Monday, April 30, 2007

Getting into reloading on the cheap

I've been writing a lot lately about reloading, and the economics thereof; but I've been focused on the higher end. High volume, high speed, and quite frankly high cost.

But what if you're not sure you really want to get into it? What if you don't have the budget, or the time, to do much reloading; but you still want to get into it? What if you're just trying to make as much ammo as you can, as cheaply as possible?

What do you need?

Well (excluding components and a workspace) at the most basic level you need:

1. A press
2. A set of dies
3. Some way of measuring powder
4. Some way of dispensing powder
5. Some way of seating primers
6. Some basic case preparation tools (let's assume pistol only for this one)
7. Some basic tools for measuring the length of your cases and loaded cartridges
8. Something to hold the cases while you go through the processes of loading.
9. A way of pulling bullets out of cases (trust me, you need this)
10. A loading book or two (the internet is not a valid substitute here)

You don't NEED a dedicated workspace, or even a work bench. You can very easily bolt your press and powder measure onto a board, and then when you want to load, take a couple of c-clamps or quick clamps and secure the board to the edge of a sturdy table.

Or, if you want to get fancy, to a black and decker workmate, or any other folding workbench contraption. Those are great if you happen to want to do some reloading in the field, like when you are doing load development and want to vary charges and seating depths as you test for example.

... but, unsurprisingly, I digress...

I've said before, you can do all of this for as little as $200, and get into decent equipment that will last you a good while for under $400.

Well, let's go through that then:

Thankfully, for the reloader on a REALLY tight budget, theres only one manufacturer you need to remember, and that's Lee.

Lee make good quality products, for great prices; and they have excellent warranty and customer service. Their products are for the most part no frills and basic, they may not do everything you might want to do; but that also means you aren't paying for more than you need.
Lee (and most other manufacturers in fact) offers a very basic reloading kit that includes a single stage single station press, and most of the basic tools needed for loading; called the anniversary kit. You just need to add a few extras and you're good to go.

Let's price things out as we go (I’m going to use Midway USA prices here for reference. You can sometimes get better prices from Cheaper Than Dirt, Natchez, or Midsouth):

1. Lee anniversary reloading kit: $69

(includes):

* Lee challenger press
* Lee perfect powder measure
* Lee safety scale
* Lee auto prime
* Lee shellholders (for auto prime)
* basic case prep tools
* Lee powder funnel

to that you need to add:

2. Lee classic 3 die set: $21 including shellholder
3. Case gage for one caliber: $5
4. OAL gage for one caliber: $5
5. Bullet puller: $12
6. loading tray: $4
7. Lyman reloading manual: $17

That totals out to $133. Just to indicate the value included in the Lee kit; the retail price of the ACCESSORIES (not including the press) included in the kit totals up to over $70, and the press is $40 by itself; but the kit sells for $69, and thats after a $50 discount from MSRP.

One thing though; I think you need to make a couple of substitutions to have a really functional setup. You CAN get by with just a case length gage and OAL gage; and they are useful tools to have around no matter what; but they are very limiting if they are your only tool for measuring the length of cases and cartridges. Realistically, you need a set of calipers; and not a plastic cheapie or a low end digital (notoriously inaccurate). Get yourself a low end stainless model from a reputable manufacturer. Lyman makes one that sells for $28 (in fact, its the one I use).

Okay, so that's $18 more, for a total of $151.

Really, that's honestly all it takes to get started. If you're loading very low volumes of just one caliber, that's a great deal.

But...

For not very much more, you can upgrade to a setup that will make you much happier, and use a turret press.

If you haven't read the other articles on reloading, the difference between a single stage press and a turret press, is that with a single stage you have one tool station (a place where you insert dies) that is fixed in the press. With a turret press, you get as few as 3, or as many as 7 stations; so you can install all the dies of a die set (handgun die sets usually have three dies, but may have 4 or even 5 if you include a separate powder die and crimp die) at once.

The biggest difference is in workflow, and the speed thereof. With a turret press, you can very easily switch from operation to operation just by turning the turret (or the shellplate if it uses a fixed head). You can leave your dies set up and adjusted and not worry about switching them out between operations.

Also, if a press has a quick change turret or toolhead, you can buy spare toolheads (or spare turrets) and have multiple calibers set up in them; so you don't have to worry about changing adjustments when you change between calibers.

Believe me, a turret press cuts your loading time down significantly.

Now, keeping to our limited budget, Lee also offers several turret presses, and press kits. The Lee 4 hole turret press sells for just $64; or as a kit for $103. The Lee Classic 4 hole turret press; which is one of the strongest turret presses made; sells for just $83. Even better, if you load multiple calibers, the spare turret heads for either are just $10.

Now, you could get the 4 hole turret press kit for $102; but it comes with less stuff than is included with the Anniversary kit; and honestly I don't like the auto-disk powder measure they include. I think their "perfect" powder measure is better and more useful. Disk or bar measures are notoriously inaccurate (though consistent from charge to charge), and you have to change disks out to change the charge weight. The "perfect measure" is a screw type measure, which generally work better for everything but really large extruded powders (which do well in disk or bar types) and flake powders, which don't meter well in any measure.

One option would be to buy the Anniversary kit, AND the Turret press. That's not as screwy as it sounds, because the kit includes almost all the accessories you need (as we talked about above), for a price below what you can buy them for... and you'd have another press thrown in to the bargain (a $40 value). That would total out to $196, or $214 with the calipers (which you really should get).

That said, you may not want another press (though a second single stage press is a surprisingly useful thing to complement a turret press if you have room. I personally have two turret presses in fact). You may not have the room, or feel like spending the cash.

Going with the Turret Press Kit, your costs would look something like this

1. Lee turret press kit: $102
(includes):

* Lee 4 hole turret press
* Lee auto disk measure
* Lee safety scale
* basic case prep tools

to that you need to add:

2. Lee classic 3 die set: $21 including shellholder
3. Lyman calipers: $28
4. Bullet puller: $12
5. Lee powder funnel: $3
6. loading tray: $4
7. Lyman reloading manual: $17

For a total of $187 (vs $214 for the anniversary kit, the turret press, and the other accessories). You'll not one thing however; this setup doesn't include the Lee Auto Prime. The press itself has a priming tool; but I personally prefer (and recommend to others) to hand prime using a priming tool. The Lee auto prime is $10, plus the cost of shellholders ($3 for a single holder, or $12 for a set of 11 - yeah, the better deal is obvious) for an extra $13 or $22 dollars, brining the grand total up to $200, or $209 dollars.

$209 vs $214... for all the same accessories, and you get an extra press and a better powder measure? See, I told you buying the anniversary kit just for the accessories wasn't crazy.

Now, if you don't buy any kit at all, and just assemble the component your self, it looks like this:

1. Lee 4 hole turret press: $64 (or $19 more for the stronger 4 hole classic)
2. Lee 3 die set: $21 including shellholder
3. Lee safety scale: $19 ($30 more gets you into a pretty decent scale)
4. Lee perfect powder measure: $19
5. Lee auto prime: $10 plus shellholder $3 (I’d spend the $12 for the 11 holder set)
6. Lyman stainless dial caliper: $28
7. Frankford bullet puller: $12 (it’s exactly the same as the more expensive Hornady)
8. lee powder funnel: $3
9. Hornady 50rd universal loading tray: $4 (the same as MTM, but cheaper)

That's $192 (or $183 with just one shellholder); saving you $22 over buying the anniversary kit and the turret press together; but the items above don't include the $15 worth of case prep tools (that you don't need for pistols, only for rifles). In fact, if you buy the stronger classic turret press (either are good, but the classic is a bit better), it's only a $3 difference, but you still don't get those $15 worth of case prep bits.

Again I say, think about buying the Anniversary kit just for the accessories. It's like getting a free single stage press.

Taken independent of the press or any kit, the price for all the other bits and bobs needed to reload comes out to $118, presuming sticking with the basic Lee setup (0r $133 with the case prep bits, which you don't need for pistol but do for rifle).

Now, let's talk about why you might not want to buy any of the kits at all: upgrading the components.

The kits are certainly a great value, but they do skimp on the components a bit; most notably the powder measure, and the scale.

That isn't to say that the "perfect powder measure" and "safety scale" don't do the job, they work fine (in fact I have two Lee safety scales on my bench); but they aren't all that great. Both are slower to work with and less precise than an upgraded piece may be.

