Joe Nobody Books
A RESOURCE FOR SELF-RELIANCE
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How I Rate and Test a Firearm
Preppers have different evaluation criteria for weapons. This is how I test.
How I test and rate a firearm
I use 10 factors to “score” a firearm. As with any test/evaluation, much of what I write is subjective and opinion. The reader should initially understand two important concepts of my reviews:
First of all, I shoot an average of 2,100 rounds per month. I have for years. In my garage are two reloading presses and numerous 5-gallon buckets full of spent brass. I love trigger time and firearms in general. It was not only my profession, but my hobby as well. In addition, all of my immediate family enjoy a little competition, so I receive alternate opinions and additional wear and tear on my iron.
Secondly, I won’t write a review of a weapon I don’t like. Most of my evaluations are performed over months, if not years. Time is precious enough without wasting effort and money on equipment I don’t ever intend to use. I sell the weapons that don’t meet my needs, not continue to utilize them.
What follows are the 10 ratings I use in evaluating a firearm and an explanation of each. These criteria are centered on a self-reliant lifestyle and what may happen in our society, not combat/military usage.
Accuracy - Potential
I don’t trust myself when it comes to shooting. Some days I’m Deadeye Joe, others I struggle to hit the ground. Shooting is like any other hand/eye skill; it can be impacted by a wide variety of environmental, dietary, and physiological factors. For these reasons, when it comes to combat accuracy, hunting accuracy (two different things in my book) and general usability, I try and take myself (the human element) out of the equation as much as possible. This isn’t easy.
Most weapons’ testing consists of some sort of supported rest (sandbagged) discharge at known-range targets. Perhaps those shooters are better than this Joe Nobody because I can take the same rifle, ammo and environment conditions on Monday and put Annie Oakley to shame. On Tuesday, I might get completely different results. There can be numerous factors involved. Humidity, wind, barrel condition (hot, cold, dirty, clean), temperature, and differences in ammunition components.
But mostly, it’s me. How much coffee did Joe have that morning? Did a letter in the mail from the IRS cause my blood pressure to tick upward? Did the publisher call right before the shoot and issue a not-so-subtle reminder of a pending deadline? For this reason, I strive to set up accuracy testing without touching the firearm. I’m a variable – eliminate me.
For these reasons, I use a sled and hydraulic trigger device. As far as setup, this sucks. The sled isn’t so bad, the major hurdle being properly securing the device to a surface/bench. The hurt comes from trying to replace the human index finger with a repeatable mechanical device. I’ve found no easy way to accomplish this. Given every trigger guard, breech, pull weight and throw is different, mounting a thing-ah-mahbob to the gun isn’t the highlight of my shooting day.
Ammunition plays a critical role as well. I’ve written extensively about the topic, including several chapters in the book The Home Schooled Shootist. To milk every-single-tiny bit of consistency out of any given firearm, you have to load your own ammo. It can take weeks of trial and error to find the best combination of bullet weight, powder load and cartridge length. There’s no set formula for a given model of shoulder-fired blaster – even within the same manufacturer’s lot, I’ve seen remarkable differences.
The proper mounting of optics is another important factor. Again, in Shootist, I spend a considerable number of pages on how to properly connect a scope/red dot to the barrel, not the breech or rail.
Accuracy - Common:
So you don’t reload, and ammunition is expensive. How does the blaster perform with off-the-shelf, cheapo lead pills? If a collapse occurs, how will that safe-queen perform with scavenged cartridges? These are fair questions, and I evaluate with factory loads as well. But accuracy is only a small part of the overall ownership experience.
How fast you can acquire targets, both initially and for follow-on shots, is an important defensive consideration. There are numerous factors that come into play here – everything from shooting skills (stance, grip, etc.) to the operator’s physical size. Only you can rate/evaluate those personal factors.
One item that is often overlooked in this important category is generated recoil. At a basic level, recoil can be divided into two different physical reactions. Every experienced shooter is familiar with barrel rise, or how hard the stock pushes into the shoulder. But there is a second aspect that plays a part as well – off-axis momentum. Anyone who has spent time with the AR platform knows the barrel moves more to the right than up. World-class shooters invest a lot of time compensating for this reaction.
Different designs translate recoil, especially off-axis, in unique ways. Take two 7-pound rifles, one bullpup and one tradition design. They both weigh the same. Both can fire the same caliber, but their acquisition capabilities will be completely different.
Preppers have a unique set of criteria when it comes to any sort of equipment. If you envision a grid-down, non-functional society, then the quality of ammo, cleaning supplies and magazines may not match current-day standards. I once owned a heavy barrel AR that was extremely accurate. As long as you fed it factory ammunition, kept it lubed to the 9’s, and clean as new snow, it was fine. But… it would jam on even my best reloads, was super-duper picky on magazines, and was good for about 20 rounds before needing an oil change. A great sporting rifle – but not what I want in my safe if the world goes off a cliff. I may be cleaning my barrels with a shoelace knotted on one end. I might be using dirty engine oil for lube.
Another important consideration for preppers is portability. Unless you are in the middle of a zombie nest, we will most likely be carrying our iron more than shooting it. Roving predators could be a concern, so we’ll probably want to keep a weapon on our person more often than not.
This rating is about more than just physical size and weight. Protruding charging handles, sharp edges, badly placed sling connection points… it all adds up as a negative when you are living with a weapon every single day.
Taking your gun to the range and dumping a few hundred rounds is one thing, living with it on your shoulder for a month is another. One of the first things I do with a new rifle is affix a sling and walk the ranch. I climb fences, stalk deer/hogs, cross streams, and scale moderate hills/banks. I wear the gun for mundane tasks. That is how I foresee having to live if things get really bad.
Alongside portability is the weapon’s footprint, or how easy it is to conceal. Will it fit in a pack without a total breakdown? Under a jacket? It’s not difficult to predict a situation where you will want to have a weapon but will not want anyone to know you are armed. Perhaps you’re walking through territory controlled by the military, and they seize private arms. In the book Without Rule of Law, I wrote extensively about blending into your environment.
