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SHOOTING JOURNAL Volume 8 // Issue 5 // February 2019

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American Shooting Journal // February 2019





Gunmakers are catching on to changing demographics, and these offerings from Glock, Walther, Sig and more are worth taking a look at if you’re considering carrying concealed or are looking for a pistol to protect your home with. (STRAIGHT 8 PHOTOGRAPHY/SHUTTERSTOCK)






Nick Perna, a former soldier and currently a cop on the West Coast, weighs in on whether the M16A2 or the M4 is a better overall weapon system.



There’s Africa and then there’s the “real Africa,” as traveling hunter Brittany Boddington refers to Mozambique and its often overlooked hunting opportunities. Tag along with Brittany and her famous father as her boyfriend looks to take a big Cape buffalo bull in the country’s swamps.

For a new caliber, the 6.5mm Creedmoor has developed a pretty serious following, and, says Matt Collins, “it’s easy to see why,” what with its long-range performance. He shares his picks for the best bolt-action and AR rifles in the caliber, as well as top 6.5mm ammo offerings.




Looking for a small, lightweight hideout gun in 9mm Luger? This pocket pistol would be “a fine choice,” according to Jim Dickson, who knows his way around handguns.

Jim Dickson has an appreciation for the 4-inch .45 Colt Ruger Redhawk, “among the highest achievements in revolver design.” When shooting other rifles knocks him out of his groove, black powder blaster Mike Nesbitt reaches for his big, heavy ’74 Hartford to get back on target.

AMERICAN SHOOTING JOURNAL is published monthly by Media Index Publishing Group, 14240 Interurban Ave South Suite 190, Tukwila, WA 98168. Display Advertising. Call Media Index Publishing Group for a current rate card. Discounts for frequency advertising. All submitted materials become the property of Media Index Publishing Group and will not be returned. Copyright © 2019 Media Index Publishing Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be copied by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording by any information storage or retrieval system, without the express written permission of the publisher. Printed in U.S.A.


American Shooting Journal // February 2019 15





With spring season almost here, now is the perfect time to dial in your shotgun and loads to avoid the embarrassing misses that one gobbler guide sees hunters make. Expert Scott Haugen shares top preseason turkey tips.

Company SPOTLIGHTS Present Arms: Plate, post helpful for building ARs, cleaning variety of handguns 91 Lucid Optics: Branching out from red dot sights with riflescopes, binoculars 101 Zombie Industries: Bringing the undead to life with ‘only reactive 3D target in the world,’ plus other bull’s-eyes 45



American Shooting Journal // February 2019

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American Shooting Journal // February 2019




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WHICH DUTY AR IS KING? Nick Perna, a former soldier and currently a cop, weighs in on whether the M16A2 or M4 is a better overall weapon system.

Perna (right) in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003, carries the M16A2, while the soldier on the left has an M4. The former was referred to as “The Musket” by both its fans and detractors.



ge equals experience. One of the few perks of getting old is that you get exposed to more things throughout the course of your life. This includes weapon systems. I’ve been making a living with a firearm since the late 1980s. In jobs ranging from the military, bounty hunting and law enforcement, I’ve carried a wide variety of handguns, long guns, crew-served weapons and other things that go “Bang!” I’ve personally bore witness to the development of the M16/M4 weapon system throughout my adult life. My first experience was with the M16A1. I carried the triangle-gripped Vietnam-era weapon in the 1990s as an ROTC cadet and later as a member of the National Guard in Florida and California. It was full-auto, which was nice. The foregrips were a little flimsy and could bite at one’s hands at times. The rear sight was somewhat unsophisticated compared to later models, but it worked fairly well. Later, while on active duty with the 82nd Airborne, I was issued

an M16A2. I had longed to carry one since I had seen pictures of paratroopers in Panama carrying them during Operation Just Cause in 1989. Compared to the M16A1 it seemed state of the art. Overall, the weapon was better built. A heavier barrel was used, increasing accuracy and durability. The triangle foregrips were replaced with more stout, ribbed ones. The rear sight was replaced with one that could be manipulated with your hand (the M16A1 required the tip of a bullet to be inserted into a detent to adjust it). The one thing the military did that didn’t make sense was replacing the full-auto option on the M16A2 with three-shot burst. From the time of the

introduction of bolt-action rifles in combat, generals have been obsessed with ensuring that soldiers don’t waste ammo. Some magazine-fed, bolt-action military rifles in World War I were equipped with a device that allowed loading only one round at a time, leaving the rounds in the magazine for emergency situations. Fast forward to the latter half of the 20th Century and military leaders, fearing massive ammo waste through “spray and pray” tactics, did away with full-auto for America’s military rifle! When it comes to senior officers making micro-decisions that negatively affect soldiers, little has changed throughout the years.

Left to right: Author Nick Perna carries the trusty M16A1 during disaster relief operations in Miami, Florida, after Hurricane Andrew tore a swath through that part of the country. Perna puts an M203 through its paces during a carbine instructor course at Gunsite Academy. 27

The author’s work gun, a Colt M4 with Leupold variable optic, Surefire suppressor and Viking Tactics sling.

I carried the M203 variant of the M16A2. This is hands down my favorite version of this weapon system; 5.56 up top, 40mm on the bottom, what else can you ask for? The 40mm can launch explosives, flares, flechette rounds and more. I took pride in the fact that I was, at the time, the highest-ranking grenadier in the 82nd Airborne! To my knowledge no other officers were carrying the 203 at the time. It made for a lot of strange looks on range day when the “lieutenant” showed up. I’ve carried the M4 variant in the military and as a SWAT officer. It’s a great system. The shorter length makes it ideal for close-quarters battle. Getting rid of the carrying handle and replacing it with an ample Picatinny rail makes sense in the modern era where optics are standard-issue. Bringing back fullauto was a good move as well.

SO, WHICH ONE is the best overall weapon system? Is the M4 the king by virtue of the fact that it is the most current variant? It depends on what 28

American Shooting Journal // February 2019

you are looking for and what criteria are used to judge. In this comparison I’m going to exclude my personal fave, the M203. It’s a unique weapon and all modern M16/M4 variants can be turned into a 5.56/40mm combo so, in essence, it’s in a category all its own. The M4’s major advantages are size and modularity. It is significantly shorter than an M16A2, giving it a lot of advantages. It’s better for carrying in confined spaces such as inside a vehicle and aircraft. It is also more user-friendly when clearing buildings, which is a major component of what the military and law enforcement do. This size comes at a cost, though. The Achilles heel of the M4 is the retractable stock. The buffer tube that supports the stock is the weakest part of the weapon. The buffer tube can be bent, dented or damaged in some other way through hard use. This can be catastrophic because a damaged buffer tube won’t allow the buffer spring and bolt carrier group to travel down

it when the weapon is cycling a new round. If it’s damaged enough that the bolt carrier group can’t fit in it at all, then a round can’t even be chambered. The M16A2’s buffer tube is encased in a hardened, high-impact plastic stock. This does a good job of protecting it. MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) manuals used by the military recommend using the M16A2 as a platform for a soldier to stand on to enter a window! In other words, two soldiers hold the M16A2, one holding the barrel, the other the stock. A third soldier then steps onto the rifle while his partners hoist him into the window. That’s a pretty robust weapon! As a sidebar, I don’t recommend trying this at home. If you absolutely can’t resist doing so, A) make sure the weapon is unloaded, and B) borrow someone else’s rifle when you try it. Another limited application for the M16A2’s stock is using it as an impact weapon. As part of bayonet training, many soldiers have been taught to use

the stock to butt-stroke opponents. Try that with an M4. The other issue with the M4’s size is barrel length. A standard-issue M4 has a 14.5-inch barrel. This translates to an effective firing range of 500 meters. The M16A2 has a 20-inch barrel with a firing range of 600 meters. This means greater hit probability at longer ranges. In the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, long-distance engagements have been the norm, so every meter matters. Being the more modern weapon, the M4 is more modular. With rails on the receiver and foregrips, you can hang just about every device imaginable on one – scopes, holographic sights, back-up iron sights, lights, lasers, foregrips, can openers, potato peelers, you name it. The butt stock is easily replaceable too, although it still ends up on the same subpar buffer tube. The M4 is the most adaptable weapons platform on the planet, period.


M16A2 is pretty much a “what you see is what you get” weapon. It predates much of the add-on gear available to AR enthusiasts today. There is limited mounting options for optics on top of the carrying handle, and the offset (distance between the point of aim of the optic and the potential point of impact from a round leaving the barrel) is pretty significant. This becomes a problem at close-range, CQB distances. The single-point mount on a carrying handle – basically a hole in the top of the handle where you use a single bolt to lock down an optic – is also a lot less stable than a Picatinny rail with multiple points of contact. However, if you want the best of both worlds, look to the United States Marine Corps for a solution. Enter the M16A4! It has all of the positive attributes of an M16A2, such as a longer barrel and fixed stock. At the same time, it has a Picatinny rail in place of a carrying handle and railequipped foregrips just like the M4. As an Army vet it pains me to say this,


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but the Marines have done a better job in recent times of fielding better weapons and equipment to meet the needs of their troops. While the Army was struggling with finding a camo pattern that worked (remember the ACU, Army Combat Uniform?) the Marines had the excellent MARPAT pattern. The M16A4 is just another example of USMC ingenuity. So which weapon you choose really depends on what your needs are. The M4 is the highly adaptable king that is the premier CQB rifle. The M16A2 is the more robust weapon that can reach out and touch targets at longer distances. Pick the one that better suits your needs. Or, better yet, buy both. Editor’s note: Nick Perna is a sergeant with the Redwood City Police Department in northern California. He has spent much of his career as a gang and narcotics investigator. Perna previously served as a paratrooper in the US Army and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco.