Taking these one at a time, let's start with the safety scale.

The scale retails for $19; and is the least expensive powder scale you can buy; but it does a workmanlike job for what it is. The problem is, the arm is plastic, the scale itself isn't very precise or repeatable, the adjustment mechanism is fiddly and drifts, and the scale only has a 100gr capacity so you cant use it for weighing most pistol bullets or loaded cartridges.

For $25 more, you could upgrade to the Lyman Pro 500; for $30 more you could go to the Hornady model M scale, or for $35 the Lyman pro 1000; all much better scales, and all with at least 5 times the capacity of the safety scale.

For $40 more you could go to the Lyman Model 500 or RCBS 502, better still. These are cast metal based scales, with leveling adjustments, and high precision beams with agate bearings. That means they're more accurate, and more precise (more repeatable); plus they work faster.

Finally, for $50 more you could go to the RCBS 505; which is the standard by which all other low cost balance beam scales are judged. It too has the cast metal base, adjustable leveling, metal components in all critical locations, and agate bearings. It's also a triple poise beam (there are three adjsutable weights), which gives an easier, more consistent, and more accurate reading; though honestly there isn't a huge advantage over the $10 cheaper 502.

The next step up in beam scales is into the RCBS 1010; which is pretty much the gold standard for manual balance beam scales, and sells in the $130 range.

I don't mean to knock the Lee scale; it's great for what it is. Hell, I'd guess almost every reloader starts off with one; but you wont find many serious reloaders, or competitive benchresters (the second are almost always the first) with safety scales as their primary scales (though I think just about everybody has one as a backup). The RCBS 502 and 505 though; are on a hell of a lot of serious loaders benches; and if they aren't it's probably because they've got a 1010 (or maybe a Lyman model 500 or model 1000).

The next step up is into electronic scales. Now, I HIGHLY recommend you buy an electronic scale when you can; they just make life a lot simpler; especially when weighing individual charges for rifles.

The decent electronic scales start at about $85 with the lowest end PACT model, then progress up to $100 for the low end Lyman and RCBS models. They continue up through to the $120 range for the mid grade PACT, RCBS, and Lyman models; and finish up in the $150 range for the PACT precision, Lyman 1500, or RCBS ChargeMaster scales, all of which can interface with an electronic powder measure.

So, taking that original $118 bits and bobs number (again this is independent of the press itself) and knocking it down to $99 by deleting the Lee scale; you can see that a basic scale upgrade to a Hornady M brings you to about $150, going to the Lyman 500 or RCBS 502 brings you to about $160, and going to the 505 brings you to $170 (if you wanted the 1010, that would be $230; and I think not worth it at this stage)

On the electronic side, going to the low end PACT brings you up to $185, with the low end Lyman and RCBS at $200; the midrange for all three at $220, and the high end for all three at about $250.

See, the thing is, I'm of a particular philosophy when it comes to buying durable goods (and reloading equipment certainly qualifies). I don't buy the top of the line just to have "the best", I buy for quality; and generally speaking I don't want to spend $20 now on a product and then need to spend $50 later when I have to upgrade. I'd rather just spend the $50 now; than spend $70 total to end up with one inferior product, and one superior... unless I need a spare of something anyway.

The same philosophy applies with powder measures. The lee perfect measure is fine, but it's not the best built (it's a bit plasticky). It's not terribly durable, nor is it very large, or very smooth.

There are four dominant powder measures out there for benchtop use, and those are the RCBS Uniflow, the Lyman #55, the Redding #3, and the Hornady Lock'n'load. All but the Lyman use the same metering mechanism, a drum with a piston that screws in and out to vary volume (the Lyman uses a drum with two bars that move in an out with threaded adjusters at one end of each). The Lee perfect measure uses the same system as the others actually, it just executes it in a much cheaper fashion.

I have both a Lyman #55 and a Uniflow; and I much prefer the feel of the Uniflow. It's smoother, and has a better "throw action" so to speak, as well as I think better adjustments (especially if you include the $30 micrometer drum). Either sell for about $70, or about $50 more than the lee; and can be mounted on the edge of the bench, or in a spare tools station in your press using a powder die. Bench stands that mount the measures about a foot off the benchtop are available for about $20 more each.

The Hornady measure is supposed to be excellent, and costs $10 less than the Lyman or RCBS. The Redding is used by a LOT of competitive shooters (though I believe the uniflow is most popular), but it's $40 more expensive than the RCBS (it includes a micrometer adjuster, which is $30 extra for the RCBS).

Electric automatic units, for use with electric scales, start at about $115 for the PACT and go up to about $180 for the RCBS. They're great for precision loading; but they can't throw charges nearly as fast as manual measures (for rifle loading this isn't that big a deal, but for volume pistol loading it is).

Actually, given an electronic scale though, they can throw a weighed rifle charge a lot faster (about 10 seconds), than you can throw a charge, weigh it, and trickle it up to the precise weight manually (about 20 seconds).

If you aren't really worried about volume, there's nothing wrong with the Lee; but you're going to want a better measure eventually, and why spend $20 now, and $70 later for a total of $90; when you could just spend the $70 now?

Running those same numbers, as before for accessories independent of the press, we get this picture:

$118 minus $19 for deleting the Lee Measure is $99. Going to the Hornady is $60 for about $160. The RCBS or Lyman bring us up to $170, the Redding to $210 (I don't think it's worth the difference).

To go to the electrics by themselves, would cost $220 for the pact, or $280 for the RCBS.

Now, combining the scale upgrade with the powder measure upgrade, we run from $150, $160, and $170 for the Hornady M, RCBS 502, and RCBS 505 respectively; plus $40 over the cost of the Lee for the Hornady, and $50 for the RCBS or Lyman measures (let's ignore the redding).

So keeping it all manual, that's between $190 and $210, independent of the press. With the 4 hole turret press, thats $254 to $274, and with the classic turret it's $274 to $294.

Moving to a manual measure and an electronic scale, we get $185 for the low end PACT, $200 for the low end RCBS and Lyman, $220 for the mid range of all three, and $250 for the high end of all three; plus $40 or $50 over the Lee for Hornady, RCBS or Lyman measures.

That comes out to $225 at the low end, and $300 at the high end. With the Lee 4 hole turret press, that's $289 to $364, and with the Classic Turret it's $309 to $384

So, to upgrade your scale and measure (and you really should do them together if you can) you are looking at between $70 and $100 above the Lee for the manual scales; and between $105 and $180 above for the electronic scales.

The great thing about these upgrades though, and going against what I said earlier about not wanting to spend the money twice, is that the Lee bits are only $20 each. If you want to start cheap and then go better as your budget allows, you're only out $20 or $40 going with Lee to start. Now, if you're only going to upgrade to the $50 scale and the $60 powder measure, it really makes sense to spend the extra $70 now; but if you think you'll eventually upgrade to an electronic setup, maybe waiting isn't a bad idea.

Here's the kicker; and this is why I said you may want to upgrade your powder measure and scale at the same time, leaving everything else the same:

If you want to get an electronic scale, and a manual powder measure, that's great. In fact thats what I'm currently using, and I recommend it highly.

Honestly, for $295 with the Lee 4 hole press; that's a great loading setup. You could be happy with it for years... or forever if you only loaded pistol. It's got all the things you need, plus some extras to make your life easier; and a good press.

But...

...and this is moving back into the higher end of things...

...for $220 to $260; you can buy an electronic powder measure and scale combo from RCBS, Lyman, or PACT (I prefer the RCBS). That's $75 to $115 more than a manual powder measure with electronic scale; and if you have the money to spend, it's a great deal.

Of course it's a big run from $40 for the low end Lee powder measure and scale, up to $260. At that point we're no longer reloading on that tight budget; I'm just illustrating where you can go with it. Also, I recommend that you have a manual powder measure anyway, for doing high volume pistol reloading; the electric measures are really for competitive shooters who weigh each charge, or rifle shooters.

For most reloaders, the $70 difference between the low end Lee scale and measure, and the Hornady LnL and Model M; the $110 difference for the Uniflow and RCBS 505; or the $115 to $135 difference for a Uniflow and a low end electronic scale; are very much worth it. The benefits to both speed and precision are really very significant, and you're saving time and mony in the long run.

