The Hot-Rod J-Frame Project

After 14 years of study, I’ve got my mind made up that the ideal carry gun, for me, is a double action only pistol of some flavor. Since most of what we do with our guns is simply live with and around them, and when we do need our guns it’s rarely a shooting problem and more of a people management problem, I choose a Double Action Only pistol. The inherent mechanical safety increase (though perhaps marginal) afforded by the longer heavier trigger is enough that I’ve completely moved to DAO guns for defensive purposes. Any difficulties in managing the trigger can be overcome with deliberate practice, so no worries there.

Since I gave my mom my 442, I’ve had a hole in my collection that I’ve been meaning to fill. I decided I wanted a ‘shooter’ J-frame. Not quite an underwear gun, but an easy to carry small framed revolver. It would be carried in a belt/pocket/ankle-holster, with less emphasis on lightweight, and more emphasis on ‘performance’.

I also know that centennial model Smiths are some of the best selling guns in the country, so there’s a lot of people who secretly carry one daily while they argue on the internet about why a Glock 19 is the best carry gun. It’s OK, I won’t tell anyone.

The amount of worthless information about small revolvers is staggering. Just visit YouTube for endless hollow reviews and misinformation. I felt like I owed it to the community to make something useful about little revolvers.

The Test-Bed

What would my ideal ‘fighting J-frame’ look like? I am not a Smith&Wesson aficionado by any means. I don’t have the depth of knowledge or patience to wait for the perfect vintage snub to come up on gun broker. Nor do I have the wallet to pay the wild prices people ask for used revolvers. So my Hot-Rod would have to be a current catalog item.

After much late night bourbon fueled research, I decided that the steel framed, 2″ barrel, pinned front sight 640 model in .357 would be a suitable choice. I came upon a great deal on a local forum and jumped at it.

The Upgrades

The ability to customize and tune j-frames is well known. The aftermarket accessories market is chock full. You can find the perfect stocks (grips) to fit your hand and optimize trigger reach, find springs and firing pins to drastically improve smoothness and weight of the trigger and maintain reliable primer ignition, frame plugs if you don’t want to deal with the internal lock, and there’s even front sights for the pinned front sight models. So, here’s a list of the upgrades I have planned, and the reasoning for them:

  • APEX TACTICAL Duty/Carry Spring kit – $22 A popular kit from a well known brand. Includes the mainspring, trigger return spring, extended firing pin and firing pin spring. It reduces the weight of the trigger press by about 3.0 lbs and makes the gun immediately more shootable. Always test fire your chosen ammo to guarantee reliable ignition.
  • Trijicon tritium front sight – $70 It was between this and an XS big dot. I decided for a slightly smaller front sight to maintain the ability for precise aiming beyond 10 yards. The white ring should help at speed, and the tritium will buy a little low light sighting ability.
  • Altamont “combat” grips for J-frame – $55 – Since this isn’t intended as a pocket gun, I decided to go with the slightly-longer-than-boot-grip sized combat trips from Altamont. They are highly recommended by people I trust, and they look great.
  • Zulu Bravo Kydex – J-frame holster. This is on the way from ZBK. They are providing me with one to evaluate.

Are The Upgrades Worth the Cost?

Instead of throwing all these on the gun and reporting back that they ‘feel good’ and ‘smooth things out’ and I talk about ‘shootability’, I want to answer a more important question. Are the upgrades worth the cost?

“How can you determine this?” you ask. Science!

Specifically, I’m going to create a testing protocol that consists of four well known tests that provide certain data about shooting. I’ll gather data with the gun in its stock configuration, then make one change, and redo the testing. Any increase (or decrease) in performance will be readily apparent. I will also shoot the tests with other revolvers, small autos, and even larger autos to be able to quantify performance across platforms.

How To Quantify Performance?

I wanted to look at several aspects of ‘good shooting’ when it comes to my testing. I’m interested in pure accuracy, without the pressure of time. Pure speed, without a strict pressure of accuracy. Lastly, a blend of speed and accuracy. I wanted to use targets that I could print on my printer. I also wanted to keep the total round count under 50 rounds because j-frames can beat you up. Here’s what I decided on.

Test 1:

Pure Accuracy Test – 10 shots @15yds on a B8, no time limit

Test 2:

“5 yard Roundup” 5 Yds, B8 repair center

four strings of fire, each with a time limit of 2.5 seconds.

Scoring is by the rings on the target for the ten shots, equaling a possible 100 points. Hits off of the ten-inch repair center minus ten each. Late hits are five points are deducted per late shot.