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Between the hunting woods, long-range target competitions and even the U.S. military, the Creedmoor round is making inroads among shooters. STORY BY MATT COLLINS • ARTICLE AND PHOTOS COURTESY OF GUNBACKER.COM

Creedmoor is one of the new calibers that’s quickly received a pretty intense following, and it’s easy to see why. It offers better ballistics than most rounds in its class, has taken numerous precision rifle match medals, and is even being adopted by the U.S. military for some of their sniper weapons. I personally have used the 6.5 Creedmoor for a few years now, and I have two rifles chambered in the caliber. I’ve taken several large deer with it, and placed well with it in local and state competitions. I’ve brought home ribbons, and any shortcomings in my shooting were squarely my fault, and not the fault of the round. Yes, indeed, the 6.5 Creedmoor has taken the rifle shooting world by storm, and people have certainly had success with it, but does the round live up to the hype? Is it worth investing in instead of something like a .308? Is it worth the extra cost over similar rounds? In a word: yes. Let’s talk about why.


CARTRIDGE DEVELOPMENT The 6.5 Creedmoor, or 6.5 CM, is a distant relative of the .308 Winchester cartridge, developed by Hornady in 2006, and first released in 2007. It was born in the bowels of Hornady’s research and development department,

and was brought into the world chiefly by Dave Emary and Dennis DeMille, then Hornady’s senior ballistic scientist and the VP of product development, respectively. They set out to develop a round that would excel in a competition environment, outshooting similar .308 loads, and with less recoil to boot. They decided to start with a 6.5mm projectile, which is tough to beat for a low-drag, high-velocity cartridge. From there, they settled on the then-new .30 TC cartridge as a parent case (itself a derivative of the .308),

The 6.5 Creedmoor has quickly become a popular round for long-range target shooters and hunters alike. (CHASE PAPPAS @CHASEINGTHEOUTDOORS)

which gave them the ability to have the longer 6.5mm bullets load reliably in a short-action rifle such as the AR-10. The .30 TC case was also great for overall barrel life, even in a competition scenario where a competitor may fire hundreds of rounds in relatively short periods of time. With 6.5 Creedmoor, you can expect about a 3,000-round barrel life, which is well beyond what you’ll get with most rifles in this class or other rifle classes. Beyond that, the overall design allowed them to make good use of the

Bolt-actions in 6.5 Creedmoor are very popular. 35

bullet bulletin

Mossberg Patriot

velocity gains from the 4350-series rifle powders they wanted to use, so stick to this powder if you’re reloading, unless you really know what you’re doing. All of this works together to give the 6.5 Creedmoor its great performance, and is what has made it such a successful round. SUCCESS AFIELD First of all, you have a long skinny bullet, in a convenient, readily available style of rifle. Long, skinny bullets have an excellent ballistic coefficient, which is just a really fancy way of saying they resist things like drift and bullet drop due to wind and gravity. The overall cartridge has very little body taper, and a shoulder angle of 30 degrees, which helps to center the bullet more precisely in the chamber. This means you have more accuracy in the time between the bullet leaving the throat of the cartridge and it making contact with the rifling of your barrel. This improved accuracy is the key to the 6.5 Creedmoor’s success, and allows the round to maintain its speed much longer than the .308, and with minimal inconsistencies from round to round. In fact, the U.S. military found that at 1,000 yards, the 6.5 Creedmoor doubled the hit probability on targets. This is in no small part due to the fact that the 6.5 Creedmoor can stay supersonic long after it reaches the 1,000-yard mark, up to 1,400 yards in some cases. A bullet that maintains its speed that long is going to drop less due to gravity, and is going to drift less, even in strong crosswinds. That means more 36

American Shooting Journal // February 2019

hits on target, and with greater overall energy transferred. This last bit is what has ensured the popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor. While not one of the designer’s original intents, the round quickly proved itself to be an excellent hunting cartridge, easily taking larger game such as elk and African kudu at ranges over 400 yards. Not too shabby for something you can chamber in the same rifle as a .308. Finally, the round has more than proved itself in the world of competition and target shooting. It has quickly become a favorite among Precision Rifle competitors, and it is almost unquestionably the new shortaction king. It can even compete with magnum rifle calibers in terms of longrange performance. BULLET USES Which brings us to the primary benefit of the 6.5 Creedmoor: getting the most accuracy possible out of the AR-10 platform, and the distantly related M1A1 platform. This can be for hunting, or for just general target shooting. It is equally competent in either role, but it does have a certain niche it fills better than almost any other round Basically, if you want a long-range, semiautomatic rifle that won’t beat your shoulder up, but can still compete with magnum-caliber bolt actions, look for one chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. The 6.5 Creedmoor is the best in its class, and until someone develops something better, it’s going to remain at the top of the heap in the precision

AR-10 world, with only the .224 Valkyrie challenging it for the title of the most accurate long-range AR round overall. The Valkyrie’s smaller bullets will always hold it back, and even though it does win out in some categories like recoil, both rounds are almost identical in velocity at 1,000 yards. I’d love to see a 100-plus-grain Valkyrie bullet for comparison, though. That’s not to say that the 6.5 Creedmoor won’t do well in a boltaction rifle, or even a single-shot. Far from it. You still get the round’s stellar ballistic performance, without a lot of recoil, and you can find the ammo just about anywhere on the planet. In other words, you definitely don’t need a fancy-shmancy (or depending on where you live, potentially banned) semiautomatic like an AR-10 or an M1A to utilize this awesome round. While there are a great many awesome AR-10 and M1A-style rifles out there in 6.5 Creedmoor, there are a number of great bolt-actions out there as well. Let’s talk about the rifles chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. TOP BOLT RIFLES IN 6.5 CREEDMOOR If you’re looking at getting the utmost accuracy from your gun, especially if your budget is limited, a bolt-action rifle is going to be a better choice. Generally speaking, they are more accurate than semiautos, and you can get a much more accurate gun for less money. Bolt-action 6.5 Creedmoor rifles are great for hunting and target shooting, and are perfect for those who want to get an extremely accurate long-range rifle for significantly less than they’d spend on an equivalently performing semiauto. 1) Mossberg Patriot: Let’s start with one of the best-looking rifles on this list, the Mossberg Patriot. The Mossberg Patriot is part of Mossberg’s budget bolt-action line, and it’s a surprisingly competent and wellappointed rifle for the price. On sale, I’ve seen this rifle drop as low as $299, and you get quite a lot of

bullet bulletin

Tikka T3X

gun for that price. You can get several stock options, but if you get anything other than the gorgeous natural wood option, I think you’re wrong.

Just kidding, as the synthetic options are great as well. They will be more durable in the long run, and are great for hunters who might be trekking through brush or in inclement weather. It has a fluted barrel and bolt to save weight, and the barrel comes ready for a suppressor. Overall, the Mossberg Patriot is a fantastic option for hunters dealing with midsized game, or for casual

target shooters who want to ring the gong at 500 yards or further. For $300 or so, you can’t really beat it, and 6.5 Creedmoor is a great caliber for it. 2) Tikka T3X: A step up from the Patriot is the Tikka T3X. This lightweight, hunting-focused boltaction is incredibly accurate, and typically less than $550 in most gun stores I’ve seen it in. This is one of the most beloved rifles in my safe. It comes from Tikka with modular, interchangeable grips, and a truly excellent recoil pad that makes it one of the softest shooting rifles in an already gentle caliber. Best of all, it is guaranteed to be a 1-MOA rifle out of the box, thanks to the excellent barrel and chamber geometry, solid factory trigger, and other accuracy enhancements. Finally, it has a foam insert in the stock to reduce noise, which is great for hunters. I used this rifle for my ammo testing, and I can definitely say it is well within 1-MOA from the factory. I shot a 3-ish-inch group at 400 yards the very first time I took the rifle to the long firing line at my local range, and I could not be more pleased with that. Especially for less than $600. 3) Ruger Precision Rifle: Full disclosure: The Ruger Precision Rifle is one of not just my favorite rifles, but my favorite possessions, so I may be biased a little. Ruger makes a lot of different options, and has some of the best rifles around in classic calibers. I have good reason to love this rifle, though. For a little over a grand, you can have one of the best precision rifles around, one that is more than capable of holding its own with rifles that are two or three times as expensive. For a precision bolt-action geared for long-

Ruger Precision Rifle


American Shooting Journal // February 2019



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Lovers of semiauto rifles also have options in 6.5 Creedmoor.

range shooting, I don’t think there’s a better value. Sure, there are rifles like the Mossberg MVP and the Howa HCR in this same segment, but the RPR is still the most dominant in terms of both


American Shooting Journal // February 2019

sales and national match wins. And that is in part due to the RPR being the first rifle to bring the tactical precision rifle in at a price that the average shooter can afford. The stock is customizable and

SEMIAUTOS IN 6.5 CREEDMOOR Semiautos have their own place, and are preferred by many people for different reasons. Easier to load than a bolt-action rifle, semiautos make for great rifles when you are looking for a field companion if you plan to be out for longer periods of time. They also make great survival rifles, and are extremely efficient for hunting and a variety of other tasks. 1) Palmetto State Armory AR-10: Palmetto State Armory is probably best known for their rock-bottom deals on everything from ammo to holsters, but their house brand of rifles isn’t bad either.

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These are no-frills, budgetminded rifles that perform well by any measure, and are downright exceptional for the price. Their AR-10 offerings are no exception. If you’re looking for a cheap – but not cheaply made – AR-10 in any caliber, especially 6.5 Creedmoor, they definitely deserve a look. I regularly see these AR-10 uppers for under $500, and they’re a great way to get a 6.5 CM build going, especially if you already have an AR-10 lower. In fact, I’d say that if you already have a .308 AR-10, you owe it to yourself to pick one of these up if you’re interested in trying out 6.5 Creedmoor. 2) Aero Precision M5E1: Aero Precision is my preferred AR manufacturer, and I’ve taken multiple match wins and several deer with their guns. They are an industry leader, and they even make parts for big name brands, though they’ve become an incredibly popular brand in their own right, especially among builders. If you’re looking for a 6.5 Creedmoor upper, they have great options. I have one myself and I love it. Best of all, they have complete AR10-style rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor. These are easily sub-MOA rifles, and they come in a variety of colors, and are compatible with Aero’s awesome build kits if you want a different look.