I think most loaders would WANT an automatic powder dispenser system such as mentioned here (I know I do), but they are expensive; and I think most people might balk at $190 to $220 more than just the basic Lee setup. Also as I said, the manual measures deal with rapid reloading from the block better than electronics do.

The final place to look to for upgrades, is the press itself.

This time I'll make no qualifiers; I think the Lee classic turret is as strong and well made as any other press out there... but... I don't think it's as tough as some, or as well finished etc...

What I mean by saying it's as strong but not as tough, is that I think it will take a hell of a lot of force applied to it; but I don't think it will stand up to as much use and abuse over its lifetime as some other designs; because it's a bolted together press rather than a cast frame.

Also, the Lees have one major weakness; they only have 4 stations. This means you can't have two pistol calibers set up at once; and if you are using a powder die, you can only use a 3 die set instead of a 4 die set (4 die sets use a separate seating and crimping die; and you generally get better results with them).

The Lees do somewhat make up for having only 4 holes by offering very low cost quick change toolheads ($10 for lee, vs $35 for Lymans quick change turrets, and RCBS at $40), but I like the ability to use more tool stations offered by a six hole turret press like the Lyman or RCBS.

The Lees also share an advantage with RCBS in that they can be used in an auto indexed mode. This feature allows the presses to operate somewhat like a progressive press, where each pull of the handle rotates the tool head, so four pulls on a case (decap and size with priming on the up stroke , expand case mouth, dispense powder, seat and crimp) produces a loaded round.

This seems at first like a big advantage; but without automatic priming, and automatic case feeding and ejection, it doesn't really increase production speed all that much; and it reduces the durability and increases the mechanical complexity of the press.

If it's auto-indexed like a progressive, why doesn't it increase speed very much (if at all, over batch processing)? After all, progressives are three to eight times faster than loading on a turret press.

In a progressive press, because there are multiple cartridge stations as well as multiple tool stations; all four operations are performed simultaneously, and a loaded round is produced with every stroke of the handle. An auto indexed turret press only has a single cartridge station, and therefore just like a manually indexed press, still takes 4 pulls (presuming a press mounted powder measure - 3 pulls if you're charging on the bench not the press) for every round.

Honestly, the only real time savings is that you don't have to rotate the turret by hand with each pull; or if using batch processing, you don't have to put the cartridge back into the press three times (in batch processing you don't use the press ram to dispense powder, you manually charge each case with the powder measure in large batches). Personally, it's a nice to have feature for some, but I don't care for it unless it's on a progressive press with a case feeder.
As an aside: Just to make things more complicated, Lee sells a fully progressive version of their 3 hole turret press called the Pro 1000. It runs $65 stripped, and you need to buy a priming system for $13, a shell plate for $24, a case feeder tube for $10, and a tool head for $10. Or you can buy it complete, with a case feeder, powder measure, priming system, shell plate, tool head, and a single set of dies, for $132.

That's actually CHEAPER than buying the manual turret press, and the associated gear to do the same thing the progressive does (and is in fact cheaper than either Lyman or RCBSs turret press alone).

The only concern I have with it, is durability. As I said, the 4 hole design is strong, but I have concerns about its service life; and I can't really recommend it.

To muddy the waters even further however, Lee makes what is essentially a fully progressive version of their challenger press called the load master; and selling for $215 fully kitted out with powder measure, priming system, case feeder, and die set.

The load masters frame is every bit as strong and tough as a Dillon press; though the case feeder, powder measure, and priming system wont stand up to as much...

But honestly, for $215... thats half the price of a Dillon. Sure you wont get the speed, or service life, but it's $215; and the replacement parts are cheap.

I'm in the market for a Dillon, because I need that additional speed and toughness, most loaders on a budget really don't. If you need to load more than 500 rounds a month of a single caliber, then I'd really recommend going for the LoadMaster.
Anyway, let's leave aside those progressives for a minute.

It may be a combination of personal preference, convenience, and value; but I just like the Lyman T-Mag. It sells for just $140 ($60 more than the Lee classic or $80 more than the 4 hole), and I think makes an excellent upgrade. I have two of them myself, that's how much I like them.

To go to the T-mag and keep everything else the same as above would run from $260 for the full basic Lee outfit, to $330 for the upgraded manual powder measure and scale, to $390 for the Uniflow and a low end RCBS or Lyman electronic scale.

Lyman also offer the T-Mag II in kit form, for either $295 or $365 (the former for mechanical scale, the latter for electronic).

This includes:

* T-Mag 2 Turret press
* Universal Trimmer with Expanded Pilot Multi-pack
* Lyman 1000XP Electronic Scale (normally $100), or Pro 500 scale (normally $45)
* #55 Powder Measure
* Universal Priming Arm
* Primer Tray
* Auto Primer Feed
* Extra Decapping Pins
* 48th Edition Reloading Handbook
* Primer Catcher
* Deburring Tool
* Powder Funnel
* Case Lube Kit
* Quick Release Turret System
* 7/8” x 14 Adapter (mounts #55 powder measure in press turret)

All you need other than that is a die set and shellholder, for $22 total; and an autoprime with shelholders if you don’t want to use the presses autopriming tool for another $13 or $22; a bullet puller for $12 and a loading tray for $4; or $38-$60 over and above the kit price.

That works out to $355 or $425 total (for manual or electric scale), and you get a case trimming lathe and bits included with it. That's compared $275 or $295 for the manual scale and Lee 4 hole turret or classic turret; and $310 or $330 with the electronic scale.

For $60 or $80 more, on the manual side; or $95 to $115 more for the electronic; you get a better press, and the same or better kit to go with it. Plus you're getting a case trimming lathe and all the accessories; which is worth... you guessed, it, about $80 ($60 for the trimmer, $20 for the bits and collets).

If you are just going to reload pistol, you don't necessarily need the case trimming gear; but it's a good thing to have.

RCBS makes a great turret press that sells for $175, and a kit to go with it; but they want about $60 more for it than the Lyman kit; and the lyman kit has a case trimming lathe (a very useful thing when you load rifle). On the plus side, the RCBS kit includes the 502 scale, a much better scale than the pro 500 in the Lyman kit; and it also includes the UniFlow powder measure, a better measure than the Lyman 55.

Actually, I really wish they'd take the Rockchucker supreme kit; and substitute the turret press in for the 'chucker and call it a day. That kit includes the 505 scale, and the RCBS hand priming tool; both excellent choices.

The Bottom Line:

It takes as little as $135 (or really $160) to get in, but it's really just over $200 for a reasonable setup. Seems another $80-$150 and you've got some really great gear there; and for another $200 or so over that, and you're into the luxury zone with electronic automatic stuff.

That's $200 for a basic single stage turret and all accessories; to $300 for a very reasonable, high quality setup with upgraded scale and powder measure; all the way up to over $550 for a top quality press, and electronic powder measure and scale; with a lot of room for a variety of budgets in between.

Don't ever say I didn't give you options...

My recommendation for those on the tightest budget? Make it stretch to include the 4 hole turret press outfit as listed above(not the kit) for $192 (or even better buy the turret press AND the anniversary kit for $214).

If you can swing the money to upgrade the scale and powder measure, do the measure first at an additional $44 for the Hornady, then for $40 more, upgrade your scale to the RCBS 502.

Thats $85 more than the straight low end Lee setup; or just about $275.

If you are going to load a lot of large or magnum rifle, or you plan on doing any brass forming (modifying one brass case into another type); upgrade to the classic turret press for another $20 or $295 total; or spend the $80 over the 4 hole, and go to the Lyman for $355.

Just for comparison purposes, my own personal setup is made up from the pieces I describe above:

I've got two Lyman presses, the RCBS uniflow powder measure and the Lyman #55, and pretty much all the other Lee bits except dies (I'm using Lyman and RCBS dies). When the money allows, I'll spend the $260 on the RCBS automatic powder dispenser and scale (for now I'm using a low end electronic scale with a Lee Safety for backup).

So yay, for $350-$400 you can be just like me (or at least just like my setup anyway, without the extra turret press and powder measure); or for $550 kick my butt with your automatic electronic goodness.

Or if you are doing a lot of volume in a single caliber, you could even go to the Load-Master progressive, with accessories and an electronic scale, for under $400; and REALLY kick my ass.

Until I get my RL650 that is... bwahahahahahaha, then I shall take over the WORLD!!!

