bullpups — the IWI and Kel-Tec — are compatible with standard AR-15 magazines, which we appreciated since we have plenty of AR-15 magazines on hand. We used Brownells’ aluminum-body magazines (Brownells.com, $14) Magpul Pmags (Brownells.com, $12.30), and Hexmag tubes (Brownells.com, $12); all were 30-rounders. The AUG and FN used proprietary magazines. Like an AR-15, the FN, IWI, AUG, and Kel-Tec allow the operator to keep his firing hand on the grip while performing a reload with the support hand. The three brands of AR-suitable ammunition we tested included Aguila 5.56mm NATO with a 62-grain FMJ bullet, 223 Remington Federal Fusion loaded with a 62-grain soft point, and SIG Sauer’s 223 Remington ammo loaded with a 77-grain Open-Tip Match (OTM) bullet. For the FN, we used FN 5.7x28mm 40-grain V-Max and Federal American Eagle 40-grain FMJs. We noticed big differences in recoil and muzzle blast between the 5.56 NATO and 5.7x28mm ammo. The 5.7x28mm ammo was similar to shooting 22 Magnum ammo — minimal recoil and not as much muzzle blast as the 5.56mm NATO.   More...

Five-Shot 44-Caliber Revolvers From Ruger, S&W, and Taurus

Subscribers Only — The medium-frame 44-caliber revolver, whether chambered in 44 Special or 44 Magnum, is a great outdoors revolver, often used for defense against animals. We agree that this is a formidable combination, but it also demonstrates formidable recoil, perhaps a step beyond what’s necessary to do double duty as a personal-defense round day to day. To see how a trio of wheelguns would do when pitted against each other at the range, we selected the Ruger GP100 1761 44 Special, a Smith & Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum 10064 in 44 Magnum and a Taurus Tracker, also in 44 Magnum. All are stainless-steel five-shooters, weigh within a few ounces of each other, and have similar features. The Smith & Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum is a new version with a 2.75-inch barrel and round butt. The Taurus Tracker 44 Magnum has a 4 inch barrel. The Ruger GP100 chambered in 44 Special is a relatively new introduction, being introduced in 2016. With an overall length of 7.8 inches and an overall height of 5.7 inches, the 35.8-ounce loaded Smith & Wesson is the most compact and easiest to carry. The 44 Special–chambered Ruger GP100 exhibited one of the finest accuracy performances we’ve seen, shooting 1.7-, 1.6-, and 1.5-inch average groups with three loads. The Taurus Tracker delivered the highest velocities and energy with two of the three 44 Special loads and both 44 Magnum loads we used — in particular the Winchester Super-X 44 Magnum 240-grain jacketed hollowpoint, which ran at 1288 fps and produced 883 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. The 44 Special revolver is an outdoors mainstay. Savvy outdoorsmen appreciate the accuracy and modest recoil of the 44 Special. The 44-caliber bullet, particularly a 255-grain semi-wadcutter, offers plenty of mass and has good sectional density that translates to deep penetration at less than Magnum velocity: 1000 fps isn’t slow for a heavy revolver bullet. While there are small-frame and ultralight revolvers designed for defense use, a medium-to-heavy-frame 44 Special will safely handle loads that move the cartridge into deer and boar territory out to 50 yards. For protection against bears, feral dogs, and big cats, the 44 Special with heavy loads is adequate. The 44 Magnum is even better if big Western bears are part of the problem. But it is difficult to carry a 46-ounce Smith & Wesson Model 629 loaded handgun on a daily basis. When fly-fishing or hiking, this is a heavy weight on the hip. A medium-frame revolver should offer all of the power we need for animal defense at close range. It is also all of the recoil an occasional user may care to handle. This same revolver isn’t too bulky to conceal for personal defense, and with proper loads, it will make a good personal and home-defense revolver. The major manufacturers make this happen by offering five-shot revolvers chambering the 44 Special, allowing the shoehorning of the 44 into a 357 Magnum-size frame. The relatively short barrel and hand-filling grip makes for a revolver that is fast into action. These revolvers are intended for use at relatively short range and the demands on accuracy are not great. However, we found that these handguns are quite accurate. We were concerned with the shooters’ ability to control a 35-ounce 44 Magnum revolver and used a variety of loads to test our fears. We found three capable revolvers that will tax the skill of any shooter to be all he or she can be. Not surprisingly, most of the firing was done with the more genteel 44 Special ammunition, which offered better control and less banging than the 44 Magnums.   More...

Case-Prep Stations from RCBS, Lyman, and Frankford Arsenal

Subscribers Only — If you are an avid reloader of pistol ammunition, you are probably a little spoiled. Thanks to progressive loading machines, spent pistol cases can be deprimed, resized, and belled at the case mouth one after another, just by working a single lever. Preparing rifle cases for reloading is far more tedious, with each spent case demanding not only resizing in terms of diameters but also a return to specified length by trimming the edges of the case mouth, followed by chamfering of the case mouth interior and a cleaning of the primer pocket. Each of these operations touches upon the skills of a machinist or perhaps a tool-and-die maker. As such, we decided to look at some machines that automate the case-preparation process. When we use the word “automated,” we don’t really mean it in the truest sense of the word. Case “prep” stations do not enable you to pop a spent shell into one side of the machine and retrieve a fully prepared case from the other. What these machines do is offer a measure of precision and provide the elbow grease for getting the job done. To find out how much help a case-prep station can be, we shopped Brownells.com and its sister company Sinclair International (SinclairIntl.com). We walked away with a $135 Lyman Case Prep Xpress and two RCBS products, the RCBS Trim Mate Case Prep Center ($130) and the $400 Universal Case Prep Center. We also acquired a $200 Frankford Arsenal Platinum series Case Trim and Prep Center. Of the four, only the Frankford Arsenal and the RCBS Universal provided a case-trim feature. Our test cartridge cases were Hornady 6.5 Creedmoor brass left over from recent tests that had been sized and deprimed on our MEC Marksman press (see the March 2017 issue). The fired cases measured about 1.92 inches in length or more. Our goal was to size the empty cases to as close to 1.91 inches as we could get. Consistent results were what we were after, but convenience and ease of operation would be good reasons to buy a case-prep station, too. Durability and ease of cleanup are additional considerations, but we had to ask, would the skills of a professional machinist be necessary to produce the best results? Or could anyone turn a used case into a match-ready component? Let’s find out.   More...