Aero Precision M5E1


American Shooting Journal // February 2019

Aero is a great resource for a builder, in fact, so if you want to whip up an AR from scratch they’re a great place to start, but you can also snag one of their complete rifles for under a grand and you’ll have a phenomenal gun. 3) Springfield Loaded M1A: If you want something that’s not an AR, I highly recommend giving the Springfield Loaded M1A a look. It’s available in a few different calibers, most importantly 6.5 Creedmoor. The M1A is, of course, the civilian version of the M14, and in my mind the superior version. Springfield’s new Loaded models combat two of the model’s most negative points: the easily warped wooden stock, and the terrible time users have mounting optics. If you want something that’s a little more retro-cool than an AR-10, and you still want to reach out to 1,000 yards with almost boring accuracy with a semiauto, the Springfield Loaded is a great choice. AMMUNITION BRANDS Of course, even the best rifle is little better than an expensive wall decoration without ammo. Fortunately, there’s some great 6.5 Creedmoor ammo out there. My personal favorite is Black Hills ELD-M, which is what I’ve gotten the best results from as far as factory ammo goes. That said, it is very expensive, at over $2 per round almost everywhere, even on sale. Hornady’s 140-grain ELD-M ammo is nearly as good, and is almost 50

cents per round cheaper. This is what I typically try to buy if I’m looking for some casual range time on the longer firing lines. For hunting, I like the old standby of Remington’s 140-grain Core-Lokt ammo. I’ve taken several deer with this bullet, including a nice eight-point this past season. Of course, the best 6.5mm Creedmoor ammo is going to be the ammo you load yourself. While reloading is a fairly intensive process, there’s no substitute for a round tuned to your specific rifle. There’s a reason 90 percent or more of precision rifle shooters load their own ammo. PARTING SHOTS The 6.5mm Creedmoor truly is a round that has proven itself in the hunting woods, and on the field of competition. If you’re looking for a wellsupported long-range round, with lots of ammo and rifle options, it may very well be what you’re searching for. It has the power and velocity to hit the target every time, and it has the match medals to prove it. You’ll find a much clearer round than anything used in wartime eras gone by, so grab a Creedmoor with confidence and shoot straight.  Editor’s note: Matthew Collins is an active contributor at He enjoys both competitive shooting and gunsmithing. When he’s not at the range, you can catch him on Instagram and gun-related websites.

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Plate, post from Present Arms are helpful whether you’re building an AR or cleaning a wide variety of handguns. STORY BY MARK JENKINSON, PRESENT ARMS INC. • PHOTOS BY PRESENT ARMS INC.

o you want to build your own AR? There is so much to consider. First, what do you want to do with it? Are you going to use it for competition, hunting, target shooting, plinking or home defense? Your options go on and on. The next question is, how much do you want to spend? Do you want to buy a complete upper or build one from scratch? The lower receiver – forged or billet? Trigger assemblies? There are all kinds of good ones out there. What kind of trigger pull? Stock – fixed or collapsible? Hand guard? Here, again, the varieties are endless. The good news is that there are parts available from the best suppliers, with instructions available on YouTube and on the manufacturers’ and suppliers’ websites, and quality tools from endless sources. What Present Arms brings to the table is that third hand, our Large


Sentinel Plate and AR Magazine Post. These platforms and posts help with the assembly. A vise is not needed; if a shop bench is not available, the assembly can be done on your kitchen table. The AR Magazine Post has pins and is mounted into the plate. Place the lower receiver on it by way of the magazine well, making a secure mounting of the lower receiver in a vertical position so the assembly can begin. One side of the Sentinel Plate is a machine-cut pocket with radius corners to keep those small parts from going adrift. The use of both hands makes the assembly of the lower receiver a lot easier, from the installation of the front pivot pin, with spring and detent, to the bolt stop, magazine catch assembly and trigger assemble. Working the dust cover is a two-hand job, as is the forward assist. Most of them are. Install the safety, rear takedown pin, buffer retainer spring and retainer and receiver

extension assembly. Turn it over to work the safety, spring, detent and grip. Some jobs are made easier by laying the lower receiver flat on a table, but much of the work is done while in a vertical position and made a lot easier when both hands are free. Of course, always follow the manufacturer’s procedures and sometimes those parts can go airborne, so always wear safety glasses. When you’re all done, the Sentinel Plate and Magazine Post is now a perfect stand to hold your AR for cleaning. Turn it over, smooth side up, and use as a display stand. Magazine posts are interchangeable, and are available for 1911s, Glocks, S&W, HK, Berettas and more. Now you have a platform to use for your pistols.  Editor’s note: For more information, visit or call (413) 575-4656.

Present Arms’ plates come with beveled edges to keep pertinent parts close at hand. The flip side serves as a display platform. 45



Gunmakers are catching on to changing demographics, and these offerings are worth taking a look at.

Finding the right handgun can often be a struggle for women, as gunmakers typically design with men in mind. But there are several options available if you look hard enough.



omen are the largest growing demographic of handgun owners for self-defense. More women than ever are also starting to carry concealed pistols for protection, and also attending beginner classes to learn how to operate a firearm. However, the struggle to find the right firearm can be difficult. Gun manufacturers design most of their handguns with men in mind because that’s the biggest demographic of handgun owners, but that is slowly starting to change.

Some semiauto pistols stand out as excellent choices for women looking for their first firearm. While we’ve stuck to 9mms for the purposes of this article, there are other options if a .22 pistol is more your speed. But while .45s are another option, we prefer the 9mm for its lower recoil. Let’s dive in and look at our five favorite semiautomatic pistols for women. THE EAA WITNESS PAVONA The European American Armory, or EAA for short, introduced the Witness Pavona a few years ago.

It was becoming apparent that an increasing number of women were buying guns for self-defense. EAA saw it as an untapped market, so they decided to offer semiautomatic handguns for women. The Witness Pavona could have easily been a rebranded “Witness Compact” with a pretty finish. But instead, they made something women could use with ease. Of course, the first thing most people notice is the multitude of colors and unique finishes the Pavona frames have. This includes blue, pink, purple and black. 47

Women ANd Guns The frame features one color but has silver speckles to create an interesting, unique appearance. Interestingly, the all-black models have gold speckles. Although this handgun is attractive, EAA designed the mechanics of this gun especially for women. The Pavona features a lightweight polymer frame that is easier to conceal and carry. EAA lightened the hammer and recoil springs on this weapon to make the weapon easier to rack. Some women have trouble with reliably and quickly racking an automatic handgun. Anybody, male or female, can learn to rack a weapon. However, this takes time and training. But the bad guys don’t typically wait for a person to get that training and experience. Why we love the Witness Pavona: The Pavona has an off-the-shelf design that works. And like most EAA automatics, they based it on the classic CZ 75 design. The only major changes are the size and the use of a polymer frame over a metal frame. Also, the Pavona uses a double/single-action design that is hammer-fired. This is a plus because the hammer-fired design allows the shooter to cock the hammer manually, which reduces even more pressure from racking the slide. The Pavona is medium in size and chambered in .380 ACP, 9mm and .40 S&W. The capacity for the .380 ACP and the 9mm variants is 13 rounds, but the .40 S&W holds just nine rounds. However, this is one of the biggest semiautomatic handguns for women, so another benefit is recoil management. The .380 ACP from this handgun has almost no recoil, so it is comfortable for even the most petite shooters to fire. Less recoil means greater accuracy and faster follow-up shots. New shooters won’t have to flinch from fear of recoil, yet they’ll still have a capable cartridge. The design of the grip is comfortable for shooters with small hands. Interestingly, EAA sacrificed a few rounds of capacity to ensure a thin and comfortable grip. 48

American Shooting Journal // February 2019

Walther CCP

EAA Witness Pavona

The gun also has a low bore axis that adds more comfort and ease of use during rapid fire. But the Pavona is a lot more than a pretty face on a new gun. The design comes from a tested source, so it is superbly effective yet quite affordable. THE WALTHER CCP The Walther CCP is one of Walther’s newest pistols. The Concealed Carry Pistol was built to be easy to use by shooters of any size or strength level. Also, the CCP is a compact firearm that Walther chambered in 9mm. The CCP is fed by an eight-round singlestack magazine. It has a polymer frame and is strike-fired. It features a manual safety on the frame and uses a wide set of three dot sights. The Walther CCP is a compact firearm, but it is not a pocket pistol. It offers an appropriately sized grip that fills women’s hands. They comfortably checkered the grip, too, and it features a forward Picatinny rail for a light or laser. And it has a convenient open trigger guard for use with gloves. The Walther weighs a mere 22.2 ounces and has a 3.5-inch barrel. The overall length of the weapon is only 6.41 inches long. The shape of this weapon makes it easy for women to conceal in today’s modern fashions. For these reasons, it is one of the top semiauto handguns for women. Why we love the CCP: What sets the Walther CCP apart is its gas-delayed

blowback system. This system isn’t unique to the Walther CCP, but it’s not a common type of handgun action. Here are the benefits of this gas system: You’ll feel a massive decrease in recoil compared to firearms of similar size. Walther calls the CCP’s gas system SoftCoil. This system makes firing full-powered defensive ammunition a pleasure for such a small, lightweight firearm. You get easier slide operation due to the reduction in muzzle flip. Many women have trouble racking an automatic slide. However, the Walther CCP is one of the lightest and easiestto-rack slides out there. The fixed barrel provides more inherent accuracy than a tilting or rotating barrel. Remember, every little bit of accuracy is critical in a defensive situation. The trigger uses a striker-fired design. This makes the trigger pull light, yet long. For a concealed carry gun this isn’t a major issue. In fact, it’s a safety feature that prevents accidents from happening in high-stress environments. The long trigger pull is similar to the anti-stress option on the Walther P99 series of pistols. Safety is always in the hands of the shooter, but small manual devices can help greatly. The Walther CCP is quite accurate, yet simple to use. The biggest downside is the use of a tool to take the weapon apart. This isn’t a major issue since nobody carries this firearm in a war zone, where getting a tool