Oh, did I say that out loud? Sorry, disregard immediately.

It's 2am, I've been up since 6:30 after 4 hours of sleep, and I can barely keep my eyes open. I'm sure I've written a bunch of gibberish above, but I'm too tired to proofread it. I'll fix it in the morning when I wake up.

BOHICA



HT: Sondrak

Sunday, April 29, 2007

"There Oughta Be A Law": A conversation with someone who just doesn't get it

A few months ago, Arizona passed a statewide comprehensive smoking ban in all work places and public gathering spaces, excepting private clubs, or those that earn 51% or more of their revenue from tobacco.

Essentially, as of May first, it will be illegal to smoke in public in Arizona; except on the sidewalk (away from bus stops), in your own car, in a private club, or at a smoke shop.

Mel and I went to a casual Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale for lunch today, and when we asked to be seated they asked us the normal question, "Smoking or Non-Smoking". A bystander said "Ahh no more smoking as of May first thank god".

I answered "Non-Smoking", and then I turned to the gentleman who had spoken and said "Well sir, I don't smoke, and I would prefer to not have people smoke around me, but this law is a bad thing".

The gentleman responded "Why's that?"

"Well sir" I replied "It's a violation of property rights".

"Property rights? How can it be a violation of property rights. I just don't want people smoking around me when I eat".

"Sir, It's a question of self determination. A private property owner should be able to determine on his own, whether people can smoke on his property or not. If the government can tell you that people can't smoke on your property, they can tell you anything"

"Ok" he replied "I understand what you're saying and I agree with it as far as it goes; but I don't want people smoking around me".

"Well sir, then you should choose non-smoking sections" I countered.

"I do; but why should I have to put up with other people smoking around me at all?" he asked; seeming genuinely puzzled how I (as a non-smoker) could disagree with him.

"Sir" I politely and patiently explained "It's not your property, it's not your decision; or the governments for that matter. If you don't want people smoking around you, you can always go to restaurants that don't allow smoking. If it is profitable for restaurants to make such restrictions, then they will do so".

"Some of them already do, and I don't see why they all shouldn't".

At this point I'd given up on the idea that the person could see the problem with what he was saying, but I gave it one more effort responding with "Why should the government, or you for that matter sir, decide what a private property owner can do with his property?"

"But smoking is bad. I just don't like it. I don't want people smoking near me"; was his final argument (actually his first, final, and only argument).

He just didn't get it. He didn't understand why the government shouldn't step in and force a private property owner to do whatever HE personally wanted them to do. He thought it was entirely reasonable that his preferences should be made into law, and should infringe on the rights of the property owner. As far as he was concerned, because he didn't want people smoking around him while he ate, then no-one should ever be allowed to smoke in a restaurant.

As we were about to be seated I turned and made one final statement: "Sir, d'you know what the most dangerous words in the English language are? 'There oughta be a law'"

Chills, Seriously



HT: Publicola

Saturday, April 28, 2007

What's the deal with ADD?

Someone asked on the gunthing.com forums, what's the deal with ADD? Is it all bullshit, or do all these kids really need medication?

Well, really, it's about 99% bullshit; and for the 1% of kids diagnosed that actually have it, the treatments often are worse than the problem.

Most often the diagnosis of ADD or ADHD or any of the related "persnality disorders" is part of the general war on boys (between 5 and 8 times as many boys are diagnosed with ADD as girls - depending on which numbers you believe).

The issue here is that many of the criteria for diagnoses are all parts of normal little boy behavior. Of course to todays "enlightened" politically correct, non-competitive, sensitive society, little boys behavior is unacceptable. It's not ok to be competitive or judgmental or aggressive or any of the other things that separate boys social behavior from girls social behaviot.

The teachers have been trying since the early seventies to turn little boys into little girls. When they found that no matter how much they socially indoctrinated the boys, they would still behave like boys; they turned to medication.

Most of the rest of the time, when this relentless pursuit of pharmacology isn't part of social engineering, it's as an aid to teachers who have poor control and discipline over students.

This one I don't blame on the teachers, I blame it on the parents and administrators. Children are today allowed what I would call obscenely poor standards of behavior, both in public and in private; because the parents from my generation on down, are either afraid to be parents, or have been taught ridiculously stupid things about parenting.

Of course administrators aren't going to allow teachers to use stricter discipline or harsher punishments than parents would allow.

... and of course, that's all part of the social engineering as well. Indoctrinate kids make for indoctrinated parents.

Finally, the diagnosis of "personality disorders" like ADD is almsot ALWAYS used to justify increases "special needs" funding for the schools. In some districts, every kid they get with ADD is worth as much as $5000 extra to the school; and medicated kids are well behaved kids who take less time and effort and money.

Except of course for those who don't need the medications (most of them), who end up zonked, and have their developing personalities messed up by psychoactive drugs. Or the kids who the medications backfire on, and turn them manic or generate other psychoses in them.

You cannot possibly understand the effect that psychoactive drugs have on childrens personalities; because they havent fully formed their personalities yet. You can never know if it's really your kid, or if it's the drugs.

The fact is, maybe 1 out of every 20 or 30 kids had "problems concentrating and acting out" before the ADD drugs were heavily prescribed; and most of those kids did reasonably well without drugs. Maybe 1 in 100 kids were a serious behavioral problem. Now, one out of 5 (yes, seriously, 1 out of 5) kids in affluent communities (the poor don't generally take ritalin) are on some kind of psychoactive medication before they leave high school.

This isn't to take away from those who WERE helped by the drugs, and really did need them (that 1 in 100 I mentioned). I had several friends growing up who were little monsters without their drugs, had no attention span, would act out violently etc... Thats the 1 in 20 or 30 that I talked about who can really use it.

All those other Kids though? ...Teachers and parents should be dealing with their children, not their pharmacists.

Last night we feasted...

And this morning, we're off to the shooting.

No hangovers today though (much to the disapointment of my many freinds who wished me a happy dunrk last night). I do drink, but I was loaded up to the eyeballs on diphenhydramine, dextreomorphan, and pseudoephedrine (nasty head cold the last few days), so I was all floaty without any alcohol thankyouverymuch.

Much meat was consumed. I had at least one portion of each of the 11 types of meat they were serving last night; and two portions of the bacon wrapped fillet, top sirloin, roast turkey, sausages, lamb, and flank steak.

Each serving is between 1 and 2 oz, so I'd guess my total meat consumption was about 28oz... plus about 8oz of shrimp.

hmmmm... protein...

Then a good side helping of black beans and rice, fried yucca, and fried plantains; and a coconut flan to top it all off

hmmmm... starch...

Amazingly enough I was actually able to walk to the car, instead of being rolled.

Now it's time for the blasty goodness.

Friday, April 27, 2007

This Weekend's Festivities

Tonight we dine at Rio Sabor in celebration of Chris's birthday. There will be as much meat to eat as we can stuff in our poor bodies.

Tomorrow we shoot.

Sunday we sleep, and whatever else.

It is shaping up to be a good birthday weekend.

Happy Birthday honey, I love you.

Holy CRAP I'm old...

Old enough to know better, young enough to do it anyway; but too busted up to make it all the way over the edge, so it's all good.

Happy Birthday to me.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Christmas, Buy a Gun Day, and Birthday Gun "In Progress"

So, last weekend we went out and got my "big" birthday present:



Or at least the upper anyway; I bought the lower around Christmas time.



The Lower is a DPMS forged lower. The upper is a Wilson A4 upper, with a Wilson 24” full heavy 1” profile, stainless 1-in-8 air gaged barrel; sporting a Wylde chamber, and an 11 degree crown.

It's got a railed clamp on gas block, a fluted aluminum freefloat forend, and a matched and hand lapped bolt.



The stock is an ACE tubular stock, on a mil-spec tube, and in final form will have the extended LOP butt pad (I didn't have it on for this pic); which gives me an extra inch of pull (and the ACE with the short pad is still 3/4" longer than an A2. Being tall and fining a rifle with the right length of pull witout fiddling are mutually exclusive).

The BUIS are an A.R.M.S #40l ultra low profile rear, and a DPMS Mangonel front.




I just had a mag and pistol grip handy to take the pic; they aren’t going to be part of the final assembly.


