Sat Jan 27 22:49:51 EST 2007

The case for the .357 Special

There is, I believe, a case to be made for an uncommon defensive loading of the .357 magnum cartridge. This loading is the result of taking into account an oft-ignored factor in defensive ammunition. No doubt I will be reviled by my reader for for optimizing for something other than the typical end results - and perhaps he/she will be right. This is largely theoretical, as I've never shot anything but paper (and bugs), nor do I carry a weapon in public. With that disclaimer...

Dear Readers, I give you the .357 Special

This non-breakthrough cartridge is nothing more than a specification for a particular .357 magnum load. It satisfies the following criteria:

  1. It throws the heaviest practical .357 bullet: 180gr JHP...
  2. at a maximum velocity of 1000fps out of a 3" barrel...
  3. while tapering off in velocity gain reasonably quickly in longer barrels...
  4. reaching an estimated pressure maximum of 25000psi (up for debate)

Wherefore the .357spl? I have considered at length, with no input from any experts or personal experiments, the probable effect on my hearing of touching off a supersonic cartridge in a defensive situation indoors, and decided that for the noise level of a .38+p (also fits in my gun), I could get a much more effective payload without damaging my hearing quite so much as stepping up to the heavier .357 loads.

Think about this: 180gr at 1000fps. Sound familiar? Sure it does. These are mass/velocity figures of a .40S&W. They are also strikingly similar to the 185gr .45ACP load. They are also within the plausible range of many .44spl handloads.

I would expect there to be a trade-off of somewhat more penetration at the expense of the hydrostatic shock imparted by fatter bullets. However, the extra mass behind the hollowpoint would possibly improve expansion over what you typically see from a .38spl. (Anyone care to try? I have no such facilities available.)

"Sure E, but what do you know about these things?" A valid question. The answer is little. However, I do handload 180gr XTP-HP's into .357 brass at ~1050fps in my 50th Anniversary Blackhawk (4-5/8" barrel). Now my specimen has a rather oversize barrel/cylinder gap, so my typical handloads are probably a smidge hotter than this proposed spec. Regardless, they are nice and accurate, and don't recoil noticeably more than a 158gr XTP-HP at the same velocity. The longer bullet takes up more space in the case, which leaves less empty space in which the powder can slosh around, wrecking consistent ignition. The long bullet gives you plenty of beef without the undue wear typical of the 125gr super-hotties. The B/C gap is well-sealed as the bullet enters the rifling beyond the forcing cone. Kinetic energy figures are lower than 125gr loads (401fpe vs. 546fpe: 401/546 = 73%), but momentum is actually higher. Velocity stays safely below the sound barrier turbulence zone, and the long, lumbering slugs have a far better ballistic coefficient (.230 vs. .151 from Hornady's website) for consistent downrange performance at the target range. Recoil is tame compared to high-pressure alternatives, being more the shove of a .45 than the snap of a 9mm or .40.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the .357 spl, the product of a theoretical and idle mind:

  • 180gr JHP .357
  • .357 mag case (only in this long brass, and for .357mag guns!)
  • a moderate charge of 2400 (W231 to be attempted)
Accurate, comfortable, dependable, easy on the ears.

Why bother with so much text for a pet handload? Because given the general debate surrounding handloads for self-defense, I'd love to see a reputable ammunition manufacturer (Buffalo Bore, anyone?) make just such a factory load so I could BUY the dozen rounds to keep handy for my defensive gun, were it to be a .357.

Posted by E | Categories:: Sighting In

Wed Jan 3 18:21:47 EST 2007

On Torture, Ethics, and an article

a response to postings on this Monsters & Critics article.

Nobody here is suggesting that Americans be weak on the field of battle. I wholeheartedly believe that violence should indeed be met with violence, and the aggressor forced to STOP. It is the hallmark of a just society that violence be employed only when NECESSARY, and not merely when DESIRED.

By the philosophical position of the earlier poster, it should be legally and morally justified to (for instance) imprison and torture my boss for unjustly denying me a raise and ruining a recommendation. You bet I'm angry, upset, and taken advantage of. He might deserve a horrible fate, but surely it should not be legal to impose it.

Due process is the fundamental cornerstone of freedom. By abusing detainees, we truly abuse ourselves, for it is but an accident of legal fiction that most of our own citizens have yet to be classified in such a way that they may be treated in this manner. Once it is allowed for the state to abuse individuals, there is little to stop those individuals from being one of us. We must make our moral choices as though we were deciding for the entire world. In order to be Just, our actions must survive scrutiny across the SCALE of our entire government, and those of other nations, were they to choose the same course. If you believe it OK for agents of the state to torture individuals, then you are truly un-American in the political sense. This country was founded to preserve the rights of men, and the concept of due process, in direct opposition to the then-existing political systems of the world.