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Women ANd Guns would be difficult. Ease of use puts this product on this list of the best semiautomatic handguns for women. THE SIG P938 Sig designed the P938 around the old-school 1911 design. However, the P938 and the standard 1911 have zero parts in common. In fact, the P938 is entirely different from the 1911. Also, the 9mm handgun is single-action only. This makes it small enough to easily fit in a pocket or inside a waistband holster. As a single-action weapon, it has a manual safety that Sig placed identically to a standard 1911. Sweeping the safety off is easy to do naturally with the thumb in a firing grip. Although the P938 is based on the older P238, the company beefed it up to the 9mm cartridge. Most shooters consider the 9mm cartridge more powerful than the .380 ACP cartridge. The ballistic advantages of the 9mm include penetration, velocity and projectile expansion. The 1911 design is naturally quite thin. Additionally, the Sig P938 is a singlestack pistol that comes with two magazines. One magazine is a sixround magazine that fits flush inside the pistol grip. This magazine keeps the weapon as compact as possible. Using this magazine will result in most people having a hanging pinky. The second magazine Sig includes is a seven-round magazine with an extended baseplate. This magazine offers one extra round of capacity that allows most shooters to have a full grip on their weapon. This magazine makes the weapon slightly larger, but it’s still easy to conceal. The single-action design makes racking the weapon easy, so even those with low hand strength can do it. Simply thumb the hammer back and the slide is much easier to rack. Simplicity is what put this quality weapon on this compilation of the top semiautomatic handguns for women. Why we love the P938: The Sig P938 takes a slightly different route 50

American Shooting Journal // February 2019

Glock 43

Sig P938

in terms of materials they use. Most modern handguns use polymer frames to reduce weight and cost. But Sig continued their metal frame tradition with the P938 series, which offers a few advantages to female shooters. The use of premium materials makes everything smoother, giving the slide a feeling of being on ball bearings. The slight increase in weight with metal reduces the recoil substantially. It’s one of the smallest 9mms on the market, but also one of the most comfortable to shoot. Sig includes their amazing SigLite night sights on the P938. Also, the night sights allow shooters to easily engage a target accurately in low light situations. Even in defensive situations, shooters must follow safety rules, so proper aiming is an important safety consideration. These night sights are large and easy to see. The single-action trigger is lightweight and breaks cleanly and evenly. The reset is also audible and tactile. The Sig P938 is a pleasant, easy-shooting handgun that is superbly small. In fact, it is one of the smallest concealed carry firearms on the market. This makes it one of the perfect semiautomatic handguns for women in terms of concealed carry. THE GLOCK 43 The Glock series of firearms is one of the most popular throughout the

entire world. Glock has made subcompact pistols before, but their focus has been duty-sized firearms. But Glock has now been paying more attention to the concealed carry market, and accessory manufacturers are also making more aftermarket parts for Glocks than ever. Their acknowledgment brought the world the Glock 42, but more importantly, the Glock 43. The latter is a singlestack 9mm handgun with Glock’s famous polymer-frame design. Glock pistols are legendary for their reliability, as well as their lightweight nature. The Glock 43 is a sharp departure from the Glock 26, which is its double subcompact 9mm brother. The Glock 43 is much thinner and lighter in nature, and it has a slimmer grip than other competitors in the polymer-frame 9mm market. The Glock 43 comes with two sixround magazines – the fitted one with a pinky extension and the other they flush fit. The flush-fit magazine is better for concealed carry, but the magazine with the pinky extension is easier to handle and shoot. So the 43 with the pinky extension is one of the best semiautomatic handguns for women. The Glock 43 is only 22.36 ounces when fully loaded, making it quite light for a loaded weapon. This is mainly due to Glock’s mastery of the modern polymer frame. Also, the Glock 43 features Glock’s standard iron sights, which are well-suited for

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Women ANd Guns close combat. Additionally, they are quite large for a subcompact pistol. Most pocket pistols feature small nubs for sights. However, the Glock 43 has larger sights, so they are much easier to use. If you’re shopping for one, consider the Glock 43 one of the best semiautomatic handguns for women. Why we love the 43: The Glock 43 is like its bigger brothers in controls and ergonomics. They have placed everything where it is easy to reach. The magazine release is large and simple to engage, yet tucked out of the way for firing. Also, the slide lock is easy to engage and disengage, making reloads a snap. The trigger is a standard Glock trigger featuring their famous trigger reset. As a stock trigger, it has a 5.5-pound pull, so it is consistent and quite short. Glock handguns are quite easy to rack and very easy to shoot. They are some of the simplest pistols on the market and are a great choice for a woman who doesn’t shoot as a hobby. It’s a simplistic, effective and affordable design. But one of Glock’s biggest strengths is their popularity. Because Glock pistols are so desirable, they have a massive amount of aftermarket support. This includes holster options that are critical for women who want to carry. Due to women’s clothing, their carry options are often limited, so they have to find a holster that is just right. The vast selection of accessories makes this the top automatic handgun for women. THE CZ 75 SP-01 The CZ 75 SP-01, or SP-01 for short, is an odd choice on this list. This allmetal handgun is quite heavy, and not for concealed carry. Instead, this would be an excellent home defense handgun for a woman. The SP-01 is a modernized variant of the classic CZ 75 design. It retains all the advantages of the classic design, while improving greatly where the original lacked. The weapon features an external 52

American Shooting Journal // February 2019

Picatinny rail that can accept a white light. A white light allows the user to positively identify targets at night, and positive identification is necessary before shooting. Without positive ID, you may harm an innocent individual who made a simple mistake. And unfortunately, this happens frequently in suburbs with identical houses. The SP-01 features a double/ single-action trigger with an exposed hammer. This allows women to precock the hammer and release almost all the tension on the slide. It’s easy to rack and the tactical model comes with a decocker to return the weapon to double-action safely. Full-size firearms like the SP-01 also tend to hold more ammunition than firearms for concealed carry. Why we love the SP-01: The SP-01 holds a staggering 18 rounds of 9mm in its magazine, plus two extensions are also available to create a 20-round magazine. If a woman is defending her home from a home invasion, she may face multiple attackers. This means having a large magazine capacity is an absolute necessity when facing multiple attackers. The SP-01 allows the defender to put multiple rounds into an attacker if necessary. And better yet, this handgun is not nearly affected by a miss. The SP-01’s all-metal construction does make it a hefty beast. But the weight of the weapon helps absorb recoil and keeps the weapon controllable. The CZ SP-01 also features a low bore axis, creating less muzzle rise as you fire this weapon. Most of the energy goes straight back instead of back and up. This makes it much easier for smaller shooters to repeatedly keep their eyes on the sights with a low bore axis. The original CZ 75 was famous for its ability to house 16 rounds while still having a thin, comfortable grip. And the SP-01 is no different. The grips are slim and easy for anyone

CZ 75 SP-01

to wrap their hands around. Also, the safety or decocker is easy to reach with your thumb and simple to engage. The doubleaction trigger is long but smooth, and the single-action is short and crisp. The reset is a bit longer than something like a 1911, but still both audible and tactile. The SP-01 is a well-built firearm that is surprisingly affordable. The weapon comes with two magazines and has night sights. The versatility is what lands this weapon on this list of the top automatic handguns for women. ULTIMATELY IT COMES DOWN TO CHOICE Firearm manufacturers have predominantly designed their handguns for men. Women’s fashion, relative strength, and hand size are all unique challenges women face when trying to find a handgun. This creates a unique challenge for women who want to find a firearm that fits their needs. However, the firearms industry is finally catching on and has been offering the best semiautomatic handguns for women today. And as the demographic grows, you’re sure to see increasingly more options. Remember, no matter what you choose, be sure to follow gun safety rules and regulations at all times.  Editor’s note: Author Jason Wilson is a firearms enthusiast and CZ collector. He has a number of CZ 75s that he shoots regularly. He is a firearms hobbyist and has been adding to his firearms collection for over 20 years. He is also the lead editor at


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David Jones firing the Kel-Tec PF9 pocket pistol.


Looking for a small, lightweight hideout gun in 9mm Luger? This pocket pistol would be ‘a fine choice.’ STORY AND PHOTOS BY JIM DICKSON


mall, lightweight polymerframed pistols that have only a double-action trigger for a safety have become popular, and I consider the Kel-Tec PF9 to be among the best. It is smaller and lighter than a Walther PPK but more powerful, as it shoots the 9mm Luger cartridge. At 14.5 ounces and .880 inch thick by 5¾ inches long and 4¼ inches high,

this gun is a true pocket pistol. It rides easily inside the pocket of an El Paso Saddlery “Pocket Max” holster, which keeps it in a constant position for fast draw from the pocket, as well as breaks up the outline of the gun and protects it from the dirt and lint that accumulate in pockets. It is noticeably smaller and lighter than the old Colt and Savage pocket pistols that set the standard for pocket automatic pistols

in the first part of the 20th Century. The PF9 was designed by George Kelgren, president and owner of the company. He did a good job creating a gun that is just the right size and weight for pocket carry. Smaller guns tend to get lost in the pocket, while bigger and heavier guns show their outline more, as the weight also makes that pocket want to swing a bit noticeably. 59


The Kel-Tec PF9 pocket pistol in an El Paso Saddlery Pocket Max inside the pocket holster.

Of course at this size and weight it does have a sharp recoil, but not excessive. My wife Betty had no complaints or problems firing it and I don’t think anyone ever will have a valid one. Guns like this are meant to be fired at muzzle ranges out to about 20 feet. While this gun gave good results fired off sandbags at 25 yards, the average gunfight is normally within a few yards and this gun is intended to place all its shots in an attacker’s vitals at close range, not make tight groups in paper targets. The sights are easily visible without being so big that they interfere with concealing the gun. Trigger pull is 8 pounds, as measured by a Lyman trigger pull gauge from Brownell’s Gunsmithing Supplies. That is exceptionally light for a double-action trigger pull and makes this gun easier to shoot. However, that is still 8.8

The Kel-Tec PF9 is a true pocket pistol: lightweight, small, and easy to carry and conceal.