Right now I'm thinking about a MagPul MIAD grip, with the enhanced curved aluminum trigger guard, and the spare bolt and firing pin carrier (with another d-ringed bolt in it so when I lose my extractor I’ve got a backup).


I may end up with a more ergonomic/target oriented grip though; we'll see.

I’m going to finish out the lower with a Chip McCormick drop in trigger (the curved single stage), an ambi safety and mag catch.


Now, onto the fiddly bits...

I don’t like the Mangonel front flipdown. I’m thinking I'm going to change it out for an HK style flipdown like the Samson.



It’s a subjective thing. It looks… untidy maybe? To me, the Mangonel just doesn't look right. Besides I prefer the full ring front sight shroud of the HK style, to the ears of the M-16 style; though that does make sight adjustment more interesting. I love the rear though… Oh and I’m thinking I’m going to put the trijicon dot front sight in. I had one before and I loved it.

I’m also going to pick up one of the hydraulic or pneumatic buffer systems (I haven't decided yet), and a bolt carrier weight, to delay unlock and slow the cyclic rate down; both to avoid bolt batter with hot and heavy loads, and to reduce the doublehump recoil on followthrough.

Oh, and the pneumatic buffers don't "sproing!!!!!"; an intangible, but surprisingly satisfying plus.

Actually, if I had a 28" barrel, I'd guess the weight and hydro buffer might actually increase velocity consistency as well, since they delay unlock, and without them the bullet may not have yet exited the barrel when the bolt starts unlocking (I'm sure it would by the time it finishes though). As it is though with the 24" I don't think it will make any velocity difference.

Oh and since I'm ordering the bolt weight anyway, I think I'll fire-lap the barrel (David Tubb sells both setups).



I’m going to D ring the extractor, for reliability (Theres a little D shaped O ring type thingy you can put under the extractor, around the spring; to increase extraction force and reliability. You can also just put a little o ring in, but the D rings last longer, and don’t really cost much); and with the MIAD I'll always have another spare bolt (with extractor already installed of course) and firing pin; for WHEN, not if, I break and/or jam another extractor and/or firing pin in the middle of something important.

I have experienced the unfortunate mischance of having an AR become a straightpull boltie on more than one occaison when I really would have prefered this not happen. The extractor loses tension and won't extract hot cases from a dirty chamber, getting jerked of the rim by the normal cycling of the bolt (thus requiring manual cycling).

I'd like to avoid that as much as possible in future.

I MAY change out the handguard/float tube for a carbon fiber one I’ve got lying around the shop (black aluminum tubes get VERY hot in long shot strings, especially out in the AZ desert); and obviously I’m going to put my Harris bipod on it (you might have noticed, 24" bull barrels are HEAVY)

I haven’t decided on the optics yet. I’m leaning towards a Leupold Mark 4 or a NightForce; but I may go with IOR. I’m also really impressed with Burriss’s updated XTR line, given that I think it’s 80% of the scope the Leupold is, for 40% of the money. I’m also semi-seriously considering one of ATN’s gigantic objective lense scopes, just for gits and shiggles.



Specifically, I'm thinking of the Leupold 4.5-14x50 IR Mil-Dot in matte black; which streets between $1200 and $1400 depending on where you find it (SWFA is usually pretty close to cheapest).



Night force has the similar 3.5-15x50 NXS, which streets between $1300 and $1400.

IOR has a 4-14x50 IR that runs about $1000 (saw it at the gun show for $800 actually) and looks interesting.

What gets me really thinking about price though, is this Burris 3-12x50 IR Mil-Dot with side focus for $750.


Finally, mostly because I want to try one out, and they're cheap, is the Super Sniper line of scopes from SFWA. Given the fact that they're $300 scopes, the reviews are really very good; everyone says they are incredible values for the money. I think I'll buy one regardless, and use it on another rifle if/when I get a higher end optic for the AR.

I'm not sure if Id want the 10x42 or the 16x42 . I'd probably go with the 10x just for brightness; and because it would be more useful on a shorter range rifle (plus I like sidefocus, and the 16x isn't available with it), but if I'm really happy with the 16x it could easily have a permanent home on the AR. They make a 20x, but power above 16x is pretty much unshootable without a solid benchrest, and this isn't going to just be a bench rifle; plus a 2.1mm exit pupil is pretty small for anything other than bright sunlight.

Oh, and I grabbed a real nice black ballistic nylon drag bag to go with it.

As to performance, I figure 600 yards is about the limit for the gun, with me behind it, from a good rest.

If, using the best quality ammo I can get or build, I can put 10 out of 10 into 16” and 8 out of 10 into 8” at 600 yards on a zero-zero (International Standard Atmosphere, 0 wind, 0 precip) day with this gun from a good position, I’ll be very happy.

If I wanted anything better than that… well I’ve picked the wrong chambering and the wrong gun… though I suppose I could ream it out for one of the tiny magnums…

Oh I suppose if I clamped it into a full mechanical rest I could hold better groups with careful loading… and I may just try that for the hell of it; but I’m more interested in how I shoot it, not how the machine shoots it.

I plan on using this as my ‘yote/varmint gun (yes I know, overstabilized light bullets bad - I don’t like hyperlight bullets for ‘yotes) long range fun gun, and with the right load, my CS/DM gun.

I plan on doing quite a bit of loading for this gun; as I mentioned in my post on loading for rifles.

I figure with some careful handloading, I can push 77gr SMKs to 2850+ fps. .98 oal in a 1-in-8 should shoot (1-in-8 is the minimum for .98, but 1-in-7 is better); and .362bc with an SD of .219, with 1390ftlbs at the muzzle, and if I’m calculating it right a 75” drop at 500yds… That’s half decent; and if the barrel shoots, it should be a .5moa combo.

I’mna start off buying the BlackHills 77gr that I loved with my previous 24” HB AR (also a 1-in-8, but a Lothar Walther barreled upper on a Bushmaster lower), and then load to try and better it.

If the rifle doesn’t shoot with the 77s I’ll go down to the 75gr Hornadys (also loaded by black hills). I like the Hornady 75gr match BTHP a lot actually. It's got a .395bc with .214sd, .94oal; and pushed to 2850fps for 1350ftlbs at the muzzle, it should have 72” drop at 500. Importantly though, it feeds well from the magazine, and the rifle should like it just fine.

My "last resort" 300+ yard load would be the 69gr SMK (again, black hills loads it - .301bc with .196sd pushed to 3000fps for 1380ftlbs at the muzzle, 73” drop at 500); but I'm confident it will shoot the 75gr or 77gr.

My plan for any of these is to buy some Black Hills remans (which are really reasonably priced) and then trying to load myself to beat the performance.

Then of course there's my little experimental 75gr A-Max loads... which honestly I don't expect will do all that well. Oh I'm sure they'll shoot fine, but with such long ballistic tip bullets, I'm expecting feed problems.

Now, the bad news so to speak...

List price on what I picked up this weekend (upper, bolt, carrier, charging handle, buffer tube, stock, drag bag), would have been $1100 plus tax (8.5%) for a grand total of $1,193; but I was out the door for $860 (or $790 without the bag).

Added to the $250 I’ve got into the BUIS, $60 for the bipod (both of which I bought for my LAST varmint AR), and $110 for the lower; and I’m about $1200 into this gun, with another about $500 to go before the optics.

The optics... well... You know that old rule of thumb that your scope is going to cost at least as much as your rifle...

If I were paying retail that'd almost certainly be true; but with sellers like SWFA (who I ALWAYS recommend for everyone buying anything more than a Wal-Mart grade scope by the way. Great prices, and great customer service. I just wish they carried even more product lines - like Night Force for example), the market for medium to high end optics has come down quite a bit in relative price. Sure the very top of the market are still ... significant purchases shall we say... but I'd rather pay $1500 at SWFA than $2500 for the same thing at a high end brick and mortar retailer.

Of course, if the Super Sniper scope works out, who knows; maybe I can build the whole thing in around $2,000 - $2200 ($1700 or so for just the rifle). Otherwise, it should total out somewhere between $2500 and $3200 depending on what scope I pick (a little less than half of that being the scope and rings).

Sounds like a lot of money; and honestly it is; but for a fully custom hand built rifle that should better .5moa (and I really think it will), and optics to match it; that's a bargain. If I were to get Fulton, Wilson, or Baer to build a rifle withe the same basic components and level of quality, it would be $2000 - $2400 for just the rifle.