Even today, I appreciate the ability to conceal that I am armed. I often hike in areas where firearms are allowed, but my fellow outdoorsmen wouldn’t appreciate seeing someone on the trail with an M4 carbine - polite society and all.
A prepper anticipates a world where manufacturers may never produce another new gun… ever… again. There may be no gunsmith to fix a broken pain-stick… no factory replacing defective parts. Your grandchildren may inherit that iron, and their lives may depend upon it. Will a $2500 AR15 outlast a $900 unit? Will a piston gun outlast a direct impingement model?
There have been many “torture” tests performed against some of the higher end models out there. I’ve done a few of my own.
Weapons are mechanical devices. Even the best built, immaculately maintained lead-launcher will break, and if the world has gone to hell, there will probably be only two ways to fix it. The first is obvious – access to your spare’s inventory. The second is to scavenge or repurpose a part from somewhere else. Obviously, commonality of components with popular models is a factor here, but there are other places to find parts. I take that aspect into account as I evaluate weapons.
But there are other “parts” that may break as well. Optics, BUIS (backup iron sights), slings, grips, stocks… it’s a machine used to hunt and fight. It can and will fail.
It’s no secret that .22LR is the most common rifle ammunition, followed by the AR platform’s .223 (or 5.56 NATO). But what about after that? Personally, I store a lot of rounds and can reload even more. But even my supply may run out. I want to be the guy who owns the last bullet on earth, not the gent who just fired the last round available for his super-deluxe man-stopper, a tool that when empty mutates into a club.
Cost of Ownership:
A top-shelf piston AR can run north of $2500 while a good quality DI weapon can be had for $900 (as of this writing). Would two of the lower cost blasters be a better investment than the gold-plated offerings? How much are barrels from the manufacturer (when the weapon requires a special thread)?
If the model isn’t one of the more popular guns, do I need to purchase two of them – one for spares? Can my wife or young children handle the firearm or do I need to buy them something different (additional cost)? All of these are important factors, especially when you consider that the collapse of society may never occur. Until that unlikely event, I need my investments to serve a dual purpose – having fun shooting in competition or recreation.
I use a graduation of 0-100 just like tests in school. I’ll average these 10 criteria for an overall ranking. I’ll state up front; I’ve never seen a weapon that is a perfect 100.
30,000 rounds with a POF
I have owned, used and tested a lot of different firearms. This is the gold standard for a self-reliant individual carbine.
30,000 rounds with a POF P415
Model: POF P415 (14.5” barrel, 1 in 8 RH twist, .223 and 5.56)
Street Price: $2100
(For an explanation of these ratings and testing procedures, click here)
Anyone who has glanced at my writings knows a POF (Patriot Ordnance Factory) is my go-to carbine of choice. I recently crossed the 30K round mark on my original POF (one of several in my safe) and decided it was worthy of a review.
POF manufactures piston AR15s. The company is based in Arizona. For years, they had what I thought were the worst looking magazine ads imaginable. I mean they were really, really bad. You might remember them – an odd helicopter with operators on the rails.
My first exposure to a piston-based AR was actually an HK (Heckler and Koch) 416. The talcum powder the Iraqis call “sand” was causing some issues with the traditional direct impingement (DI) M16 and M4 platforms. In addition, many of the high-speed gentlemen operating at the time wanted shorter barrels... much shorter barrels. There was an engineering problem (shorter gas tube) with the DI weapons being used by the big Army at the time. Larry Vickers (Group Delta) is credited with approaching HK and requesting something better. I managed to get my hands on one of the HK units, and the rest, as they say, was DI history.
Everything on a POF is first class, right out of the box. The cartridge trigger is one of the best I’ve ever put a finger on – 4.5 lbs will break the glass. On most ARs, this would be a $200 upgrade.
The bolt carrier group (BCG) is nickel-plated steel with an integral key. This is a quality piece of billet-machined craftsmanship, heat treated/plated per MIL-SPEC. Again, this would be an expensive upgrade on most factory rifles. She will run dry all day long.
The bolt and firing pin are chrome-plated for extra long life – a very important consideration for preppers. Another longevity feature is the roller pin cam – an innovative feature that reduces wear and friction and improves the lifespan of the BCG. (My original rifle didn’t have this feature so I upgraded the pin. This is now standard on all new models.) I can’t say for sure, but I believe this also contributes to this machine’s amazing reliability.
Quality Magpul furniture and a compensator (not a flash suppressor) round out the package.
To my knowledge, POF is the only manufacturer that doesn’t use a spring on the piston. It flows freely during the firing cycle, and thus a prepper has one less replacement part to worry about. I’ve blown a few piston springs on other weapons/platforms – it isn’t a positive experience.
The rail is a free-floating, single piece (monolithic) construction. Why is this important? Because every other AR weapon I’ve ever picked up has a slight discrepancy where the rail meets the receiver. This causes misalignment issues with optics, lasers, and night vision devices.
The barrel is a shooter’s wet dream. According to POF’s website, it is:
• heavy contour hand-lapped button twisted rifled, fluted to reduce weight and heat
• 4150 Mil-B-11595 chrome-moly-vanadium alloy (machine gun rated)
• 70 Rockwell case hardened (Nitride) heat-treated "5R" polygonal barrels are 2x harder than MIL-SPEC and hammer-forged barrels
• Corrosion resistant, 10x thicker, and 10x harder than MIL-SPEC chrome lining
I’m at 30,000 rounds, and just now noticing a slight decline in accuracy. This is truly a legacy tube that should last multiple lifetimes for the average citizen.
Speaking of accuracy, with many weapons you make a choice between accuracy and reliability. Not with the POF – you get both, and that helps justify the high price. My testing has shown consistency at:
• .85 MOA with 68gr BTHP (custom load)
• .98 MOA with quality factory ammo between 62-68gr
• 1.34 MOA with M855 NATO surplus (Green tip)
The factory claims every POF is sub-MOA as shipped. I believe them.