American Shooting Journal // February 2019

times heavier than the gun itself, which means it still interferes with precise shooting. That is the price you pay for the speed and convenience of having a double-action trigger instead of a safety that has to be removed. The alternative is to simply have a grip safety on a single-action automatic, but most people are uncomfortable with that concept despite the fact that John Browning thought that a grip safety was all the safety an automatic pistol required. There is a bottom rail for a laser sight or flashlight attachment. I don’t recommend either be used, as they add weight and bulk and may give your position away in a gunfight. Flashlights draw return fire. If you have to have a flashlight, get a powerful one and hold it well away from your body. THE BOTTOM LINE is that a pocket pistol is intended for close range only and a small, light pistol is much harder to hit with than a full-size military pistol. If you want long-range accuracy, get a full-size pistol. If you want a lightweight, small, easy-to-carry-andconceal pistol, it will come with the trade-off of shorter effective range. Since most people cannot shoot a pistol expertly, the difference may not appear so great to the average man who has no long-range shooting planned anyway. He just wants the smallest, lightest, easiest gun that he can get for point-blank fire against anyone attacking him. The Kel-Tec PF9 answers that need admirably. It takes the place of the old top-break .38 S&W revolvers as the gun carried

“just in case” that also doubled as the bedside burglar pistol for the average man. Like the early Colt and Savage automatics, the Kel-Tec PF9 offers a greater number of shots; seven in the magazine and one in the chamber, compared to the five shots of the old top-break revolvers. Back when everyone was carrying a pistol and the courts sided with the honest citizen instead of the criminal, the crime rate was much lower and the world was a much safer place to live in. This is a quality gun with 4140 steel barrel and slide. The barrel is heat-treated to Rockwell 48 on the C scale for strength and durability. The rectangular frame, which holds the firing mechanism, is machined from a 7075-T6 aluminum billet. The grip, which also includes the trigger guard and magazine well, is made from Dupont ST-8018 ultra-highimpact polymer. The trigger connects to the hammer by a transfer bar. The hammer has a novel free-floating extension spring to propel it. Being a 9mm Parabellum caliber gun, the Kel-Tec is a locked breech weapon. When the gun is fired, the slide engages the barrel, forcing it back and thus disengaging its locking lug. While you can make a blowback 9mm like the Spanish Astra, it kicks quite a bit more and on a gun that weighs less than one pound, it would kick excessively, slowing up follow-up shots too much. The gun also features a hammer block safety to prevent it from firing if dropped. It is reset every time the slide

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SALUTE TO GUNS is jacked back and is the reason you cannot snap the gun when empty more than once without pulling the slide back for each shot. Pulling the trigger rotates the trigger axis forward with the trigger bar, which engages the hammer and then the hammer block. The trigger bar disengages after rotating about 85 degrees and it holds the hammer block in front of the hammer, allowing the hammer to fire the cartridge in the chamber. Upon firing, the recoil of the shot drives the barrel and slide to the rear. After the first ¼ inch, the barrel is unlocked by the disassembly pin, releasing the slide to continue back and extracting the fired case from the chamber. Near the end of the slide’s travel, the case strikes the ejector, which knocks it free of the gun. As the recoil springs propel the slide forward, the breech face picks up the top cartridge in the magazine and drives it into the chamber. As the slide

closes, the barrel is cammed up locking into the slide. The hammer block has now reengaged the hammer, holding it back from the firing pin. Releasing the trigger now allows the trigger bar to move back behind the hammer catch so the pistol can fire again with the next pull of the trigger. To test this pocket pistol I had: • 60 rounds of Black Hills 115-grain JHP EXP at 1,200 feet per second; • 60 rounds of Black Hills 124-grain JHP at 1,150 fps; • 150 rounds of Federal Train + Protect 115-grain HP at 1,180 fps; • 150 rounds of Federal Syntech 124-grain TSJ at 1,050 fps; • And 60 rounds of Federal 135-grain Hydra-Shok Deep Personal Defense that penetrates 15 inches in ballistic gelatin. The little gun digested everything without a hiccup and was capable of accurate, sustained rapidfire at close range with a sharp

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American Shooting Journal // February 2019

but not excessive recoil. SOME AUTOMATICS ARE a nightmare to take apart and then put back together. Thankfully this one is not too bad. Unload the gun and pull the slide back, pushing up on the slide stop to lock it open. Using the rim of a cartridge, pull the disassembly pin out of the gun. Hold the slide firmly as you release the slide stop, allowing the slide to come forward off the frame. Remove the recoil spring and barrel and you are ready to begin cleaning. Do not loosen the extractor spring screw. Once cleaning is done, put the barrel back in the slide, push the recoil springs on their guide rod back into their hole in the slide, and hook the base of the recoil spring into its halfmoon cutout in the barrel. Be sure the barrel and recoil springs are well centered when putting them back in the slide. Push the slide onto the frame until the back lines up with the grip. If


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the slide does not go on easily, make sure the hammer is half-cocked and the barrel and recoil spring guide are centered. While pushing down on the top of the barrel, pull the slide back all the way, compressing the recoil springs, and push the slide stop up to lock the slide in place. Looking into the assembly pin hole, align the hole with its cut in the barrel and insert the assembly pin until it snaps onto the spring. Retract the slide to release the slide stop to let the slide go forward. Cycle the slide a few times to be sure it is functioning correctly, but do not dry fire this pistol as that can damage the firing pin and extractor spring screw. Bottom line: If you are looking for a small, lightweight hideout or back-up gun in 9mm Luger, the Kel-Tec PF9 would be a fine choice.  Editor’s note: For more information, visit


American Shooting Journal // February 2019




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With today’s range of specialized loads and chokes, turkey hunters need to do their homework to figure out what combinations perform best in their gun.

With spring season almost here, now is the perfect time to dial in your shotgun and loads to avoid the embarrassing misses that one gobbler guide sees hunters make. STORY AND PHOTOS BY SCOTT HAUGEN


pecialized guns and advanced loads have revolutionized turkey hunting and catapulted it to a level many people never thought possible. With turkey season just around the corner, let’s take a look at what you need to know when preparing for the hunt. One spring season, Jody Smith, a good friend of mine and one of Oregon’s most noted turkey guides (, 541-6436258), had clients miss 52 shots at turkeys. That season they killed 51 birds. The year prior, clients put 68 birds on the ground, with a total of 28 misses. Why so many misses? Twenty-five years ago I would have

credited those misses to poor shooting. Back then, hunters were familiar with the guns and loads they shot because they were used to hunting everything from ducks to grouse, geese to clay pigeons, with the same gun. Then came high-tech shotguns, chokes and loads that performed in ways hunters weren’t used to. Today’s specialized turkey guns are made to shoot high-performance payloads long distances. Add after-market chokes to the equation and distance increases even more, while patterns tighten. After talking with Smith about all the misses he encounters as a guide, he had this to say: “I think the biggest mistake people make is not patterning their shotguns, figuring out how they shoot

with the loads they’re hunting with. The next biggest thing is that people are afraid of the recoil on some of these new guns, which causes them to flinch or lift their head off the gun too soon. I’m seeing way more misses today than I did 20 years ago. Hunters also need to be sure of the yardage before shooting at a bird.” “Another thing that happens, when a turkey approaches from a long ways across open terrain, hunters get in their gun too early,” Smith continues. “After several minutes of sitting in this position, the natural action is to eventually lift your head off the gun to see what the turkey is doing. When it comes time for the shot, oftentimes the shooter fails to properly get reset 69

ROAD HUNTER Streamlined, lightweight turkey guns and magnum loads pack a punch. When sighting in such set-ups, a Lead Sled saves the shoulder some pain and prevents flinching.

in the gun. If your cheek’s not on the stock and the bird directly in your sights, don’t shoot.” Some guns shoot brand X loads perfectly, while they won’t shoot brand Y loads worth a darn. The next gun might pattern brand Y perfectly, but not brand X. “Several times I’ve had clients run out of shells,” cringes Smith. “When I gave them some of my shells to use, which were a different brand, they were surprised when I asked them to pattern the loads. When they saw how they shot in their guns, they began to realize how different guns handle different loads.” WHEN PICKING A turkey gun, choose one that feels comfortable, is something you can carry all day and that you shoot very well with. Search for a gun you can quickly and easily maneuver, so if you do have to move the gun for a shot, you can do so when the bird’s head is behind his fanned tail or passing behind a tree. Look for a gun with a barrel length of 20 to 24 inches, weighing 6.5 to 8 pounds and that can chamber 3½-inch shells. If not included, an after-market XX full choke is a good idea. Chokes themselves 70

American Shooting Journal // February 2019

have greatly advanced turkey hunting and the ability to shoot more accurately, but you need to know how they work. Take the time to fit the choke and loads to the gun. If looking to optimize performance, it’s a good idea to test multiple loads through different chokes, at different distances. From there, look at your results and choose the brand and shot size that shoots best from your chosen choke. It doesn’t matter if the gun is a pump, semiauto or single shot. What matters most is that you can shoot it well and with confidence. There are some guns featuring a thumbhole stock, others with pistol grips, and still others that more resemble tactical rifles than any shotgun you’ve likely seen. But all of these designs are for a purpose, usually to increase stability, decrease weight and expedite quick handling, all in an effort to attain more accurate shooting. Note that the more streamlined these guns are, the harder they often kick with the heavy loads. Still, guns are being designed with the intent to reduce recoil, but when you cut weight through composite stocks and shortened barrels, the energy has to go somewhere. If a 12-gauge packs too much punch,

try a 20-gauge. The 20-gauge is also a great choice for youth and smaller-framed hunters. Like the 12-gauges of today, the 20s are being specially made for turkey hunting, and do a great job. The effective range of a 20-gauge is 25 to 30 yards, while most 12-gauges are solid out to 40 yards, maybe a few yards beyond. My boys have confidently taken turkeys with their 20-gauges out to 30 yards, the farthest coming at 42 yards. As for shot size, anything from 4 to 6 shot works well for turkeys. In an effort to decrease recoil, some shells are just 2¾ inches long and carry payloads of 7 shot. Personally, I like 5 shot, as it offers mass and speed. But I’ve also taken many birds with 4 and 6 shot, and some with duplex loads (2 and 6 shot, combined). PATTERNING YOUR GUN on a turkey target is the best way to learn what loads work best in your gun. To do this, shoot off a solid bench, ideally in a recoil-reducing device. I like shooting from a Caldwell Lead Sled, as it’s steady and takes away the recoil. Start shooting at 30 yards and make any necessary adjustments in windage or elevation. Once the pattern is dead on at 30 yards, test it at 40, then 50 yards.


Turkey season is almost here, and now is the time to get that gun dialed in.