If your family is brutally murdered by a psycho/terrorist/whatever, I will not judge you for personally destroying them in vengeful rage. However, the state, being the both the steward and servant of its citizens must never be allowed to act in such a way. The state has no excuse for vengeful rage. Its first duty is to protect its citizens from threats both internal and external. Opening the moral door to internal torture and process-deprived detention is a failure to protect its citizens even before abuses are committed. The excuse that these detainees in question are enemies is no excuse for vengeful rage of the state. If our political philosophy of due process is moral and just, then it is applicable and must be applied to all of those with whom our nation interacts. Otherwise, we are a nation of hypocrites and deserve no moral pedestal.

Many assume that we are right in whatever we do merely because we are Americans. This is the lunacy of faith. A geographical accident of birth does not make a moral man. Intractable belief in his own righteousness does not make a moral man. Ethics and morality are HARD. Every day, and every year, each situation must be examined. The moral man must examine his own motivations, actions, and effect on the world around him. He must question his own judgment, for mere faith is not a moral baptism.

The other unspoken assumption of those who condone torture of detainees by the state is that this activity will keep us safe. This is patently, ridiculously, false. Torture serves only to satisfy the blood-lust of the torturer. Torture does NOT produce reliable intelligence. Period. This has been demonstrated, and this view is endorsed by those who should know. Torture paints us as ugly hypocrites in the eyes of the rest of the world, and we lose respect as a people - respect that used to be a safety net against attack when traveling abroad. Torture puts our citizens in danger as targets. It puts our captive troops in further danger of retribution. It puts our policies at risk of abandonment by our allies.

It is a sad, but inevitable human fact that our country's history is rife with heinous violations of those lofty principles on which it was founded. It's saving grace is a structure and ethos which strives to overcome its shortcomings. The undermining of that ethos will be the downfall of America.

If this country ever wishes to truly embody the "shining beacon on a hill" as described by Ronald Reagan, we cannot smear feces from the gutter on our reputation. Protecting our reputation is not something to be done with Public Relations and the hiding of our dark activities, but by refusing to engage in those dark activities in the first place, exposing the workings of our government so that none have reason to suspect we do otherwise, and by punishing those among us who betray our ideals of freedom, fair treatment, and due process, for they are truly not Americans.

Posted by E | Categories:: Politics

Fri Apr 14 18:27:59 EDT 2006

Precisely Pellets

This article is primarily about pellet testing, but first some background...

Based on long-term lust, aligned interests of my shooting partner, and a great review by B.B. Pelletier, a Russian (via EAA importer) IZH-61 air rifle arrived by FedEx truck yesterday. Also in the box were 4 tins of pellets that she wanted to test in the FWB-102 and Beeman HW30.

But more to the point, I tested 8 kinds of projectiles against a USBR target using two air guns. The three new kinds of pellets combined with the contents of the rest of the armory produced around 12 kinds of pellets, 8 of which are tested here. I started both out of wanting to know what shot best in the new IZH, and to see what the new ammo would do. Then it got out of hand. Please note that these are my results with me shooting these particular airguns. In order to get a good statistical sample, many more targets would need to be shot.



First off, this rifle is cool: Russian IZH-61

The IZH-61 is a spring-piston side-cocking polymer-stocked 5-shot repeater. it has a lot of "high-end" features implemented in a VERY affordable package. It's a very interesting convergence of trade-offs. It has a click-adjustable rear sight and hooded front. The sight picture is excellent, and reminiscent of a pistol. However, both are plastic. The ingenious 5-shot magazine and magazine well are also plastic. The butt is adjustable across a wide range (look for the second screw stop!) from tiny carbine length to nearly full-sized rifle dimensions. It even has a dovetail "rail" (polymer) at the rear of the action which accepted a Williams WGRS peep sight with a little convincing. Three drops of Phil's Tenacious Oil on the mainspring smoothed things out a bit, as did a drop on the cocking lever lock pin.

How does it shoot? I can hit a 6oz soda can (the stubbies) about 50% ofthe time at 30 yards, sometimes 5 shots in a row. Offhand. That'll do. At 50 yards the pellets are about a foot low, but I still managed to drop a couple Premiers onto the pistol-sized shoot-n-c by holding over the target backing. It's rated at 490fps, That probably means 450-475fps depending on the pellets, but I haven't chronographed it yet.

Beeman Tempest

Beeman Webley Tempest

Another springer in my case is a Beeman/Webley Tempest (pictured here on my reloading bench. I have a love/hate relationship with this pistol. It's a clever design which recoils backwards like a firearm, but the balance is mediocre, the trigger long and heavy, and the sight crude. The forearm piece is plastic and has a tendancy to crack around the pin holding it in. I've already replaced it once. However, it's fairly easy to open for lube, which improves the firing cycle substantially. I've clocked it from 410fps to 480 depending on the pellets, but it tends toward the 440 mark. Medium power, handy package, "field" accuracy. :-/
It's also my only non-CO2 pistol.