I won’t claim my weapons have never jammed. I would question anyone who brags on expending 30K through any blaster without stoppage. Sloppy reloads, a bad magazine here and there, and a couple of stove pipes have resulted in the execution of remedial drills. But it is rare… very rare. Of all the weapons I’ve exercised, this is the most reliable to date, and that includes the exalted AK platform.
According to the factory website, they’ve just upped the ante with a new gas-extraction system, but my weapons aren’t equipped with this feature, so I can’t comment on it… just yet.
This is a heavy rifle, with most of the weight on the barrel side of the fulcrum. I blame the big, loud and proud 1913 rails. This hurts the portability rating while enhancing the acquisition times for follow-on shots because there isn’t as much barrel travel (recoil).
This is not a competition “speed” gun, but my course times are as good with this unit as any with usable rail-estate. The picture shows a grouping, off-hand, at 50 yards. Those 28 rounds were fired in 27 seconds – not world class by any means, but it demonstrates the weapon is capable.
Portability and Concealable
It’s an AR15, non-SBR (Short Barreled Rifle), so the options are limited. At 32 inches collapsed, living with the P415 isn’t unlike other carbines in this class. Being slightly heavier than many of its siblings, I took off a few points. In a gunfight, you won’t notice the weight, but I review for preppers, and we most likely will be carrying our iron more than fighting with it.
The rails on this unit (new options have been announced by POF – I’ve ordered one) are large, bulky and have sharp edges. This isn’t an issue for gloved hands or use during times of duress, but in everyday carry you’ll opine for a thinner, lighter system of Picatinny ladders.
It is no more concealable than any other AR15, and with those beefy rails perhaps a little less.
Cost of Ownership
Some might argue that you could buy two nice DI rifles for the price of a single POF. While this is a very expensive weapon, it is well worth the cost in my opinion. By the time I had upgraded the trigger, purchased a spare barrel, put on a compensator, and upgraded the stock and grip on a DI rifle, I would be close to the cost of the POF. I still wouldn’t have the rail system, longevity of the BCG and the accuracy of this piece.
As a prepper, I believe in having accessibility to spare parts. On a mil-spec AR, you might be able to justify a short-list of replacements with the logic of “They’re everywhere – I can find a part easily.” While many of the POF’s components could be swapped with a DI gun, there are some unique skews. The piston apparatus is one primary example, an additional $129 on the company’s website.
While my POF will operate with a traditional BCG, I wouldn’t want to do that long term (carrier tilt). Throw in another $279 for a spare bolt and BCG, which is about average for this quality of internals on any AR platform.
The only part I’ve had to replace on my blaster was the ejector spring. At about 20K rounds, it went soft on me, causing the occasional stovepipe failure. The little $3.00 part solved that issue.
I have owned and operated most of the piston-based ARs on the market. Some cost more, some a little less. This is the gold standard in my gun safe. If I could only have one weapon, it would be a POF. As a prepper, an investment in a P415 or P308 (.308 version) is well worth it in my opinion. I believe the combination of quality, craftsmanship, features and design will make this a defensive tool that your grandchildren will be able to use – no matter how far down the ladder society should fall.
15,000 Rounds with a Bushmaster ACR
This folding stock battle rifle is a winner.
The Adaptive Combat Rifle (ACR)
Model: Bushmaster ACR - Enhanced (16.5” barrel, 1 in 9 RH twist, .223 and 5.56)
Street Price: $2350
In mid-2010, I found myself curious about an alternative prepper rifle. While my collection of M4 carbines (AR15 platform) was significant and trusted, there were shortcomings associated with using that family of weapons in a survival/post-apocalyptic world. Determined not to be an old dog unable to learn new tricks, I began reading up on alternatives.
The media at the time was full of articles and prose covering what was deemed “the 4th generation of battle rifles:” the adaptive combat rifle (ACR) from Bushmaster, the Sig 550 series and of course, the much anticipated SCAR from FN.
I had that warm-fuzzy in my gut when my son and I went to the gun show that Saturday. I had a gangster roll of Franklins in my pocket and the okay from Mrs. Nobody to make a significant investment in my gun safe retirement account. Those circumstances aligned for the perfect shopping-storm.
All day I haggled, bargained, and negotiated with those poor salesmen working the tables. It was an exhausting campaign, defined by hard-fought battles and forced marches between rows of booths displaying the latest in blaster technology. Even my son, normally wide-eyed and content fondling various firearms, began to wear down.
Finally we achieved victory, walking out of the show with three rifle boxes, reveling in the glory of our achievement and anxious to get home, clean, inspect, and then start pumping rounds through the new acquisitions.
The bug-out buggy rolled into the Nobody hacienda sporting a new Bushmaster ACR, a FN SCAR-16 and last, but certainly not least, a bullpup F2000. It was on.
We worked late into the night mounting optics and slings, reading manuals and lubing bolts. It was glorious, heady work, my son and I as giddy as two schoolgirls the night before a big dance.
The next day we both rose early, like two kids on Christmas morning eager to see what new goodies were under the tree. We loaded buckets of 5.56 into the truck, armloads of targets, shooting bags and other kit joining three brand-new rifle cases. It was heaven.
As we drove to the ranch, we kept repeating our motto of the day – 5,000 rounds or bust.
We achieved our goal, four buckets of spent brass accompanying us home on the return trip. It was a day we both will remember forever.
All three of the weapons performed reasonably well, my fear of stovepipes, failures to feed and other stoppages unwarranted. My sloppy, fast-as-you-can bulk reloads did cause two or three jams, but all cleared easily. The quality ammo functioned flawlessly.
In reality, I had put less than 100 rounds through each weapon before I had a favorite. That initial impression was justified over time by more than just my opinion.
This article is about the ACR, so I won’t delve into the details of why the other two offerings. I sold the SCAR and F-2000 within weeks. They weren’t bad rifles. They didn’t experience any major issues or have debilitating design flaws – the ACR was simply a better fit for our needs. The proceeds were used to purchase better optics and then later, a twin backup to the first rifle.