String 1: One Shot From the Holster (I used muzzle on table, support hand high on chest. Copying hand position of the draw since my range doesn’t allow holster work)

String 2: Four Shots From the Ready

String 3: Three Shots From Strong-Hand-Only Ready

String 4: Two Shots From Support-Hand-Only Ready

Test 3:

“HITS SUPER SNUB TEST” – B8 repair center, all shot from low readyH

10 Yards – 5 shots in 8 seconds. Two hands

5 Yards – 5 shots in 5 seconds. Two hands

3 Yards – 5 shots in 3 seconds. Strong hand only.

Test 4:

Pure Speed – Snubbie Bill Drill: 5 shots, 5 yards, on full piece of paper

B8 repair center for you to download:

Closing

Of course there are intangibles and things I can’t easily quantify with scored targets and a timer. There are also environmental and lighting conditions that I can’t reproduce on the range. There is limited time and ammunition for me to do multiple tests with the same configuration. I am only one person, so I can’t get several shooters to shoot the tests with each configuration. However, I believe this is a good quantitative way to see if an upgrade is actually buying performance, and approximately how much.
Thanks for following along. More soon.

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The Special Application 9mm Carbine for Home Defense – Part 1

If you read my posts on the Ruger 10/22 (part 1, part 2) that I set up for home defense, this post will contain echoes and similar logic to that series. That particular .22 now lives at my parent’s house as their home defense rifle. Since we had a gun-void, I sought to fill it.

The Mission:

Find a carbine that my entire family could confidently use for self defense in the home, be willing to train with despite being recoil/muzzle blast-sensitive shooters, and keep at a reasonable cost. The ultimate goal is to build shooters with sufficient skill to make high pressure shots with no-shoots downrange on low probability targets. The only way to get there is if shooting isn’t a chore or abusive to the senses.

The Resource Problem:

Ammo costs and availability are a factor. We have a limited income, so a more affordable caliber makes sense for us. In my experience, less expensive caliber doesn’t mean spending less annually on ammunition, it means buying more ammo for the same price. More ammo means more practice, which means more proficiency.

We also don’t have $1200 for an AR-15 pattern 9mm carbine. We have a cost ceiling that we need to stay under. I have a pile of Glock pistol magazines that largely go unused since I’ve switched to Double Action Pistols. Using Glock magazines would be a nice bonus to save on support gear.

We have a time limitation. I need to maximize the training time, and blunt the learning curve by picking a platform that lends itself to quick proficiency. We rarely get time together, period. So finding time to go to the range is exceedingly rare. I have to strive for efficiency. Rifles are easier to shoot well. Four points of contact with a rifle beats two points of contact with a pistol. A red dot sight makes the learning curve easier for getting hits.

The shooter consideration problem:

For the shooters in my family, I need to be very considerate of recoil, and muzzle blast. My wife is quickly turned off to shooting a 5.56 rifle at indoor ranges due to the chest thumping concussion and flash that an AR-15 gives. She’s good for maybe 30 shots before she’s done. If concentration and focus is gone after one magazine, then competency will be impossible given the rarity of our range trips.

My wife isn’t a shooter. She wants to understand and be able to run all of our guns, but she doesn’t love shooting like I do. I have to be considerate of her time and pick something that she might enjoy more than an AR or shotgun.

I’d wager that many of you might be in a similar boat. It’s really time to bump the obsession with terminal ballistics down the list and keep context at the top. Despite what the ‘5.56 AR-15/ 00 buckshot or nothing’ crowd says, it’s more important that all the shooters meant to use a firearm can achieve a certain level of competency. If that means a .22LR, then that’s what it is. I wanted to give a 9mm carbine a chance, so here we are.

The tactical problem:

This is the reason we want a rifle that anyone in the house can use. My greatest concern is the shooting problem of a home invader with a downrange no-shoot. Not that it needs saying, but in the real world, it is very likely that there will be no-shoots forward of the ‘180* range safety line’. In fact, it’s quite common in home invasions for a husband to answer the late-night knock on the door, only to be overrun by bad guys. If I’m downrange, I want to make sure my shooters are competent enough to shoot them well, and not shoot me. It’s a self-preservation thing.

Story time to drive the point home. One of Tom Givens’ Students had to make a difficult shot with her husband down range:

A struggle ensued, during which the homeowner was shot in the thigh by one of the suspects. The homeowner’s wife was at the front door to greet her husband, and saw the attack. She ran upstairs, got her handgun, opened the bedroom window and engaged the suspects with several shots from the window.
She hit one suspect, and both fled.

Here’s another:

As the husband neared the front door, he heard the dogs growl and ran back to his bedroom, arming himself with a can of wasp spray, the records say. A man charged him in a hallway, and the husband sprayed the wasp spray in the intruder’s face, but it had no effect.