Testing Environment

Pellets and Scale

The table below details the brand, model, and specs of the pellets tested over the last two days. All shooting was done indoors at 24ft. The rifle was shot offhand, and the pistol off a soft rest, sitting the butt on the rest. I tend to shoot the Tempest well this way. Informal testing of the IZH suggested that offhand was as good as bench for this crazy gun, and the pellets would go straight instead of dropping several inches. Sights were not adjusted during shooting with the exception of the first target with the pistol (which was regulated for 25yds). Pellets were weighed in batches of 5 on my Lee powder scale. The numbers below reflect the average of their combined weight. Dimensions were measured with a Lyman dial caliper. Roughly three pellets were measured to estimate each dimension and noticable variations are noted, but not enumerated. 5 shots were fired at each bullseye, and three bullseyes per pellet type (except where I got confused, as noted on the targets). Groups were not measured for size since I would nead at least 5 targets each to get a reasonable sample. However, I may go back and measure them for kicks. My chronograph does not have an indoors attachment, so no velocities were measured. Relative impact elevation on the target MAY show some correlation to velocity.

Imaginary FAQ:

  • Why so many Gamo pellets? They're easy to find around here at mainstream sporting goods stores that sell airguns.
  • Why no other domestic pellets? They suck. The Crosman Premiers appear to be the exception. Good pellets are still inexpensive even compared to the cheapest .22LR. Buy better ammo or shoot less. Domestic airgun ammo reflects domestic airgun quality and mainstream attitudes towards "bb guns". Beeman is a US company, but AFAIK all ammo and guns of quality they sell are imported (and often customized for or by them). Accessories are the exception since they are often domestic firearm accessories, which tend to be decent.

Ammo Specs

Brand/Model Shape Weight gr Head Dia. Skirt Dia. Length Significant Var.? IZH c-t-c Tempest c-t-c
RWS Hobby Wadcutter 6.96 .177 .187 .210 no 0.790 0.853
Beeman Silver Bear Semi-Wadcutter HP 7.16 .176 .187 .220 no 1.093 0.965
Crosman Premier Round Nose HP 7.96 .175 .181 .215 length 0.720 1.134
Beeman Field Tgt. Special. Round Nose 8.34 .176 .181 .230 no 0.791 1.323
Gamo Match Wadcutter 7.84 .177 .184 .201 no 1.093 0.965
Gamo Magnum Point, Extra Baffle 8.1 .177 .186 .281 skirt 0.721 0.986
Gamo Hunter Round Nose 7.4 .176 .183 .230 skirt 0.998 1.451
Gamo Round Sphere 8.18 .177 .177 .177 .001 variations

A picture of the pellets and their tins: Pellets and Tins

Target Results, IZH-61

Summary in rough order of groupings:

  • RWS Hobby RULES!
  • Crosman Premier's perform well.
  • Beeman Field Targets are respectable.
  • Gamo Match groups well, but unexpectely low. Slow?
  • Gamo pointy Magnum groups well despite slight loading problems
  • Gamo Hunter turns in one great group
  • Beeman Silver Bear disappoints despite good performance other times.
  • Gamo Rounds all in the scoring ring on the only bull shot.
IZH Target
I think this rifle shot most of the ammo rather well. The RWS Hobby's were the clear winner. The 5-shot magazine limits the overall length of pellets that will fit, and the Gamo Magnums were pushing this limit. Outdoors, the Gamo Match pellets dropped really fast. I think in a lower-velocity gun like this one, round nose pellets are best for anything beyond 50ft. The Premiers and Beeman Field pellets are good here, but probably a little heavy for a gun at this power level. I'd rather have a lighter round-nose pellet like the Gamo Hunter, but higher quality. I'll have to get my hands on some RWS Superdomes.

One obvious pellet variation with this rifle is the skirt diameter. The 5 holes in the magazine are not quite exactly the same size, so the skinnier pellets fall a little deeper into the wider holes. The gun seems to shoot best with wide-skirted pellets, the Premiers being the exception.

Target Results, Beeman Tempest

Summary in rough order of groupings:

  • RWS Hobby wins again!
  • Beeman Silver Bear groups well from this gun, confirming past experience.
  • Gamo Magnum groups better than I expected
  • Beeman Field Targets are passable.
  • Crosman Premier's earn a shrug.
  • Gamo Match is lousy in this pistol.
  • Gamo Hunter is the same
  • Gamo Rounds are ok at this range.
Tempest Target
I shot the Crosman Premier's first and had to lower the sights. Then I skipped to the next target accidentally. This is noted on the target. I only shot two targets with the Beeman Field pellets. Wide-skirted pellets seem to be the order of the day for this pistol as well. They also grouped higher, which suggests higher velocity to me.

Overall Conclusions

  • RWS Pellets are very nice AND very affordable.
  • Wide-skirted pellets seem to be more consistent, generally
  • Round-nose pellets in low-power guns are important except at close ranges
  • Hollow-point pellets are useless (for expansion) below 700fps or so (supported by testing not shown here), but may perform accuracy-wise.

Posted by E | Categories:: Sighting In