American Shooting Journal // February 2019

Next, shoot it at 20 yards to see how tight the pattern is hitting. It’s even a good idea to shoot the gun at 10 yards, even 5, to see what to expect should a bird come in close. You’ll be amazed at how tight the pattern actually is at 10 and 20 yards, confirming the fact there’s little room for error. It’s also a good idea to pattern it out to 60 and 70 yards, just to know what it will do should you need to make a followup shot at that range. The rule of thumb for a good turkey load is that it should put 100 pellets inside a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. This pellet count equates to putting an ideal amount into the narrow, rather small kill zone of a turkey’s head and neck. A 2-ounce load of 6 lead shot holds about 450 pellets, meaning about 22 percent of this payload would fit within a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. Two ounces of 5 shot holds about 340 pellets, so about 30 percent of those pellets will fit inside the circle. As for 4 shot, 2 ounces holds about 270 pellets, equating to 37 percent of its

ROAD HUNTER Author Scott Haugen with a tom he took last spring using Trijicon’s new Miniature Rifle Optic (MRO). No piece of gear Haugen has used in more than 25 years of turkey hunting has helped improve shot accuracy like a red dot sight.


American Shooting Journal // February 2019

delivery falling inside the magic 10-inch circle at 40 yards. Test your gun and choke with both high-speed and magnum loads. Highspeed loads have fewer ounces of lead but move fast, while magnum loads carry more shot at a lower velocity. Personally, I avoid the speed craze, as it’s not crucial on a 40yard shot at a turkey. I’d rather have more pellets and know precisely where they hit. While on the topic of sighting in a specialized turkey shotgun, consider a red dot sight. If there’s one tip that will help to connect on more shots with today’s specialized shotguns and loads, it’s the aid of a red dot sight. An increasing number of states are allowing the use of red dot sights. If no batteries are allowed, the best battery-free red dot sight I’ve used on multiple turkey hunts is Trijicon’s RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex). The RMR also comes in battery-operated models. Trijicon’s MRO (Miniature Rifle Optic) is another exceptional turkey sight worth investing in. Placed on a turkey shotgun,

ROAD HUNTER the setup can also double as a great predator hunting gun. Red dot sights force you to stay in the gun, putting the dot on the target. You can’t always achieve that with a bead. These red dot sights do not project a beam, rather the dot is on the glass, meaning it can be positioned anywhere on the lens. It doesn’t have to be perfectly centered to take the shot. Now is the time to get a jumpstart on your spring turkey hunting season. Research what specialized gear works for you, invest in the best you can afford, and you’ll be set up to hunt turkeys for the rest of your life, with fewer misses. 

Once your shotgun is sighted in, be sure to also shoot it at 10 yards to see just how tight the pattern is, because shots at toms often come at close range.

Editor’s note: To order signed copies of Scott Haugen’s best-selling book, Western Turkey Hunting: Strategies For All Levels, send $20 to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489, or visit Scott Haugen is host of The Hunt on Amazon Prime. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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American Shooting Journal // February 2019

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she hunts

SWAMP BULLS OF MOZAMBIQUE Pursuing Cape buffalo in southeastern Africa provides thrills for traveling hunters. STORY AND PHOTOS BY BRITTANY BODDINGTON


hen people ask me what my favorite animal to hunt is, I usually respond with “Cape buffalo.” When they ask where I like to hunt them, I always reply, “In the swamps of Mozambique.” Cape buffalo can be hunted all over Southern Africa, but the hunt with Zambeze Delta Safaris ( in the swamps of Coutada 11 – one of several wildlife game management units of Mozambique – is truly unique. I wanted to show my fiancé Brad this area, so we joined my dad Craig Boddington on his yearly trip there. I’ve hunted buffalo in Zimbabwe in

years past and the experience is very different. You start early in the morning, drive around looking for fresh tracks, and then set out on foot to follow the tracks until you catch up to the buffalo or the buffalo takes off. This tracking process can take as little as a few hours, but more often days upon days while walking many long miles in the African heat. The real magic of this type of hunt is watching the trackers work. They can take a look at a track and know what size buffalo made it, its gender, and the animal’s approximate age. They can also determine almost exactly when the track was made and at what speed the buffalo was moving. And they’re able to take a scoop of fresh dung with their fingers

and determine how long it has been on the ground. It is a skill I have yet to master but it is fascinating to watch. Brad hunted a buffalo last year in the Caprivi area of Namibia, where hunting is done in a similar style as in Zimbabwe, but the buffalo have not had as much pressure as the herds in Zimbabwe. There are possibilities to

African Cape buffalo can be a thrilling species to hunt. Mozambique, a country less touristy than some of its neighbors, provided author Brittany Boddington, her fiancé, and dad quite the setting in their quest to score a bull. 81

she hunts

The hunters found a durable mode of transport in a Swedish-built Bandvagn 206, an all-terrain vehicle that worked well in this swampy corner of southeast Africa.

hunt by spot-and-stalk for buffalo as well. In Zimbabwe, if you have seen the buffalo, then the buffalo has seen you and will likely flee. A UNIQUE AFRICAN EXPERIENCE Namibia is incredible. It is safe,


American Shooting Journal // February 2019

beautiful and as uncorrupt as Africa gets. The police are friendly and the national language is English, which makes it a perfect first safari destination. Mozambique is different. The country was torn apart by civil war for 15 years from 1977 to 1992, leaving

the locals a bit skittish about outsiders. The national language is Portuguese and it can be a bit difficult to find English speakers. In short, Mozambique is what I refer to as the “real Africa.� It is as close to the wild Africa I picture in my head from the old safari tales I read

she hunts in many classic novels. Mark Haldane runs Zambeze Delta Safaris and I wouldn’t hunt here with anyone else. From the moment you touch down in Beira, a port on the Indian Ocean and Mozambique’s fourth largest city, there is someone there from Mark’s company to help you navigate the complex visa process. Jamie is Mark’s fixer and he has been helping hunters get through customs and process gun permits for many years. When things go wrong in the airport, a promise of meat made in Portuguese can usually smooth things out. After customs you hop on a little charter plane and head to camp. The flight is about 45 minutes, depending on weather, and the scenery is fabulous.

Hagglunds for the Swedish Army. It is an all-terrain, articulated and two-piece vehicle that works amazingly well in the swamps. It was designed to carry up to 17 people, but it also works great for a group of five and a couple buffalo. We set out early in the morning because it takes a few hours for the BV to get into the buffalo areas. The BV is high off the ground, making it perfect for spotting herds of buffalo far off in the distance. The swamplands are flat for as far as the eye can see. Water lies everywhere and tall papyrus fields with what we lovingly called sawgrass stand wherever it covers or is near the surface. The sawgrass easily cuts through skin, so gloves and long sleeves and pants are a must.

HUNTING IN THE SWAMP The actual buffalo hunt happens in the swamps and our guide this time was Julian. The area is only accessible by amphibious vehicle. Mark has managed to bring in two BVs, or Bandvagn 206s. These vehicles were developed by

THE CHASE Once a buffalo herd is spotted the hunt begins on foot. This sounds easier than it is since walking in the swamps usually means wet, muddy muck and the very real possibility of bumping into crocodiles, leeches and snakes.

Besides how wet and sloppy the ground was, the hunters also had to deal with the threat of crocodiles, leeches and snakes.


American Shooting Journal // February 2019

There is very little cover unless you are in the swampy water, so kneepads are invaluable. We spotted a herd of buffalo and got out of the BVs. We started to slowly sneak in with our heads down below the level of the tall papyrus ahead. After getting to the bed of papyrus, to my surprise the swampy area we had to cross was mostly dry. It got a little muddy and Brad got a foot stuck in the muck, but fortunately we didn’t have to swim for it this time. We crossed the muddy section and got to the edge of the sawgrass. This was our last bit of cover between us and a herd of around 40 buffalo. It was a small herd for the area, which was lucky because the fewer eyes the better when it comes to sneaking in. Half of the buffalo were lying down and the other half were eating and milling about. My dad and one of the trackers stayed behind for the final approach. Julian and Brad got their kneepads on; mine are built into my Sitka pants so I was ahead of the game.

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she hunts Success for Brad Jennenga (center), flanked by two Boddingtons, Brittany and her dad Craig. None of the meat from this Cape buffalo went to waste.

We started the long crawl, which was a snail’s pace for hundreds of yards. We would stop when the buffalo looked our way and start again when they started to eat. It seemed like forever that we hung there on the broken and cracked, dry swamp ground. We were using a couple little patches of grass as cover but that was about to run out, so Brad and Julian continued forward while I stayed back with the other tracker. We stayed as flat to the ground as possible, while Brad and Julian did the Army crawl forward in what looked like slow motion. BULL IN SIGHT When they hit the very last piece of straw grass, a big buffalo bull stood up. Julian took no time to get to his knees and put up the shooting sticks. Brad got 86

American Shooting Journal // February 2019

on the sticks from a kneeling position and took his shot. The buffalo was hit hard but it refused to give up, and in turn the herd swirled around and he got mixed into the black running animals. A second later he reappeared, lagging behind the group with a very obviously broken front shoulder. Brad shot him again and we approached with caution as the buffalo was on its side. When we got close, it seemed that the buffalo was down for good, but then it threw its head around and startled me. Fortunately we all know that it’s the dead ones that will kill you, so we proceeded with extreme caution as we approached and were able to finish the buffalo with no issues. Brad was elated. The bull was huge; Julian estimated the outside spread of the horns to be around 42 inches.

My dad caught up shortly after the last shot was fired and we began the process of breaking down the buffalo meat. In Africa every part of an animal gets used. The local villagers get a share of the meat as well in an agreement to end poaching. We got all the meat packed into the BV and watched as the vultures picked the ribcage clean right before our eyes. It is amazing to see those birds go to work. Mozambique is a truly unique place to hunt buffalo. If you are looking for a real old Africa experience, I highly recommend it.  Editor’s note: Brittany Boddington is an Arizona-based hunter, journalist and adventurer. For more, see and facebook. com/brittanyboddington.