Fast forward to present day, and I have now logged about 15,000 rounds through the initial weapon. It has been promoted in rank and is now my second favorite blaster, running nose-and-nose with my Patriot Ordnance Factory (POF) M4. That’s a pretty telling statement, as my collection of firearms includes some strong contenders, including offerings by LWRCI, Sig and other high-end AR15-esque painsticks. Here’s why:
If the ACR could compete with my M4 tools in this category, it would be my go-to weapon of choice. Like so many rifles, there is a compromise between accuracy and reliability. This gun is set up for reliability. My testing has shown consistency at:
• 1.12 MOA with 55gr HP(custom load)
• 1.15 MOA with quality factory ammo between 55gr
• 2.14 MOA with M855 NATO surplus (green tip)
There are two issues with the ACR that impact its capabilities. The first is the trigger. It’s not bad, but can’t compete with the finer offerings available for the M4 platform. My finger judges it at about 8lbs. Recently, I found an upgraded offering (two stage) online, but I haven’t modified as of this writing. For a $2000+ rifle, this goes against my prepper-grain.
The second problem is that awful barrel twist. At 1:9 you are forced to use light weight pills, and for a SHTF weapon, I prefer weighty lead. I have read that 1:7 twist tubes are available and may upgrade, but again I expected more from the factory given the price.
This blaster runs like a sewing machine. Steel case junk, my reloads, all weights and brands. I won’t claim it has never jammed, but it is extremely rare. It is the equal in reliability of my best piston M4 weapons. If you believe quality ammo may be an issue in the post-apocalyptic world, this weapon will eat just about anything and still go boom.
It should be noted that this is also the cleanest running rifle in my safe. Even tidier than a piston-based AR, the bolt, carrier group and internals remain free of carbon, residue and other fouling grime. Other than a quick swab through the barrel, I don’t even bother to clean the internals after every session.
This baby is a fast gun. While course times are objective from day to day, I am confident in stating this weapon has the best acquisition times of any I’ve shouldered to date. The stock is a gunfighter’s dream, with adjustments of length and cheek-piece. The balance is perfect for this Joe Nobody. Recoil management is always an important factor for follow-on shots, and the designers of the ACR are to be complimented on how well the cycle is controlled.
Some other features that make this a strong fighting gun are:
• Ambidextrous controls
• Non-reciprocating charging handle
• Controls in basically the same location as an AR15.
For a long time I wondered if it were just the “feel” that made me perform so strongly with the ACR. Not long ago, I had a chance to utilize a high-speed camera and did a little test. We set up the camera between a target and me. Standing in exactly the same spot, I shot both weapons over the top of the instrument. You can see from the photographs below that the barrel of the ACR moves significantly less than my POF (a front-heavy gun).
This first photograph shows the frame right before discharging the ACR:
Then, five frames after the shot (note the brass in the red circle):
We then overlaid all five post-shot frames and enhanced the muzzle with white circles:
We did the same with the POF P415 (note the brass in the red circle):
And finally, side-by-side:
Is this scientific proof of anything? No, as with any physical activity, numerous factors can be in play. Still, these photographs do a very good job of documenting what I “feel” as I fire the weapon. The ACR just doesn’t “move” as much to the shooter’s right, nor does it seem to generate the same rise. This, as much as the other features, is why I believe I can put more lead on multiple targets faster with the ACR than any other firearm I own (so far).
Portability and Concealable
The ACR’s folding stock and thin profile make it a dream to carry and hide. It will easily fit into my large pack, and the built-in sling attachment points make carrying the unit (front or back) one of the most comfortable shoulder fired weapons I’ve owned.
The weapon can still be fired with the stock folded. I’m not sure what you could hit with it, but it will go boom. At 28 inches long, it is a full three+ inches shorter than any non-SBR AR15 (with the same length tube). That may not sound like much, but it makes a world of difference when you need to stuff it into a pack.
The ACR is just over 8 lbs, and that is about what the average AR weighs with usable rails.
Cost of Ownership:
The ACR is expensive off-the-shelf, but offers some cost-saving features for those with a self-reliance mindset. The barrel can be changed, both for length and caliber, without any tools. I’m sure some third-party offerings would provide more accuracy. As of this writing, only a 6.8 SPC caliber change kit is available. Many in the ACR arena are losing faith in more pill-sizes being offered as Bushmaster has been long on promises and short on delivery. Time will tell.
That caliber change capability could be important in a world where ammo isn’t being manufactured any longer. For longevity and legacy purposes, it can add even more weight to the rankings.
So I gave the ACR a medium-to-strong rating in the category.
In my collection, this weapon holds the runner-up position as far as a post-apocalyptic blasters; second only to my POF P415. As of this writing, Bushmaster has announced the availability of a Designated Marksmen model with a longer barrel, interesting looking stock, and an improved trigger. That model is now on my shopping list, and may result in the POF being dethroned.
If I believed most of my life in a post-SHTF world would be in an unban environment, my opinion might be different. The ACR is a better fighter, but isn’t as effective long range or for hunting. Given the quick caliber change capabilities (when available from Bushmaster), easy carry and concealment, it deserves serious consideration by any prepper.
The Perfect Prepper Optic?
A new class of weapon's sight that solves a lot of problems for preppers.
