June 19th, 2019

How to Watch Mirage and Trace with a Spotting Scope

Nikon MEP-30 Reticle Eyepiec
Nikon offers eyepieces with reticles for its flagship Monarch Fieldscopes. Eyepiece reticles help spotters call shot corrections with precise click values (MOA or Mils).

Spotting Scope Video mirage tipsUsing a spotting scope seems simple. Just point it at the target and focus, right? Well, actually, it’s not that simple. Sometimes you want to watch mirage or trace, and that involves different focus and viewing priorities. Along with resolving bullet holes (or seeing other features on the target itself), you can use your spotting scope to monitor mirage. When watching mirage, you actually want to focus the spotting scope not on the target, but, typically, about two-thirds of the distance downrange. When spotting for another shooter, you can also use the spotting scope to watch the bullet trace, i.e. the vapor trail of the bullet. This will help you determine where the bullet is actually landing, even if it does not impact on the target backer.

In this video, SFC L.D. Lewis explains how to use a spotting scope to monitor mirage, and to watch trace. SFC Lewis is a former Army Marksmanship Unit member, U.S. Army Sniper School instructor, and current U.S. Army Reserve Service Rifle Shooting Team member. In discussing how precision shooters can employ spotting scopes, Lewis compares the use of a spotting scope for competition shooters vs. military snipers. NOTE: You may wish to turn up the audio volume, during the actual interview segment of this video.

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August 16th, 2014

Radical Gain-Twist Barrel for AR and High Power Rifles

“Gain-twist” refers to a form of barrel rifling where the twist rate gets tighter over the length of the barrel. For example, a gain twist barrel might start with 1:12″ twist and finish with 1:8″ twist. There is some evidence that gain-twist rifling can deliver more velocity (compared to a conventional barrel) with certain cartridge types. There have also been claims of increased accuracy with some types of bullets, but such claims are more difficult to quantify.

Gain-twist rifling is not new. This form of rifling has been around for a long, long time. The first gain-twist barrels appeared in the late 1800s. However, in the last few years, there has been increased interest in gain-twist barrels for both short-range and long-range competition.

Video Explains Gain Twist Rifling

Radical Extreme Gain Twist Barrel Design
In this video from our friend John M. Buol Jr., gunsmith John Carlos talks about a fairly radical gain-twist barrel design for high power and service rifle shooters. Produced by Bartlein Barrels, this gain-twist barrel starts with a 1:14″ twist and finishes with a 1:6.8″ twist at the muzzle (See 1:50 time-mark). Carlos believes that this type of barrel delivers higher velocities while providing excellent accuracy for a wide range of bullet weights. In .223 caliber, the gain twist works with the 75-77 grain bullets used on the “short course” while also delivering excellent accuracy with the longer 80-90gr bullets used at 600 yards and beyond. Velocity is the important bonus for long-range use. Carlos says the gain twist barrels deliver greater muzzle velocity, allowing a 90 grain bullet to stay well above the transonic zone, even at 1000 yards. (See 4:50 time-mark.)

This 1:14″ to 1:6.8″ gain-twist barrel is the product of much experimentation by Carlos and Bartlein. Carlos states: “We’ve varied all sorts of internal dimensions, such as the land height, and the groove depth. We’ve tried 5R rifling and 4-groove rifling, and we’ve worked with various rates of twist, and I believe we have it down really well right now.”

In this video, John Carlos explains the history of gain-twist rifling, and he explains how modern Bartlein gain twist barrels have been developed in recent years for both benchrest and High Power applications. If you are interested in barrel technology and design, take the time to watch.

Twist Rate

Erik Dahlberg illustration courtesy FireArmsID.com.

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July 16th, 2014

Military (Finally) Looking to Retire the M9 Pistol

Commentary by John Buol
The critics say that the M9 pistol (the U.S. military’s version of Beretta’s m92) must go. We’re told that the 9x19mm (aka 9mm NATO) is a poor pistol cartridge. Our Soldiers and Marines are being hampered by an inferior handgun and cartridge — or so the argument goes.

We are told that the military needs a new pistol, to be called the Modular Handgun System (MHS). According to Fox News: “The MHS would replace the Army’s inventory of more than 200,000 outdated M9 pistols and several thousand M11 9mm pistols with one that has greater accuracy, lethality, reliability, and durability.” The MHS will be a “total system replacement — new gun, new ammo, new holster, everything,” reports Daryl Easlick, Army project officer at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Easlick says that the Army, and other services, demand a pistol with a more powerful cartridge that does more damage to the bad guys: “We have to do better than our current 9mm.”

M9 Military Pistol Handgun Training

Does the military really need a new pistol, with a different chambering? Maybe not…

Here’s the real problem. Most Marines, Soldiers, police, and gun owners tend to be novice marksmen, especially with handguns. Very few people have trained to shoot a handgun well enough to offer a competent opinion on the matter. To underscore this point, let’s look at some ranges for evidence of typical skill levels.

Army Pistol Qualification Target
M9 Military Pistol Handgun Training

As you can see, there is no real trend in hits and the entire barn door (full sized silhouette) has shots sprayed all over it. And these are the shots that actually hit, all of them receiving full value. On this particular Army course, shooters are given 40 rounds to engage 30 targets and are considered qualified if 16 of the 30 targets are hit, somewhere. Soldiers can miss nearly half the time, even with ten extra rounds, and still pass. The “fast” stages of the course allow two seconds per shot and the bulk of the course is slower. Note the base of the target is blocked by the mound protecting the target lifter and that mound is a beaten zone of many very low, errant shots.

The Marines in the peanut gallery are likely chuckling, so let’s look at examples of their ranges.

Marine Pistol Target Bay
M9 Military Pistol Handgun Training

Yet Another Marine Pistol Target Bay, Showing Effects of Missed Shots.
M9 Military Pistol Handgun Training

The metal carrier behind the block wall holds a silhouette the same size as the Army target and that waist-high wall has taken a healthy beating from bad shots jerked and flinched several feet off target. Of course, the wall only shows shots pulled off target that went low. The rest ended up in the berm somewhere else. As seen closer up, the chewed-up top line of blocks is not made of concrete. That’s to avoid back-splatter towards the shooters from the excessive number of low shots.

REALITY CHECK: These are the results on actual qualification ranges with large targets, generous time limits, fixed courses of fire, and no real pressure. Imagine how much worse the shooting is when the stress and variables of combat are thrown in. Given the users wielding it, is the M9 truly ineffective? Even if it is, are shooters like this capable of a valid opinion on the matter?

Most Marines, Soldiers, police, CCW, and gun owners won’t invest the effort needed to train to a high level of skill and very few public sector organizations will expend the resources needed to make them do so. I’m not casting aspersions, just trying to address reality. If the Department of Defense (DoD) decides on a new pistol, or any other weapon, the results will be similar because the end user isn’t magically more skillful with a shiny new issue item.

About the Author
John M. Buol Jr. began his shooting career in practical competition, earning Master classifications from USPSA and IDPA. After slotting on the Army Reserve Marksmanship Program, he switched to NATO and NRA/CMP events, earning Distinguished Rifleman and Pistol Shot badges and a series of All Army Small Arms Championship wins along the way. He is a published author (Beyond “Expert”: Tripling Military Shooting Skills) and maintains the Firearm User Network Blog at http://FirearmUserNetwork.com

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