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American Shooting Journal // February 2019



After success with red dot sights, Lucid Optics branches out with riflescopes, binos. PHOTOS BY LUCID OPTICS

pecializing in a variety of sights, scopes and accessories, Lucid Optics was founded in 2009 in Riverton, Wyoming, by optics specialist Jason Wilson. He had been the optics category manager for Brunton Outdoor, but when Brunton decided to move out of state, Wilson stayed behind to form his own company. “We didn’t want to leave Wyoming, so Jason took his contacts with suppliers and set out to make a product that was seriously needed in the market back then,” explains Jamie Wilson, COO of Lucid Optics. “The first product that was launched was the HD7 Red Dot sight. It was unique and was the only product at its price point for six to seven years. It is still a big seller for us. It has a bit of a cult following. I know shooters that have four or five of them. At the price, they can get one for all of their ARs.” In the decade since the HD7 was launched, Lucid Optics has branched out to provide an array of optics gear that has become quite popular with shooters, thanks to their high quality, affordability, and the lifetime warranty that comes with each product. “Shooters that are on a budget, or are perhaps new to the shooting sports, like that they can get a quality optic and still have budget left over for ammo,” says Wilson. “We have a lifetime warranty, so if something is


The staff at Lucid Optics provides high-quality gear at affordable prices, as well as classes on how to use their riflescopes and more.

wrong with the optic, we are going to fix it or replace it. It’s hard to go wrong. The optics are also tough, rugged and waterproof. We live in rural Wyoming and we need things to hold up to hiking, backcountry high mountain hunting, horseback riding and long hours on dirt roads in a pickup truck. The abuse is endless … No one wants to worry that their gear can’t hold up to life.”

Lucid Optics’ line of riflescopes are waterproof, fogproof, and extremely durable.

Lucid Optics has two types of loyal customers who drive the popularity of the products, according to Wilson. “The tactical shooters tend to like the HD7 Red Dot (MSRP $249) and the very popular L7 1-6x24 (MSRP $499). Both of these optics appeal to the AR market and the PRS 3-gun competitor. Both optics are really durable and hold up to fairly extreme abuse. Our customers like not having to worry about delicate optics and they are extremely affordable, so much so that they can

have one for each of their guns.” Wilson continues, “On the other side of the house, we have a full line of riflescopes. Our best sellers are the MLX First Focal Plane 4.5-18x44 scope (MSRP $719) and also the L5 Second Focal Plane 6-24x50 riflescope (MSRP $514). The riflescopes are extremely durable like all Lucid Optics and are waterproof, fogproof, and have the same lifetime warranty.” Next up for Lucid Optics is the launch of two new products in 2019. “We are filling out our binocular line with a set of 8x42 ED glass, lightweight binoculars that we call the B-8s,” says Wilson. “Like all of our optics, these have a lifetime warranty. All of our binoculars come with a hard-sided carry case, neoprene covers and a padded neck strap. The B-8s MSRP for $679. Our other new item is the Litl Mo micro red dot. We have worked for years to get this one correct. It’s a perfect fit for both a pistol and a carbine. The Litl Mo is super lightweight, waterproof, has a very generous field of view, and of course has the Lucid Optics lifetime warranty. The MSRP on the Litl Mo is $349.”  Editor’s note: In addition to their highquality line of optics, the staff at Lucid Optics also teaches classes in the summer on how to use their long-range riflescopes and more. For more info, contact or visit 91

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American Shooting Journal // February 2019


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SECOND TAKE ON A DOUBLE-ACTION Appreciating the 4-inch .45 Colt Ruger Redhawk, ‘among the highest achievements in revolver design.’ STORY AND PHOTOS BY JIM DICKSON


he 4-inch-barrel Ruger Redhawk revolver in .45 Colt is among the highest achievements in revolver design and manufacture. This is an immensely strong gun, as testified by the fact that it is also made in .454 Casul. The strongest and most corrosionresistant alloys are employed in its making. The cylinder wall thickness is .110 inch and it is made from Carpenter Steel’s Custom 465 stainless steel. The barrels are made from Carpenter Steel’s Project 7000 15Cr-5Ni stainless steel. Because they are intended to take maximum loads, the chambers are machined to close tolerances, so hand loads should be full length resized. The gun is made without a sideplate for extra frame strength. The parts are massive with large bearing surfaces to spread out the wear over a larger area, thus prolonging the parts’ life. Its designers, Harry Sefried and Roy Melcher, made it without screws, as screws are always backing out on revolvers as they fire. Always. If you are going to shoot a revolver much, you normally have to have the proper

screwdrivers fitted to the gun and it is a very good idea to tighten them after every box of cartridges with many guns. Colt and Smith & Wesson traditionally had cylinder latches that slid back and forth. Some men had the latch on the S&W Triple Lock cut into them, and having a latch that pushes forward to unlock like the S&W means some people will move it when the gun recoils against their thumb. The Redhawk’s cylinder latch is pushed in to pivot and unlock the cylinder, thus eliminating these problems. The cylinder is securely bolted fore and aft with parts big enough to ensure long life in hard service. The mainspring operates two linkages, one to push the hammer forward and one to return the trigger. Pulling the trigger compresses the hammer spring. All this results in positive ignition with a lighter trigger pull than the

Side view of the 4-inch-barrel .45 Colt Ruger Redhawk.

older designs necessitate. For safety’s sake, trigger pulls were kept in the normal range but they are a marked improvement over previous designs’ trigger pulls. They also made it a modular design that can be taken apart by the owner, as opposed to traditional double-action revolvers that are best left to a gunsmith to take apart and put back together. THIS IS A massive gun, weighing 46 ounces and having an overall length of 9½ inches. The 4-inch barrel is perfect for this gun, as anything longer is going to make it harder to wear, especially when sitting. It is fitted with soft Hogue Monogrips. Trigger pull on the test gun is 11 pounds for

doubleaction and 5½ pounds for singleaction, as measured with a Lyman trigger pull gauge from Brownell’s Gunsmithing Supplies. The trigger pull is smooth and perfect. There is just no other way to Angle view of the .45 Ruger Redhawk. 93


David Jones firing the Ruger Redhawk revolver.

describe it. Recoil is just not there. It has been described as like shooting a .22 pistol with more smoke. Despite its size, my 5-foot-2 wife Betty had no trouble firing it with one hand or hitting with it. Shooting it is a dream come true. You can shoot 2- to 3-inch groups offhand at 25 yards all day long with one hand or two, firing either single-action or double-action. It just doesn’t seem to matter much with this particular gun. I love a gun that is easy to hit with and have little use for one that is difficult to hit with. I had 1,570 rounds to fire through it, consisting of the following: • 500 rounds of Black Hills 250-grain RNFP cowboy action loads at 725 feet per second; • 60 rounds of Federal 225-grain lead semi-wadcutter hollow point at 830 fps; • 150 rounds of Federal Blazer 200-grain JHP with non-reloadable aluminum cases; 94

American Shooting Journal // February 2019

• 150 rounds of Aguila 200-grain lead cowboy action loads at 600 fps; • 100 rounds of Hornady Leverevolution 226-grain FTX at 950 fps; • 100 rounds of Hornady 185-grain FTX at 920 fps; • 100 rounds of Fiocchi 250-grain LRNFP cowboy action loads at 750 fps; • 250 rounds of Armscor 255-grain lead cowboy action loads at 800 fps; • 50 rounds of Georgia Arms 200-grain Deer Stopper at 1,100 fps; • 50 rounds of Georgia Arms 250-grain LRNFP cowboy action loads at 725 fps; • And 60 rounds of CorBon Hunter 300-grain +P JSP at 1,300 fps. (This load is only for the Redhawk and other guns also capable of handling the .454 Casul. It will blow up a SAA.) ALMOST EVERY ROUND was fired doubleaction, for that is what this pistol was designed for and it can be fired accurately this way so easily.

This ammo can be quickly loaded by the use of the HKS Speedloaders. HKS also can furnish waterproof faux leather carrying cases that accommodate two of their speedloaders. This is a very great improvement over carrying spare ammo in belt loops and enables the revolver to be reloaded almost as fast as an automatic pistol. That is important when facing an attacking man or beast, as dogs often run in packs, whether they are the twolegged or four-legged variety. For holsters, you can’t do better than a pancake holster. I have used these since they first came out in the early 1970s. They hold the gun tight against your body for concealment, yet they can be drawn in an instant. A thumb break snap offers fast fumblefree release of the pistol. El Paso Saddlery makes a fine one for this gun that they call their “Tortilla” holster. This firm dates back to the Wild West days when they made holsters for 95


Ruger sells this open carry fast-draw holster for their .45 Redhawk revolver.

El Paso Saddlery’s Tortilla pancake holster for the Ruger Redhawk revolver is perfect for both open and concealed carry.


American Shooting Journal // February 2019

John Wesley Hardin, the deadliest gunfighter with the longest list of men killed in gunfights. Most importantly, this is not a tight molded holster boasting weapon retention if someone else tries to snatch your gun out of the holster. Such holsters can get you killed in a gunfight, as they can seize the gun quickly if the draw is the least bit sloppy. I avoid such holsters like the plague. The Tortilla holster holds the pistol quite securely when the safety snap is unsnapped, as when entering a dangerous situation. Ruger also sells an open carry holster with a conventional safety strap that is very fast but not readily concealable. The safety strap is a necessity with this holster, as the gun can come out easily if you move fast with it unsnapped.