The Perfect Prepper Optic? Internet debates have raged for years concerning the controversy over the best “survival firearm.” Urban preppers have thoughts of civil unrest, rioting and defending their families against gangs of ruthless looters. On the other hand, rural preppers are typically more focused on hunting and longer range defensive capabilities. Regardless of your location, it makes sense to have a long gun that can be used for defense and to put food on the table. This translates into a tool that can be affective at both long and short ranges. While I have my own opinions about the best firearm, making that choice is only part of the solution in surviving a serious threat. After selecting a weapon, you’ll most likely find the need for an optic, or aiming system, to go along with the new blaster.The title of this paper is a little misleading. Truly, there is no perfect optic, just as there is no perfect weapon. Like pizza, cars or who controls the television remote, everything’s a compromise, and there is no one single solution to fit every need. The choice boils down to covering as many scenarios as possible with a single selection. A new solution Recently, a new wave of optics has arrived that I believe provides the absolute best option for preppers. I refer to this category of aiming devices as “1-bys” in that they offer magnification ranges of 1x6 or 1x8 or even higher. Figure 1 New type of scope. This example is a 1x6. While they may appear similar to a traditional hunting scope, there are many specific features that separate this new generation of optics from their more common cousins. For example: - Much larger eye box than a typical riflescope- Greater eye relief than most scopes- Illuminated reticles or aiming dots- Very thin reticle framing- Extremely robust, compact designs- First focal plane reticles- Compatibility with night vision devices Why are these features important as a solution for preppers? Read on… Requirements and Application Before buying an optic, you need to anticipate what functionality may be required after an event. As with the selection of a firearm, the operational range should be one of the first questions asked.Many riflemen overlook short-range needs. By short, I’ll use a distance of less than 100 meters (110 yards) as a general definition. Traditional hunting (or sniper) riflescopes are inferior during close-in engagements because it takes longer to acquire a target. When multiple threats are considered, this handicap can be a serious issue. A few years ago, infantrymen all over the world began procuring holographic weapons sights (red dots) at an astounding pace. There’s a reason why these optics were all the rage – they save lives. When compared to iron sights, the target acquisition time for close-in threats is considerably faster. The advantages of keeping both eyes open, diminished parallax and improved accuracy have been demonstrated on battlefields all over the planet. Longer ranges (150-600 meters) are well served by riflescopes, but can be a problem for holographic or iron sights. You need to ignore internet bravado when thinking of 600 meter shots and be honest with yourself. Yes, I can hit a man-sized target with iron sights at 600 meters with an AR15. I need to “walk” the rounds into the target on a clear day, in good light, without any wind. I’ve watched the US Army Marksmanship Unit accomplish this feat in a more proficient manner, but those guys and girls are elite shooters whose everyday job is putting lead on target. In a situation where conditions aren’t perfect…you are scared, angry or desperate…600 meters with iron sights or a holo isn’t realistic for most folks. Magnification and bullet drop compensation can help with longer range shooting, but holo-dot sights aren’t equipped with such features. So everyone had a problem. There wasn’t any available solution that addressed both long and short- range shots. Any optic was a compromise on what situation the operator “thought” was most likely to be encountered. If something unexpected came up…well…you didn’t have the right tool for the job. Magnification serves another important role beyond accuracy. It helps with target identification (is that person carrying a shovel or a rifle?), scouting (did I just see something move in that treeline?) and distance estimation. In fact, the benefit of magnification and the extent it enhances the rifleman’s capabilities are both so significant, the US military recently invested millions of dollars in ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) for our troops as a tactical advantage. Figure 2 ACOG with Red Dot mounted on top The ACOG is a wonderful tool and until recently presented the best compromise of long vs. short-range target acquisition tools. This “aiming system” is a fixed 4-power magnification unit with long eye relief and an illuminated reticle, normally a dot. The 4x zoom was middle-ground in that you could still acquire a close-in target while having the advantage of longer range capabilities. The ACOG was better in so many ways than anything else up until that time. Civilians purchased them by the millions as well.But the ACOG wasn’t perfect. In close-quarters battle situations, like clearing a building or street fighting, that 4x still slowed down acquisition times. On the other hand, 4x isn’t so great on longer distance shots, say outside 250 meters. For older eyes, 4x often isn’t enough zoom. Professional shooters began to address these shortcomings with hybrid solutions. Red dots began to appear on top of ACOGs (see figure 2 above) or mounted offset on riflescopes. Other shooters went with magnifiers mounted in front of their holo sights. All of these hybrids created their own set of problems. I used an ACOG with a dot mounted on top for years. The drawback was that my cheek weld (shooting position) was altered by the height of the dot, and I was still limited to a 4x magnification. That little device residing on top of the scope’s body always seemed to be in such a precarious position as well.I also utilized a red dot with a magnifier mounted in front, but this was an untenable fix. The extra device never centered properly, was a pain in the butt to carry, and still provided very limited magnification. On my long-range rifles equipped with huge scopes, I mounted offset red dots. Again, the little devices were constantly getting hung up on gear, impacted my shooting position, and I broke more than one of the expensive units.While the hybrid solutions reduced the amount of compromise, many shortcomings still existed. Range wasn’t the only consideration then, nor should it be now. The list below contains requirements most preppers need to address: - Optic must work with Night Vision Devices- Must function with backup iron sights- Weight must be reasonable- Battery life/usage is an important consideration for preppers- Must be able to withstand abuse in the field 1-bys to the rescue Scopes with a 1 x n magnification have been around for years and served a variety of purposes. There have been a few recent enhancements to this category of gun sight that has greatly improved their functionality as an overall solution for a survival weapon.First and foremost is what I call the “reticle framing.” This is the black ring (edge of tube) that is seen while looking through the device with both eyes open. Figure 3 Example 1-by with illuminated reticle The newer generation of 1-bys has a very thin frame that avoids distraction as your eyes (both open) scan for threats.Secondly, the illumination of the reticle (a red dot is shown in the example above) has improved to the level where these scopes are now on par with the best holographic red dots. This means that target acquisition times are greatly reduced on short-range shots.For longer range activities, you simply increase the magnification by twisting a ring, much like a typical hunting scope.In summary, you can now have a red dot and a long-range scope all in one unit without clutter, breakable appendages or weld-distorting shooting positions. You can have less compromise for the same amount of money.Comparison To understand why this Joe Nobody is so excited over 1-bys and the advantages they offer, it helps to compare solutions. The following table represents my personal ratings, with 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest. As with any side-by-side comparison, some caveats must be noted: 1. Because I’m writing this for preppers, I am assuming a wide range of eyesight capability. Not all of us are in are our prime with 20/20 vision, so the enlarged eye box and reticle framing carry more weight.2. The cost category is relative to the value received for the money spent. Low to high cost models exist for all four categories of optics. It isn’t fair to compare a $1,800 ACOG to a $49 Red Dot. The same logic applies to the scopes.3. Parallax and ruggedness are also factors of the cost ratio. You can purchase very high-end scopes that have little parallax and are very rugged (Schmidt and Bender for example). You can also purchase sub-$100 units that are prone to blackout and distortion. In summary, 1-bys provide the average prepper with a new and exciting option. They aren’t perfect for every situation, but technology keeps us moving closer to that goal. After field testing one of the devices, I’m convinced they are worth the investment and will gradually be switching all of my rifles to this new system.