Of course, this is why I'm only 1/3 of the way done with the gun, after five months. Accuracy and precision cost money, plain and simple. I'f I'd just wanted any'ol AR I could have dropped $800 on a u-build-it shorty from Model 1 or somesuch.

So, my BAG day was a little late, between this and the Hi-Power; but I split the difference between tax day and my birthday, so all is well.

Oh and after handling mine, Mel asked me last night "Ok, now when are you gonna build me one?".

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The MOMS Group

Life has been an interesting roller coaster ride for me lately. I've been trying to get over being anxious, trying some new things, and handling some ongoing problems of a legal nature.

I've also been much busier lately. I've been trying to get more involved in the school, the parish, and meeting more people.

So in February with a bit of trepidation I joined this year's MOMS session for new members. Ministry of Mothers Sharing is a Catholic organization with groups at many parishes across the U.S. Each year they offer their session to new mothers in the community in hopes of bringing more mothers into the community, The session consists of six weekly meetings that follow the outline of a book specifically designed to get mothers to think about what they want in life and bond with the other moms.

My session finished a few weeks ago. Tonight is the yearly MOMS dinner to formally welcome all of the new moms into the MOMS organization.

I was a little nervous going into this at first. Our parish includes members from Paradise Valley (home of Mike Tyson), Biltmore (home of some of the highest property values in AZ), Arcadia (old established Phoenix) and North Scottsdale. I admit to having a little residual class envy as a result of growing up rather low-income and I was pretty sure I wasn't going to fit in at all, or that the women would be so shallow that I wouldn't want to.

I was completely wrong on both counts.

I found out very quickly that the other three moms (two newbies and one MOMS veteran) were just like me, complete with the same challenges, worries, and issues. All of us are reasonably well off, but none of us are snobs, or shallow, or any other stereotype I came to associate with that income bracket. On top of that we're all generous, charitable people who would like to spend their free time helping other people.

Once again, my media-driven liberal education has been proven faulty. And I'm not at all upset about it.

Our session has been over for a couple of weeks now and we've replaced it with a weekly Bible study, since everyone wants to keep our weekly meetings going. For a Bible study we discuss many things outside of the norm and once again I find these other women to be intelligent, questioning women whose main mission in life is being a wife and mother. All of us break the stereotype of the “stupid housewife” and every one of us want a better world for our kids. So my mission has been very successful; I have found other women who understand what I'm going through and what I'm fighting for.

For those of you in the gun community this is akin to finding out that your new co-worker shoots, or that your new girlfriend has an interesting in firearms from both World Wars. Just when you think you're the odd one out for your interests or beliefs, you find you are surrounded by people with the same interests or goals. This is no less satisfying to me and just as welcome, to find that in the middle of materialism central, there are other moms concerned with raising their kids with better values and an appreciation for personal responsibility.

A couple more weeks of this and I might find that the Republic is not as lost as I thought.

In the meantime though I'll enjoy our new camaraderie and look forward to the next spirited discussion of culture and politics. And enjoy the realization that I'm not as weird or singular as I thought, and that there are many more women out there willing to fight for what they think is right for their kids, and society as a whole.

Mel

Just call me Mel, everyone else does.

The Madness Deepens


  • 1/3 of a 1lb of Accurate Arms 2230 powder: $5 ($15 a pound)

  • 100ct. box of 75gr Hodgdon A-Max bullets: $15

  • 100ct. sleeve of Winchester small rifle primers: $2 (1/10th of a 1000ct. box)

  • 100ct. Winchester .223 brass: $20 (hey, I wanted fresh match grade so I paid it)

  • Under 1/2 inch groups at 100 yards... priceless...
...or about $80 less than it would have been if I'd bought 100rds of commercially loaded ammo with the same components (if I could find it, which I couldn't).

Actually, if the ammo were made to the same standard I'm about to describe (and there are boutique loaders who do so for varmint shooters who don't want to load), it would be more like $3 to $4 per round (though 95% of that standard can be had for $1 or so per round from Black Hills, or 90% with Black Hills remans at $0.45 a piece in 1000rd lots)

The list above is the latest symptom of my disease... I've decided to get back into match grade rifle ammo loading.

Pray for me, for this way madness lies...

Ok, so I'm being dramatic, but not much. You can get TRULY obsessive when it comes to rifle accuracy, and the most important element of that accuracy is... yup... the ammo.

There's a reason why one of these:


Costs as much as $4.

That reason?

TIME

In the various posts I've made about loading over the last month I've talked about how long it takes to load for handgun. What it comes down to is something between 150 and 200 rounds per hour, or between 2.5 rounds and 3.3 rounds per minute.

That round pictured took me about 5 minutes total to load.

Why the difference?

Well, let's start with case prep:

First I very slightly lightly chamfered each case mouth, to ease resizing. This helps prevent splitting and crushing the case mouth, but it has to be VERY minimal.

Time: About 10 seconds each round.

Then I lubed and full length sized the new brass with an RCBS small base full length sizing die (I'm loading for an AR), which takes a little more force and time than resizing handgun brass. I did this even for brand new factory fresh brass, to ensure that all the brass was completely uniform and consistent.

I could be going for more accuracy by neck sizing only, but the difference is quite small, and small base sizing helps with feed and extraction reliability in semi-auto rifles.

Time: About 10 seconds each
Total: About 20 seconds

Next, I trimmed the case to exact length, and checked with calipers. Again with factory fresh brass this shouldn't be necessary, but you want to make sure every case is exactly uniform and consistent.

Time: About 40 seconds each
Total: About 60 seconds

Then I inside chamfered and de-burred the case neck, inside and out, with a hand held chamfering tool; slightly chamfered the outside of the mouth; uniformed the primer pocket with a uniforming tool; and cleaned, chamfered, and uniformed the flash hole with a flash hole uniforming tool.

Do I need to mention again, it's all about uniformity and consistency?

Time: About 40 seconds each
Total: About 1 minute 40 seconds

Next, I checked each case for length again with calipers, lightly cleaned all of them; and sorted case lots of 20 by weight.

This is fiddly but important, even within the same ammunition lot. Even new cases can vary in total weight (which means wall thickness and total case capacity) by as much as 15 grains from lot to lot, and as much as 7 grains within a single lot.

Time: About 40 seconds each
Total: About 2 minutes 20 seconds

Finally I primed each case, and verified each seated primer by touch and sight; inspecting the whole case for regularity.

Time: About 10 seconds each
Total: About 2 minutes 30 seconds

After case prep, it's time to prep the load itself:
  • First, zero the scale.
  • Then, throw a charge about 1 grain lighter than your final charge, and weigh it.
  • Next, trickle powder into the pan, either exact to weight, or if very small ball powders are used, a couple kernels over weight (less than a 20th of a grain) for spillage; and weigh again (thank god for digital scales)
  • Weigh your brass again
  • Pour your charge carefully into the brass
  • Check again and make sure the charged case weighs as much as it should
  • Inspect the load visually to ensure it is at the proper level in the case
Time: About 60 seconds each
Total: About 3 minutes 30 seconds

Finally, it's time to sort, seat and crimp the bullet:

First, you have to take all your bullets, weigh, and sort them by 1/10th gr. groups. Then take those groups and check for maximum diameter (anything more than .001 off nominal can be a problem). Then take THOSE groups and sort for length (anything more than .005 off nominal can be a problem).

The idea here isn't to actually reject bullets for being a thousandth of an inch off; it's to group extremes close to each other so that their deviations from the mean will be similar.

Time: About 30 seconds each
Total: About 4 minutes

Next, insert the bullets into the case mouth, and seat.

Most loading for rifles uses just two dies, a combination sizing and decapping die, and a combination seating and crimping die. The thing is, seating and crimping in one step is imprecise. You can end up with inconsistent neck tension, or overall length, and you REALLY don't want to do that. Plus it's just a pain to properly adjust the die to get just the right crimp AND the right seat depth at the same time.

Anyway, backing the seat die out until it doesn't crimp, and cranking the seating stem down until it seats to the proper depth is the way to go. Then once the bullet is seated, you check the cartridge overall length with calipers.

Time: About 20 seconds each
Total: About 4 minutes 20 seconds

Finally, using a separate taper crimping die, give the bullet a gentle, almost non existent, but even crimp (just folding over the chamfer and increasing the neck tension slightly); and measure both the OAL and the case neck dimension.