SALUTE TO GUNS POWER-WISE, THE ORIGINAL .45 Colt loading of a 250-grain bullet over 40 grains of black powder at 900 fps proved a fine cartridge for everything in North America. It was designed to bring down an enemy’s horse with one shot at 100 yards, which it did very well. When it was first issued, the cavalry was dedicated to wiping out the Indians’ larder, and troopers used to ride alongside a buffalo and kill it with their new M1873 Colt SAA revolvers. It was the standard caliber for bear protection until “Magnumitis” swept the country and it was not found lacking. If you want magnum velocities, CorBon loads a 300-grain .45 Colt at 1,300 fps for this gun, as well as a 335-grain load at 1,050 fps, which does not have the sonic boom crack added to the report that loads over 1,100 fps have. These loads will blow up a SAA and are only intended for


guns that have been built extra strong for calibers like .454 Casul. The Ruger Redhawk takes them in stride nicely. This is a gun that will take care of all your hunting and self-defense revolver needs. There are some things that a double-action revolver is simply the best choice for. For any type of police work where a prisoner may have to be covered by a pistol, anything other than a double-action revolver is too likely to accidentally go off in that high-stress situation. For the homeowner wanting a loaded gun by the bedside, the same thing applies. Since the average man buying a pistol for this purpose rarely masters it and any member of the family may have to use it in an emergency, it is vital to keep it simple. With a double-action revolver, all you have to do is point and pull the trigger. At the across-the-room ranges typical of these encounters, there will


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American Shooting Journal // February 2019

be no problem hitting. This gun may be massive and heavy but no member of the family old enough to shoot will have a problem with it. Since guns kept for this purpose are left loaded with little maintenance in many cases, the stainless steel construction is a definite asset. In all scenarios, the one-shot stopping power of the .45 Colt cartridge is the key to the shooter’s survival. It does not need or depend on expanding bullets to get the job done. It is already big enough. I have seen enough cases of expanding bullets failing to expand that I never want to have to depend on expansion. I know that at odd times I can’t depend on it. If you want an example of one of the finest double-action revolvers ever made, I recommend that you get a 4-inch-barrel Ruger Redhawk .45 Colt revolver.

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American Shooting Journal // February 2019



Between commercial and military markets, Zombie Industries has marksmen covered with their unique, US-made target offerings.

Zombie Industries makes ‘only reactive 3D target in the world,’ among other creative bull’s-eyes. PHOTOS BY ZOMBIE INDUSTRIES

re you training for the zombie apocalypse, or just looking for some variety in your target shooting – specifically of the realistic, humansized, undead kind? Zombie Industries has what you need. “Zombie Industries started with the concept of wanting targets that are more reactive, realistic and fun for the avid shooter,” says the company’s Jason Maddox. “With the lack of target variety in the industry, we set out to change the target world forever. We wanted to make the targets as realistic as possible, so we started by making human-sized body molds and building


elaborate tooling in order to achieve a 3D life-like target torso, and then forming plastic targets with foamfilled bodies and cardboard backings. With the popularity and dislike for zombies and preparation for the ‘zombie apocalypse,’ we choose to make all of our commercial targets zombies.” Thus, Zombie Industries was born in 2011 in Poway, California. And once the company experienced initial success with their zombie targets, they set out to push the envelope even further. “After a lot of work, we figured out how to make the zombies bleed, mark with red shot placements, and explode with cutouts for Tannerite,” says

Maddox. “We were awarded 3D target patents and bleeding target patents and we are the only targets of our kind in the market today!” He adds, “Customers love the bleeding aspect of our bleeding targets, especially up-close pistol shooting with head and body shots. They also like our mutilating reactive targets for rifle-range shooting to detect shot placement. If your range allows it, shooters love to load 101


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the head or body with Tannerite and at the end of the day, blow the target to kingdom come. There are hundreds of YouYube videos that show off our happy customers blowing up their targets.” Zombie Industries has not only made thousands of avid shooters happy with their realistic, 100-percent-Americanmade targets, but has also provided the U.S. military with Visual Response Targets (VRTs), which are threedimensional, life-sized mannequins that offer training advantages that no other target on the market can offer. “Our Visual Response Targets use a special orange thermoformed plastic with a special paint that chips when shot and reveals the orange bullet holes for easy shot placement. It is the only reactive 3D target in the world,” says Maddox. “We wanted to create better military targets that would help our military marksmen train in a more realistic environment with more realistic targets. We have succeeded in manufacturing our military combative targets into every major branch of the military, Special Forces, and three-letter government agencies.” Of course, the Zombie Industries crew has a few new targets that they’re currently working on, although Maddox can’t reveal what those are quite yet. But, he says, “We are working on new reactive targets, night time targets, new paint technology, characters, and do-it-yourself targets, as well as new, improved military and law enforcement targets.”  Editor’s note: If you want to be a part of the Zombie Industries revolution, visit, follow the company on social media and join the company’s mailing list. Says their Jason Maddox, “We want your readers to be prepared, shoot straight, and shoot badass bleeding zombies!”


American Shooting Journal // February 2019 103


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RETURNING TO THE OLD .50-70 When other rifles knock him out of his groove, this black powder shooter reaches for his big, heavy ’74 Hartford to get back on target.

Author Mike Nesbitt’s C. Sharps Arms ’74 Hartford model in .50-70 features a 32-inch-long No. 1½ Heavy barrel.



ou have probably heard me compliment the .5070 Sharps rifles before, and the most “pats on the back” in this story go to my C. Sharps Arms ’74 Hartford with the 32-inch number 1½ Heavy barrel. That’s a hefty 13-pound rifle; a very good performer too. It seems like every time I have some difficulties with another rifle, either a black powder cartridge gun or a muzzleloader, I go back to this .50-70 in order to get my bearings and stability again. This is the rifle that the Accurate Molds bullet number 52-4502L was designed for. The design seemed to be necessary because this rifle would not shoot accurately while using some other bullets. Those other bullets did not carry enough lubricant. They’d shoot a good three-shot group, but then bullets began to fly all over the paper and the last 4 inches or so of the bore would be caked with a hard fouling. So, this bullet was born with wider lube grooves. I like it and the

problem of “not enough lube” vanished with the first batch of bullets I tried. Using a 25:1 lead-to-tin alloy, these bullets weigh about 445 grains, or about 20 grains heavier than the Lyman number 515141 bullet. My favorite and most common load with this bullet in the .50-70 burns 65 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F compressed under a .060-inch Walters wad, while the bullet is seated deeply enough that its forward bearing ring is almost out of sight in the mouth of the case. I have tried other loads but keep coming back to this one. It’s a good standard load that gives me confidence, and when I invite other people to shoot the 32-inch-barreled rifle, that’s the load they get to use. One new shooter who borrowed my heavy .50-70 was Wes Davis, who had been bitten by the black powder cartridge bug but didn’t have a rifle yet. Wes and a partner were going to share a rifle, but I offered to let Wes shoot the .50-70 instead. So, I gave Wes a quick “Sharps lesson,” which included putting the hammer on halfcock before opening the action, plus a couple of “dry fire shots” (with the

hammer all the way down so there was no hammer fall) so he could feel the lightness of the set trigger. That all went well. I also told Wes to not be afraid to adjust the sights. He did adjust the sights and his second target, fired at 200 yards, showed that he was much more comfortable with the rifle than he was with his first target. That’s just getting to know the gun. Wes has his own rifle now, a Sharps in .45-70, but I’m sure he will consider getting a .50-70 every now and then. The ol’ .50-70 seems to cast a spell on shooters. A drawing of bullet number 52-450L2, courtesy of Accurate Molds. 107

BLACK POWDER This five-shot group was fired with the 52-450L2 bullets from the bench.

taper crimp die, which securely holds the bullets in the cases. I don’t load all my ammunition without sizing the brass; this description only refers to how I usually load my .50-70 ammo. Other cases often require more attention. Likewise, the .50-70 ammo will require resizing if the cartridges are to be used in guns other than the rifle the ammo was previously fired in.

Here’s the author’s 200-yard target, from the sitting position over cross-sticks.

LOADING FOR THE .50-70 with the grease-groove bullets is rather simple. Starting with fired, decapped brass, my first step is to run the cases through the expander die. I generally reload my .50-70 cases without resizing them. This is quite acceptable, especially if the loaded ammo is going to be fired in the same rifle. After expanding the case mouths, which also “rounds out” any cases that might have been dropped or “dented,” the brass is then reprimed. With the new primers in 108

American Shooting Journal // February 2019

place, the brass is ready for loading. Each primed case is then charged with powder and that powder is compressed under a fiber wad, by using the expander die, to a depth that will let the bullets be seated properly. Then the bullets, sized to .512 inch and lubed, are simply seated in the cases with fingertips. Those bullets need to be seated with only a little of the top bearing band exposed, or the loads will be difficult to chamber. And the final step in preparing these loads is to run the loaded rounds through a

WITH NEW RELOADS well prepared, this .50-70 was ready for a short-range match at our club, where we shoot at 100- and 200-yard targets. Things went well in that match. At first, I spotted targets for a pair of partners, Jerry Mayo and Lynn Willecke, who had their targets side-by-side so both could be seen without adjusting the scope. Then, in the next relay, it was my turn and Jerry spotted for me on my 100-yard target. That went just fine. One shot got sent out of the black, but I will take credit for that simply because I’m the most suspect factor in my shooting. Then we moved out to 200 yards and, again, I spotted for the two of them while they made their scores. During the break, I wiped the barrel of the .50-70 with just one patch. While shooting, I use a blow tube for fouling control, relying on my moist breath to keep the fouling in the barrel soft. Soon enough they finished their 200yard targets and we traded places; I sat down behind my cross-sticks and Jerry took over the scope to spot my shots. My first shot on this target was a good one, at 10 o’clock. By taking good aim for each shot, and shooting without hurrying, only three shots strayed out of the 10-ring. I’ll have to admit that I was rather pleased with this target, my second highest score at 200 yards in our short-range matches. That score was a 96-X for the 10 shots fired. But again, one of the three shots that strayed out of the 10-ring went out of the black. Like on the 100-yard target, that must be my fault. I still have something to work on.

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Our match was not over with those two targets. We always shoot a couple of gong targets after the paper-work is done. Those are the buffalo and the bucket, shot at 200 yards over crosssticks for the buffalo and at 100 yards offhand for the bucket. We shoot five shots at each of those two targets, starting at 200 yards. I missed the buffalo a couple of times, although just barely, according to Don Kerr who was spotting for Bob Gietz, our range safety officer and scorekeeper. None of our shooters hit the buffalo with all five shots but Allen Cunniff, my Quigley partner, did hit it with four shots from his .45-70. Then we moved to the 100-yard bucket for some offhand shooting. There I did better than expected and hit the bucket with all five offhand shots. In our final scores, Allen and I were tied with eight hits each, but the tie was broken in my favor because I had five offhand hits while Allen had four. Using this .50-70 in the match was a good choice. It helped me place third on the paper targets and first on the gongs. That’s more than enough to make me feel restabilized. Now my biggest problem will be leaving this .50-70 in the rack while I try shooting with another rifle.