Five Years with a Pathfinder Solar Watch
Batteries won't be around after the collapse of society. Combine solar power with features to help ballistics calculations and Joe thinks this watch is a winner for preppers.
Five years with a Pathfinder Solar Watch
One of my editors called me the other day. He had been working on the newest book (Home Schooled Shootist) at the time, and wanted to talk about my watch. Several places in the book, I mention that my wristwatch has features that indicate temperature, barometric pressure and attitude. In the context of the book, these are all variables used to adjust one’s aim point when taking a long distance shot.
“What is this miracle watch you have? I’ve never heard of one that does all that stuff.”
He further went on to suggest we put a link to the specific model in the book or on the webpage. Someone else pointed out that Bishop, the protagonist in my fiction books, has a pretty impressive watch himself. It never occurred to me that my watch was all that James Bondish of a timepiece, I’ve had the thing for years and it wasn’t expensive.
The watch in question is a Casio Pathfinder Tri-Sensor model. I don’t think they make my specific model anymore, but similar pieces are available just about anywhere for between $190 and $350, depending on what type of band you want. I have the cheapie synthetic band that feels like rubber.
I originally purchased the watch on the recommendation of an old friend who had considerable experience in the Special Forces. At that time, the Pathfinder was about the only solar powered watch you could buy. Batteries for optics, night vision, lasers, radios and flashlights are always a worry. Anything you can do to eliminate yet another spare power cell in your kit is a positive.
Now, I am not a maven of bling by anyone’s definition and have little fear of GQ magazine publishing my image on its cover. I wear a watch for functionality – period. I’m also rough as hell on equipment. Mine has experienced an average of one hot shower per day for over five years. It has felt countless thousands of rifle recoils, been complete submerged in gasoline and banged into just about everything I walk by at least once. It has survived desert heat over 120 degrees and winter cold below zero.
For a Prepper, the Pathfinder makes a lot of sense. I’m not an expert on “self-winding” watches, and can’t comment on which would last longer – a solar cell or mechanical movements. What I can say with confidence is that you won’t find a purely mechanical watch with the features like the Casio. (A unit with a mechanical movement might be more attractive if you are concerned about EMP strikes.) It’s almost like a little bug-out-bag on your wrist.
In absolute darkness, the dial illuminator will keep you from bumping into walls. I wouldn’t want to change a tire with it on a moonless night, but I can read canned food labels in the pantry.
The compass is surprisingly accurate for a watch. As anyone with extreme field experience knows, there will come a time when you won’t believe your primary compass. I know a lot of guys who carry a spare, believing in the old rule of 2=1 and 1=0 when it comes to equipment. Having a compass on my wrist fills that need.
For shooting long distances, the data provided by the watch is handy. As most riflemen know, after about 400 meters, you must start adjusting for wind, temperature, altitude and barometric pressure and other factors. While the Pathfinder doesn’t help with reading the wind, it has the rest of those adjustments covered. The altitude reading would come in handy for land navigation as well.
This list of features just goes on and on. Atomic time recalibration, multiple alarms, multiple time zones…the manual is almost an inch thick. I even read that newer models have depth gauges, moon phase displays and historical graphs.
If something were to happen to mine, I would purchase another one. My only complaint - I wasn’t thinking tactical when I bought mine and purchased a model with a shiny silver trim that might reflect in sunlight.
I know watches are like rock guitarist, football teams and pizza with guys. Everyone has their own point-of-view. I’m not saying this watch is the best Prepper watch available, but I can testify that it has served me well for years and should be considered an option the next time you need a new timepiece.
Five Years with a Sidewinder Flashlight Torches are like essential if the grid is down or you're going to be operating in the field.
Five years with a Sidewinder
Back in 2007, while kicking back with an Army Times magazine, I noticed an article that featured their
choices for the best products of the year. One of the winners was a unique-looking flashlight,
manufactured by Streamlight, and branded the Sidewinder (like the snake).
Now for a lot of the fellas, a new flashlight can be one of those testosterone-influenced impulse
purchases, like pocketknives, tools, and MOLLE pouches. I happen to suffer from this affliction on
I just had to have one and forked over $60 or so. It has been one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
I purchased the light for tactical purposes, but I believe it to be one of the finest torches available for the
prepper as well.
All of the basics are covered by the Sidewinder. It’s waterproof, shockproof, clips or attaches to just
about anything, and has a rotating head for aiming, thus offering hands-free operation. The lens cover is
described on the Steamlight website as “indestructible.”
The light is generated by LED bulbs, so battery life is good. My model also generates infrared, red and
blue light. Red light doesn’t degrade the human eye’s natural night vision, which can be important for
anyone trying to operate in low light conditions. The infrared bulb is used with my PVS-14 night vision
monocle in extreme low light situations.
Everything about this unit is built for low light usage. The battery cap is tethered, so you won’t drop it in
knee-high weeds at zero-dark-thirty. When installing fresh batteries, the positive/negative indicators are
raised so you can feel them with your finger.
The on and off button also serves as the dimmer switch and is large enough to engage while wearing
gloves. This critical control is recessed, making it difficult to accidentally turn on – something that might
get you killed in certain situations.
My Sidewinder has been through 120-degree desert heat and subzero cold. It has been beaten against
rocks and survived sand storms, a blizzard and numerous rainstorms.