Then give the round a final inspection, checking the final dimensions, and visually inspecting for any and every imperfection. Weigh the round one more time, making sure the total weight of the round is equal to (or very close to) that of the primed case, desired charge, and nominal bullet weight.

Once it passes, mark the base of the round with a distinctive mark for that load and lot (so that you can identify and record load data and results).

Time: About 40 seconds each
Total: About 5 minutes

So, an hour and a half later, you have this:


Actually, only the first few of each batch takes that long. You can set up quick case and OAL gages using cardboard and a razor blade (or using adjustable gages that you can buy most anywhere or make for yourself very easily); and preset calipers for the proper dimensions etc... Then you batch up each step of the case prep, and all the measuring and sorting of brass and bullets.

Oh and a note. I used the spelling gage vs. gauge deliberately above. In this context, a gauge is a measuring device that you read off of; and a gage is a template that you compare the round to. Basically, a gauge is graduated (i.e. it has markings intended to measure); whereas a gage is only used to judge maximum or minimum dimensions.

Once you get going you can take the time down to about 2 minutes per round, or even 90 seconds if you're REALLY fast and efficient.

Whats really insane though, is that to a benchrest shooter, the process I've just described is intolerably sloppy and lax.

Yes, seriously.

For one thing, I didn't weigh and sort my primers.

Or use special benchrest primers (in fact I used WSR which are disliked among benchresters - and me for that matter, but everything else was sold out at three places).

Or use special benchrest brass (Lapua makes great stuff).

Or use a benchrest quality powder (hey, I was experimenting with what was locally available cheaply).

Or use special custom dies.

Or anneal my case necks and shoulders.

Or measure my cases capacity in grains of water (cases can vary by as much as 1.5gr even within the same lot).

Or check the runout on all my cases (runout in this context is the amount of deviation from round, concentric, and centered the case neck and/or case wall are).

Or check the runout on all my bullets.

Or turn my case necks.

Or count the kernels of powder going into each case (Yes, seriously, some bench rest shooters do that; though only with larger kerned stick powders, where a single kernel could be as much as 1/20th of a grain).

Or weigh my powder with a beam balance (most electric scales aren't repeatably accurate to less than 1/10th gr, and they wander off calibration with repeated measurement. Here's a review of the three best scale/powder dispenser combos commonly available. The problem is, beam balances can take 30 seconds to get an accurate measurement with).

Or chamber mic each loaded round to check for case uniformity and seating depth (2 thousands of an inch off the lands of the rifling).

Actually, for best accuracy, If I were REALLY anal and shooting an AR, I'd single load each round (with a single round follower in a short magazine). If I were even MORE anal I'd disconnect my gas system, and manually eject each round (or really, just not use an AR to begin with).

If I were really really really anal, before I fired for group, I'd load each case up with a cheap bullet and powder, and fire them for practice. Then when I went to reload the cases, instead of full length sizing each round, I'd only turn and size the neck; letting the fire-formed cartridge body remain the same (fire-forming is the process of molding a brass case exactly to the chamber of a particular gun through the process described here).

Doing all of that can take as much as 20 minutes per round (not including the fire-forming and case cleaning).

...Yeah, no thanks, that's too much work for me.

Hell, you can cut out about 3/4 of the measuring and verifying that I've described here by using gages and preweighing and sorting everything; and get down to under two minutes total per round; while still maintaining about 90% of the accuracy potential...

With one of these RCBS power trimmers:



and one of these RCBS prep centers:



You can get consistent, uniform case prep done in just a few seconds per case.

Add one of these RCBS powder dispenser and scale combos:



and your overall load times go down to under a minute per round if you don't trickle the last half grain (these measures are repeatably accurate to 1/10th gr with small kerned powders; subject to periodic re-zeroing and recalibration; but larger powders can sometimes be up to .2gr off. That's fine for pistols, but for precision rifles you need under a tenth - Oh and Lyman, Redding, and others also makes a similar case trimmer; Lyman and PACT both make similar powder systems; but as far as I know RCBS is the only company with that type of case prep station tool, which is why I used them as the example).

...But that's still anywhere from 3 or 4 times as long as a single handgun cartridge, to more than 100 times as long.

The upshot though? I mean there has to be SOME use to all of that right?

How about 100 yard group of .190" center to center, from a .224" bullet (that's under .2 MOA); essentially one not very large hole (smaller than a single .45acp hole).

How about 600 yard shooters shooting under 1.57" 5 shot groups (that's .25 MOA).

Yes, seriously; there are guys out there shooting silver dollar sized groups with a .224 bullet at 600yards; and those are by no means record holders.

The serious record holders mostly shoot one of the slippery sixes (the 6mm benchrest cartridge family - though some members of the family use .224 bullets), from either a highly customized Remington bolt action, or a purpose built custom action; and get groups 2/3 the size of .223 at 600 yards. The world record 600 meter group is 1.070" unofficially, and 1.174" officially (.19 moa); and the official record group was shot with the .22 dasher (using an 80gr VLD .224 bullet).

The process used to load the rounds used to shoot groups like that makes mine look like TLAR ("That Looks About Right"); but without TOO much effort (well, compared to handguns its a ton of effort, but for benchresters it's not too much), you can make a good match grade AR keep .5moa out to 600 yards from a good rest.

This, is a good rest by the by:




Not this:



The difference? One is $350, and guarantees exactly repeatable precision down to thousandths of an inch. The other is $35 and made of injection molded plastic. The former, while a truly excellent rest by field shooting standards (in fact, it's one of the best available general purpose rests) is considered barely adequate for serious benchrest duty (where custom made, precision machined multi-thousand dollar rest systems are not uncommon) whereas the latter is barely adequate for 100 yard plinking.

Here's a great discussion about the .223 reloading, and benchresting the .223 on 6mmbr.com.

Ok so to head off the inevitable, let's talk about loads:

Take this as you will, knowing that I’ve only ever loaded a couple thousand rounds (probably less than 1500 rounds total) of .223, mostly in 20 round batches, and not much in the way of 5.56 bulk loads. I mostly load for pistol; because rifle is a pain in the ass (as described above).

Also I only load with heavy bullets. I figure why bother with 55gr, when the heavier bullets only cost me a couple cents more per round, and deliver better results.

Also, for anything less than max accuracy loads, I load close to max pressure; varying a bit up or down to find a load the gun likes. These are loads that were good and safe with specific guns, normal caveats to start 10% low and work up etc… apply.

My “default” match load for guns that can take it was the 77gr SMK over 22.5gr of H335 seated to max feed length for whatever gun it’s going into (somewhere between 2.26 and 2.28 usually). This is a load designed to duplicate the Black Hills MK 262, but using a powder that meters easily

The same bullet is good over 24.5gr of Varget; and it seems a little more consistent (and a lot cleaner) than 335; but I’ve only loaded a few of them.

These loads are only usable by 1-in-8 guns or faster, and are only usable in bolt guns, or ARs with a rate reducer or heavy bolt/buffer (basically match and varmint guns). I suppose you could use them in guns without, but they’d batter the bolt. Also, without a long throat chamber (5.56 nato, or Wylde) you will get excessive pressures.

Currently I’m loading an experiment, as described above.

I’ve got 75gr Hornady A-Max vlds (bc of .435!!!) and I'm testing out loads with 2230.

I've got batches loaded over 23.5, 24.5, 25, 25.5, and 26gr of AA2230, seated to 2.280”. The equivalent Varget load to that topout would be about 25.5gr.

I’ve got them seated to max mag feeding depth (yes I know the A-Max isn’t really designed for that), and given the very slightest bit of taper crimp right at the ogive. They are firm in the neck, and feed without binding or setting back. I was planning on loading them with Varget or H335, but everyone was out of it locally so I picked up the 2230 cheap ($14.50 for one pound) and decided to experiment.

In my current match barreled AR(24" Wilson 1-in-8 stainless 1" full profile barrel with a wylde chamber), the bullet feeds, and seats just off the lands; but I haven’t had it out to the range yet to check results or reliability (because I haven’t finished building the gun). From a “normal” AR barrel and chamber I’d be worried about it feeding properly; though if it feeds, it should shoot in anything 1-in-9 and faster.