“The fight was on,” the records say. Both men tumbled to the floor, and the wife ran out with a baseball bat and struck the intruder with it until it broke, according to the documents.

After about three minutes, the husband yelled to his wife for help, “not knowing how long he could hold out in the fight,” according to the records. The wife “ran to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and stabbed the suspect several times until he quit fighting.”

These instances are not rare.  That’s reason enough for me to want good shooters in the house.

The Result:


I decided that I wanted to try the Ruger PC Carbine in 9mm. It checked a lot of the boxes that I had for this purpose. There’s a lot of reasons I went with this over some of the other options out there. I’ll make a quick list of the big ones:

  • In 9mm. A caliber that all of my handguns shoot. I have plenty on hand, and one caliber streamlines things. It’s also the most affordable ‘duty round’ caliber.
  • Easily takes an optic on the section of picatinny rail on top of the receiver.
  • Takes Glock magazines. From 10-round to 33-round happy sticks.
  • Similar ergonomics to the Ruger 10/22. The rifle that my wife has the most time on.
  • Affordable. I got mine for $425 on Brownells. That’s extremely reasonable for a rifle.
  • Adjustable length-of-pull with included butt-pads
  • A section of rail that can be used for a weapon mounted light. I always try to have a light on long-gun.
  • Has the ability to break down in half for transport and storage (not necessary, but a nice feature)

Next up will be some details on running it faster, optimizing the setup, and designing a training program.

Thanks for reading,

Mark

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Book Review: Red Zone Knife Defense

Coach Jerry Wetzel of Red Zone Threat Management just released a book outlining his excellent unarmed knife defense program. It is 185 pages of rock solid, testable, and easy to implement blade (and blunt weapons) defense. With this book, a willing training partner, a training blade, and a place to train, you could get functional at shutting down a real knife attack and die less often.

The first chapters are a great framing of what a knife defense program needs to look like. The author discusses traditional knife defense programs and outlines the problems with their training modality. The major issue with most is a lack of ‘aliveness’. The highly orchestrated attack lines and total lack of aggressive forward drive one sees in most knife defense programs doesn’t line up with reality. He also points out that you’re not likely to run into a trained knife fighter, but rather someone with a pointy implement and the desire to put it into you as fast and as much as possible. If your knife defense doesn’t take this into account, you need to look into another method.

The author systematically points out the flaws in logic that several knife programs seem to ignore. After you read the early chapters, you’ll be shaking your head at the time you wasted pursuing these other programs. Live and learn.

The Real Secret is that the answer lies in consistent training and understanding what we’re training for.

How Knife Attacks Tend To Look:

Example of highly choreographed knife work:

The Redzone Method:

The best thing about the RZKD program is that it can be trained at full speed, and that the feeder (knife guy) can give a genuine effort to stab you, and you have a reasonable chance to shut it down.

Real attacks have aggressive pressure, multiple rapid attack lines, you may not realize the knife is in play until you’re stabbed, and your empty hand skills will come in real handy when dealing with this problem (so get some), both parties fixate on the blade, it could be really bloody, mostly stabs and NOT slashes, mostly to the torso, and you might have to overcome some of your instincts to be successful.

Coach Wetzel stresses that we might indeed get cut, maybe even badly, but we need to continue fighting until the lights go out, because quitting is not an option.

The Red Zone Knife program blends seamlessly with the other modules that they teach. Commonality of techniques across disciplines, emphasis on cultivating awareness and space management, non-diagnostic defensive postures, and principle based self-defense is the best thing going, in my opinion. Dominating Posture, Pressure, and Position is the key to digging yourself out of the hole.

The author addresses several scenarios in which we might find ourselves:

  • Outright ambush, this is worst case
  • Posturing with a blade, intimidation
  • You’re in a fist fight, then a blade comes out
  • You see the knife in hand at a distance as the attacker crashes in.
  • Grounded against a knife

Luckily for us, the way to deal with these issues follows a very streamlined decision tree, with a common road map to follow.

Step One: RUN… but if you can’t….

Step Two: Control the Weapon Bearing Limb (strategy depends on range). And monitoring for a hand switch.

Step Three:Two-on-One to the ground if the attacker presses in, or the Lasso if he retracts the weapon bearing limb.

Step Four: Weapon disarms. Luckily there’s only two you need.

It’s as simple as this (but it’s not always easy). The author also covers a few less common circumstances to try out including fouling a draw, working against a wall, the ‘hostage’ type scenario, and grounded situations.

I’ve trained in several seminar style classes that included RZKD methods, and I am super excited that this book is out to have a book to work from for my training group. I think you’ll really like.

Highly Recommended.