Mine uses AA batteries, which are common with several other electronic devices in my kit. My Aimpoint
optic, PVS-14 and laser range-finder all use these same power cells. I have a small, roll-up solar battery
charger that will recharge this size battery in a few hours on a sunny day.
About the only drawback I can find with the Sidewinder is its brightness. It produces only a 20 lumen
white light. While that has served me just fine in the field, I know some people like a little more juice.
The IR bulb is a great additional to the night vision and won’t act like a big neon sign pointing back at
you (unless the threat has night vision as well). The blue light can be used to signal, and all of the colors
can be set to strobe.
Streamlight now makes a compact version of this same flashlight, and both models come in a variety of
colors. You also have a few options for the different color output, like green. So the next time you need
a good torch that serves multiple roles and is a rugged piece of kit, I don’t see how you can go wrong
A different type of Prepper Flashlight
Lasers are for more than aiming. Check out Joe's test of an ND-3
Weapon lights, LED lights, self charging lights and a whole host of new shapes, sizes and capabilities has resulted in many of us heating up our plastic.
Every now and then a product comes along that changes how I think about defense and survival. Some time ago, I was at a gun store and noticed a new “night vision device” on display that looked like a common flashlight. I read a little bit of the packaging and made a mental note about the name of the unit. It was called an ND-3 Long Distance Laser Designator and bragged that it was the “Ultimate Night Vision Solution”. Yeah, right. For $300, you bet it is the Ultimate Night Vision Solution.
Since it looked so much like a flashlight, I went home and researched the the device on the net. The company website looked good, but when I scanned some of my favorite forums, a few people had bad things to say about the product. Comments like “mine is now a dog toy, save your money” were not common, but I did find them and forgot all about the product.
Some months later, imagine my surprise when I opened a birthday gift and behold, there was a brand new ND-3. While maintaining a facial expression of pure joy, deep down inside I was wishing my wonderful family had not spent that kind of money without asking me.
I open the product and found a well packaged, completely accessorized “flashlight” with several mounting options, a nice carry case, a remote on/off switch, and a battery. The mounting hardware looked like it was of average quality. I started reading the manual and it claimed the light could illuminate targets (at night) up to 250 meters away. I was very skeptical. The little light is about six inches long and weighs about a quarter of a pound. I read that it only takes a single battery (CR123) and the battery lasts 7 hours. Something was wrong with this math. I own several top quality weapon lights, and this little unit was not big enough, heavy enough or powered enough to perform at that level. Its operational distance (up to 250 METERS) is almost three football fields. That is a very long distance for any flashlight.
I decided I could still return the little light even if I tested it later. I began to concentrate on a way to gracefully take it back without hurting anyone’s feelings.
Later that night, I took the ND-3 out into the back yard and turned it on. WOW! My yard is not that big, probably 30 meters side-to-side before ending with a privacy fence, but I could focus the width of the beam and the performance was impressive. The unit is actually a “wide beam laser”, not a traditional “light”. It emits a green light that can be narrowed (or widened) by turning a ring on the body of the light.
I retrieved my best Surefire weapon light and compared the two. I could see much better at 30 meters with the laser than with the traditional white light.
So I decided to wait until the neighbors were probably in the sack and try it out in the empty field next to our sub-division. I also took along an M4 (AR15) with an ACOG (4x Rifle Scope) mounted on it just for good measure.
My first test was to pick out a tree with a small brush pile underneath and walk off 150 large steps. I narrowed the beam completely on the ND-3 and turned it on. I could easily make out individual branches of the brush, and could see a knot on the side of the tree. I put the little light on the M4 (with an old 1913 rail scope mount) and I could clearly acquire the knot of the tree through the ACOG. It was VERY impressive.
I walked off another 50 big steps and tried again. I could acquire the tree no problem, but the knot and brush pile were not as clear. Still, that distance is way, way beyond any “normal” flashlight. My Surefire did not even “reach” the tree what-so-ever.
About that time, I noticed a neighbor’s light came on and I didn’t want to explain to the local police what I was doing in the middle of a field with an M4 and a laser at this time of night, so I shut down my testing and went home.
I performed some additional research and found the following:
1. Many people complained that the device did not work below 40 degrees.
2. Some hunters said that the light was visible to game, especially hogs and would frighten animals away. Others claimed it was the greatest thing for hunting ever. Typical internet confusion.
There were several Internet “posting duels” about this device which normally leads me to believe where there is smoke, there is fire. While many people thought it was a great device, others argued that it was worthless.
I decided to keep the ND-3 as I really do not need it for hunting, and I live in Texas where weather below 40 degrees is uncommon. (The manufacturer's web site states there are “cold weather models” available.)
My primary purpose for this device is in a defensive and survival role.
First of all, any flashlight, at night, directed into someone’s eyes will disable them for a second or more. After “playing” with the ND-3, it seemed this device would be even more effective at longer ranges than normal white light.
I did some research and found out that the ND-3 generates 18mW (18 thousands of a watt) of power. Then typical laser pointer is 1-5mW, and is now restricted in several countries. According to Douglas Johnson, a research physicist and laser safety officer at Texas A & M University, FDA laser standards are set at 1/10th the actual threshold of damage, so it would take 50mW of power to do permanent damage to the human eye. In addition, an article published on the Scientific American website states that the real “danger” involved with low power lasers involves “flash blindness”, where the person is temporarily blinded or disorientated by a brilliant flash of light. This is the same basic theory of a flash-bang grenade. Rather than kill like a common hand grenade, the flash bang uses light and sound to temporarily disable the occupants of a room until they can be subdued. Disable and subdue are words any defender likes to hear.
It is common knowledge that both the Military and the United States Secret Service use a laser device often referred to as a “Dazzler” as a non-lethal show stopper. (Lasers that can permanently blind someone are banned under a 1995 UN Protocol) These devices are basically the same as the ND-3 only with much more power. If focused in an attacker’s eye, it at minimum will blind them for a short period of time.
I also tested the ND-3 reading a map at night. It worked just fine.
I then tested the impact to my night vision as compared to a normal flashlight. The green laser light did not impact my night vision nearly as much as the traditional light.