Mark

Red Zone Knife Defense:



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Range Master Conference 2017: Bolke/Dobbs What Really Matters

This is the first of several posts that will be a summary of  my notes from the Range Master Tactical Conference. All material belongs to the presenters and I am posting my notes for the benefit of the greater body of knowledge available to those who couldn’t make it.

Darryl Bolke and Wayne Dobbs of Hardwired Tactical gave an excellent lecture and range session that is spun off from their previous lecture “Training Secrets of Highly Successful Gunfighters”.

Darryl’s forum posts are what inspired me to write Zen and the Art of Not Shooting, as well as What Does Avg. Joe Need In A Trigger. I was looking forward to hearing him talk about these topics in more detail.

Classroom

  • “Practice makes permanent” – Pat Rogers
  • “Train for maximum efficiency at an assessment speed on an acceptable target” -HiTS
  • Assessment speed-The speed at which you can see, interpret, and choose where to hit a target. Asking yourself, “is my target still there? No? Stop Shooting. Yes? Keep shooting”
  • Acceptable target- Is a target about the size of a grapefruit – period (The black of a B-8 bullseye target) Heart and brain are both about this size.
  • Always be thinking you’ll need a failure drill (ending with a headshot) and practice with that in mind.
  • Why should we shoot faster than we can assess and faster than we can stop? You want to go fast? Then go ‘street fast’.
  • Draw but don’t touch the trigger until you have a good sight track. This isn’t good for shooting, but it’s good for people management.
  • Don’t touch the trigger until you have satisfied these three. Target ID, Objective reason to shoot, and your firearm is aligned with that shoot target.
  • Let’s be right before we touch the trigger.
  • “Advanced Shooting” is just more difficult problems applying the same fundamentals
  • They like the overhand rack method to solve multiple problems with the gun.
  • Train what is hard (50 and 100 yd pistol shooting, for instance)
  • Train to an accuracy standard, not a time.
  • Application of lethal force – The only thing going through your head should be front sight, press, follow through
  • You WILL be able to see movement of your target peripherally while maintaining a hard focus on your sights. Use your sights.
  • All you REALLY need in a carry gun is sights I can see, a usable trigger, and reliability
  • Revolvers still work.
  • If you’re slower than .3 second splits, practice shooting faster
  • If you’re faster than .2, you don’t need to concentrate on shooting faster
  • There is almost never a need to perform a slidelock or speed reload
  • Move at ‘natural human speed’ (the speed that your hands move to catch a sneeze), don’t be spazzy.
  • LAPD trains to a .5 second split time
  • It takes about .3 seconds to stop shooting once you’ve decided to
  • If your splits are faster than .3 seconds, you’ll fire unintentionally until the signal to stop makes it to your hands. (force science)


(Poor Audio. This is Dobbs talking about force science research about the time it takes to stop shooting)


Range and Drills

Ken Hackathorn – Super Test (On b8 from low ready). The Advanced ST is shot from holster, same par times. A good score is 270

  • 15 yds, 10 rounds, 15 seconds
  • 10 yds, 10 rounds, 10 seconds
  • 5 yds, 10 rounds, 5 seconds

Single shot from holster. x ring accuracy standards

  • 5 single shots from a low ready at 7 yds (A legit ready, aimed below the ‘feet’ of your target)
  • 5 doubles from low ready at 7 yards. (10 shots)

These drills are critical for grip, sight usage, trigger control, and follow-through

Don’t give them a free chance. Sight alignment should improve as you progress through a string of fire. Sights/Slack/Hit?(give it about 2 seconds of assessment, don’t snatch it back unless you perceive a slide lock or malfunction)

  • 5yds, 5 rounds, 5 seconds on a 5″ circle
  • 3rds, 3 rnds, 3 seconds from holster with a sidestep

Qual A:

  • 25 yds, 4 seconds, 2 shots, low ready
  • 15 yds, 3 seconds, 2 shots, low ready
  • 10 yds, 3.5 seconds, 2body 1 head, low ready
  • 7 yds, 3 seconds, 2body 1head, low ready, 2 reps
  • 5 yds, 2.5 seconds, 2body 1head, low ready, 2 reps
  • 3 yds, 2 seconds, 2 body 1 head, low ready, 2 reps
  • 7 yds, 4 seconds, 2 body 1 head, from holster, step left, then right (2 reps)
  • 5 yds, 3 seconds, 2 body 1 head, from holster, step left, then right (2 reps)
  • 3 yds, 2 seconds, 1 headshot, from holster, step left then right (2 reps)

Scoring:

  • 80% pass
  • head (t-box) – 2 points
  • Outside the t-box – 1 point
  • within 8 ring of b8 – 2 points
  • within 7 ring of b8 – 1 point
  • all else – 0 points

 

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