Finally, I tested it on an M4 with a PVS-14 Night Vision Device (Gen 3) to see if the ND-3 helped the NVD. While it did not “assist” the NVD as much as a dedicated IR light, it did help at longer distances.
Finally, we tested the ND-3 as a signaling device. While not scientific by any means, it is clear that the ND-3 requires a far more direct angle to see the source of the light. To perform this test, a friend stood 50 yards to my right. I turned on the light, and while he could see what I illuminated, he could not see the source. We repeated this test with a flashlight, and he could clearly see me. The ND-3 as the source was not visible to him until he was almost at a 45 degree angle to me. This means that as signaling device, the ND-3 will not give away your location as easily as a normal flashlight.
So, in summary, the ND-3 provides:
1. For the weight, this is the longest range weapon light I have ever seen.
2. For the weight, this is the longest range flashlight I have ever seen.
3. An excellent short range flashlight that has little impact to night vision.
4. A potential (but untested) non-lethal Dazzler that may provide a temporary advantage.
5. An excellent signaling device.
If you have purchased a weapon light, the $300 price tag is not out of line for a quality piece. When you consider the probable capability to “dazzle” someone dozens of yards away, the price becomes more reasonable. The fact that you will not achieve the same range of illumination with ANY regular flashlight of the same weight justifies the product even more.
The only drawback I can find is the 7 hour battery life, which is not that great by flashlight standards. I have yet to test it in the rain, but given the construction with O-rings, I believe it would be just fine in typical exposure.
Five Years with a Taurus PT1911
Not all of Joe's weapons are high-dollar units. Check out his review of this economical pistol.
Five Years with a Taurus PT1911
5” barrel, .45 caliber
Some years back, I found myself in need of a “truck gun,” a phrase commonly used to describe a handgun that a person could keep in a vehicle and not suffer a tremendous financial loss if it were stolen. My high-end 1911s, commonly costing $2,000 or more, were not proper candidates. Beyond the monetary hit, the mere thought of some window-busting criminal making off with one of these quality pieces made me cringe.
So I began shopping for an economical sidearm that would serve me well in the unlikely event I would need it, yet wouldn’t break the bank, or my heart, if it fell victim to a thief. My quest wasn’t as easy as I anticipated.
I browsed the hundreds of cheapo pocket blasters available at the time, but couldn’t find a suitable match. I’m a .45 guy, more specifically a 1911 guy. I just couldn’t abandon my familiarity of the controls, performance, and capabilities of that weapon. I’d used one in fear and anger, and it had not let me down. If I were going to get into a gunfight, the last thing I wanted was to pull a tool I didn’t know front, back and center. I didn’t want to dedicate the mental bandwidth required of learning something new.
But at that time, there weren’t very many options in low-end .45s, especially units that carried that all-important stamp - Made in the USA. My local gun-candy store offered me a Taurus 1911, and I initially rejected it outright, high-nosing the Brazilian-made unit with barely a glance. But there wasn’t anything else.
Eventually, I tired of looking. Feeling satisfied that I’d given domestic firms every reasonable chance, I went back and investigated what many of my friends were calling the “best value anywhere in a pistol.”
I had to admit, it sure racked up the features (shown below). Still, some of the manufacturer’s claims were a little hard to believe for a $500 pistol. Hand-fitted slide and barrel? Custom tuned trigger? Lifetime warranty? Almost too good to be true.
But it has been true.
What began as a truck gun purchase, soon morphed into one of my favorite 1911s. If my buddies and I were heading to the ranch, I’d just grab the Taurus out of the console rather than one of my ultra-expensive blasters.
Going to the range with the family? Why not wear down the grooves on my cheapo pistol, rather than one of my custom-made models? The family doesn’t really appreciate the nuances of a $3800 Wilson Combat anyway.
It has excellent sights, handles as smoothly as any other, and I wasn’t worried about keeping in clean. If it wore out or broke, I’d just go buy another one while this unit was being repaired. But it hasn’t failed.
The trigger is equal to those on much more expensive models.
Mine has been dropped, scraped, burned, painted (twice – don’t ask), soaked in saltwater and coated with sand so thick it looked like a sugar cookie. I once banged it so hard against a rock that it stripped the setscrew out of the front sight. It still goes boom.
It has spent the majority of its life in my truck’s console, experiencing those wonderful Texas temperature swings and extreme humidity. It rarely gets lube, unless you count the two times I’ve spilled coffee on it.
I would estimate (I don’t log pistol rounds as I do with the rifles) the round count is well north of 3,000 shots. I can’t remember a single failure. I clean it twice a year or so, just for reliability or to remove java. I reload .45 by the bucket. I don’t trim the cases or check the lengths for target rounds – just pump them out as fast as the press and my arm can move up and down. The Taurus has eaten some real junk and never complained.
Is it a competition-ready gun? No. Will it compete with a highly-tuned, custom model in target acquisition, accuracy and follow-on shots? No. If I knew I’d be going into combat, would I still prefer my Springfield Armory TRP? Yes.
But this Brazilian Banger is a close second.
It is as accurate as most out-of-the-box .45s, better than some models I’ve owned costing twice as much. What’s really nice is the carefree experience. The weapon is so inexpensive, you really aren’t worried about high maintenance. I’m not saying $500 is throw-away money. But in the land of 1911 pistols, that’s not a big ticket in the grand scheme of things.
I’ve since read that a batch of these pistols left the factory with extractor problems. I’ve seen other reviews by knowledgeable people that claim Taurus uses poor quality metal in its parts. Maybe mine will start experiencing these failures at some higher round count. That being said, if you’re looking for an entry level 1911, I highly recommend this unit. You can buy two of them for the price of most “quality” pieces. Spares, for any tool, are always an important consideration for preppers. Besides, I’ve shipped my share of $1400+ pistols back to be repaired. Any factory can have a bad day.
For the average guy/gal who will probably put less than 500 rounds per year through the tube, I don’t think you can beat the value represented by this offering.
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