The loads should get somewhere between 2800 and 2950fps out of my barrel, and I’m expecting .5moa out to 600 yards once the barrel is broken in, and I settle the load right.

Unfortunately, not knowing AA2230 well, I don't know how consistent a powder it is (just that it meters very well), and the A-Max is a totally unknown factor to me. The bolt gun guys swear by it as the best long range bullet under 80 grains, that doesn't cost $0.50 a piece; but it's hard to make such a long bullet function in an AR (I'm a masochist what can I say). I'm running this experiment specifically to see if I can make a round from these components that will both feed and shoot in an AR.

A more “normal” load would be the 75gr hornady match BTHP, over 25.5gr Varget seated to 2.255". It should feed properly in most guns (SAAMI spec is 2.260)

Those two loads should be good for 1-in-9 guns, but If you don’t have a 1-in-8 or faster you may want to stick to the 69gr loads. Also, these loads are for 22” to 24” barrels; you may want to use a lighter load of a faster powder in shorter barrels.

If you want to improve on heavy NATO load performance (why on earth would you want to shoot 55gr in anything faster than a 1-in-12?) try the 69gr sierra BTHP or 68gr Hornady BTHP over 26.0gr of varget; seated to 2.250.

To improve or duplicate 62/63gr, try 26.5gr of Varget, or 25.0gr of H335, under any of the bulk 62/63gr FMJ, seated to 2.250.

If you really want to duplicate 55gr nato for some reason, try 28gr of Varget under the Winchester or Remington 55gr. canelured .224 and seat to 2.250 (actually 27gr of Win 748 would be closer, but I prefer Hodgdon or Alliant powders generally. Reloder 15 is another good option).

Actually, honestly, if you're bulk loading, 55gr makes a of of sense; because the components are VERY economical.

Midway USAs advance email flyer for may just hit my email box. There’s some interesting component deals, including under 7 cents a piece for once fired .223 brass, and under 5 cents a piece for 55gr Remington bullets (and a whole bunch of other types right around that price), 2 cents a piece for primers, and about $13 per pound of various suitable accurate arms powders (about 290 rounds per pound); all of course in bulk quantities (1000 bullets, 1000 cases, 5000 primers, and 8lbs of powder).

Lesse, 3.5lbs of powder at $45, $70 for 1000ct brass, $50 for 1000ct bullets, $22 for 1000ct primers. Total for 1000 rounds, $187 or $0.187 per round.

Cheapest brass cased .223 I can find right now is about $0.32 a pop, and it’s constantly sold out…

...not bad.

Oh and for the match grade stuff I’m loading above, it’s only about $0.8 - $0.10 more per round (again, in 1000 round quantities), for about $0.27 -$0.29 a round, or about $0.37 - $39 per round using new premium brass and not amortizing the brass at all over multiple loads (you should get 5-8 match grade loads out of new brass, and another 2-5 plinker grade loads, for about 10 total).

The same ammo commercially loaded (actually I haven’t seen the 75gr A-Max loads on sale anywhere, but I’d assume the vmax would be similarly priced) is $1.00 a pop in bulk (though Black Hills reloads it for $0.4.5 a round).

Oh and WHY am I getting back into rifle reloading now? More on this tomorrow...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Random Candid of the Better Half



"You're going to pay for this..."

(sorry for the blur, she was grabbing for either the camera, or one of the big knives laying around ;-)

Am Yisra'el Chai


Buy A Gun Day Browning... sorta...

Look, I has me a Hi-Power!



Or rather, I have an FM M95 detective; a licensed Hi-Power, from the fine folks at Fabrica Militar.

The FM Hi-Powers are made on Browning designed tooling, under FN license since 1968; and in fact FN themselves (the fine folks who make Browning labeled guns) have in the past used FM parts for their own South American export mil-spec contract pistols. Additionally, FM parts are approved for use as replacement parts for Hi-Powers in use with various military organizations around the world.

Essentially the FM Hi-Powers are FN Mil-Spec Mark III P35s (the actual model number of the HiPower), with all the major Mark III features (the Mil-spec features, not the prettier commercial ones); unfortunately including the silly mag disconnect (which will be removed posthaste). They are identical to the FN produced models, except that they have three dot sights, they don't have the lightening relief cuts in the slide from the end of the dustcover to the muzzle (which means some closely fitted Hi-Power holsters would not fit); and the quality of surface finish (baked on enamel over parkerizing - again, Mil-Spec) isn't as good as the FN.

Importantly though, all parts are interchangeable (in fact, you can put a detective upper on an FN lower; and there are companies who will sell them to you for about $200).

The Detective is a standard Hi-Power, only 1" shorter. Basically, it's the "Commander" of Hi-Powers. Because of it's shorter length, it features a full length guide rod, and double nested recoil springs.



Generally speaking, those who own, or have reviewed the FM Hi-Powers like them; commenting on them as not quite as good as the FNs, but a good gun, reliable, and great value for the money; which these days is anywhere from $300 to $425. Here's a good review from Gun Blast, and a page from Cruffler on the background of the pistol.

The only problem people have had with the M95s, is with the detectives; and that is one of spring life, and the difficulty of finding replacements. Thankfully, if you know what you're doing, good quality industrial springs are not hard to order; and there's always Wolff and Springco.

Unfortunately I don't think anyone is importing the M95s right now; but there are plenty in surplus dealer hands; and their import status could change; who knows.

I've always really liked the Hi-Power. It's got the perfect balance of grip comfort and magazine capacity (13+1 standard, up to 18+1 with KRD or other extended magazines as shown here). Sure, it's only in 9mm, but I don't dislike 9mm, I just prefer .45, 10mm, .357sig or .40; and I've said many times before, if someone makes a genuine Hi-Power or clone in .45acp I'm so there (yes I know about the CZ9ZB, and no, it's different).

In many ways, Browning himself thought of the Hi-Power as "fixing the issues" that had come up with the 1911 since its introduction: it has a double stack frame, an external extractor, a takedown latch built into the safety (so you dont have to hold the slide back manually to take it down), an ambidextrous safety is customary, and there is no bushing to break or mis-fit (of course there are counterbalancing disadvantages to all of these points in favor of the 1911).

It's also smaller and lighter than the 1911 (as it should be given the much smaller caliber). Here it is up against my Yost Custom Springfield Champion ( a stainless Combat Commander).




I've always really liked the feel in the hand; and the natural point I have with a BHP (Browning Hi Power), though with he detective I find myself aiming a bit high unconsciously.

Importantly, the wife has the same feel and natural point with the gun that I do; whereas with a 1911, though she likes them, she's fighting the size of the gun jsut a little bit (she LOVES her Llama Especial - a .380 1911 clone - and she's really interested in Springfields new EMP, a 191 that's been scaled down for 9mm).

So now, I'm very happy to have examples of both major Brownings pistols designs that have lasted in continuous production (from 1911 and 1935 respectively) 'til today.... as well as just having a nice gun to carry and shoot.

The best part though, was the price. I traded a friend of mine 400 rounds of premium defensive .40, plus some cash; for the pistol with 4 mags (two 13rd Browning factory - actually made by MecGar if I recall correctly - and two 18rd KRD that I intend only for range use).

If taken retail to retail pricing, the ammo is worth more; but given ammoman/midway/CTD pricing it was a very satisfying deal on both our parts. He bought himself a SIG and needed to offset the cost (plus he shot through all the ammo he bought for it on the first day); and I sold my last .40 (actually the same model of SIG he bought) almost two years ago.

This is my main BAG day gun. I didn't have it up last week, because I hadn't picked it up yet; but I had made the deal to be a BAG day gun. We were both just waiting for the gun show this past weekend to make sure we could complete the transaction without anything popping up in the way.

I intend for this gun to be the basis for a simple Hi-Power project gun. New springs, hammer, new slide release and safety, new sights (Novak nights, almost certainly), and a refinish. The trigger is pretty good (excepting the mag disconnect), at about 6lbs and crisp with no noticable stack or creep; and it's a carry gun so I don't think I'll mess with it other than removing the disconnect (which should shorten and soften the takeup and break a little bit without making it sloppy).

In terms of the refinish and any metalwork, I probably wont go for anything flashy, I'm thinking Black-T maybe, or one of the baked epoxy finishes; and probably no beavertail, though I may change my mind on that. The gun (as with all Hi-Powers) desperately needs at the least a bevel on the factory magwell though, if not an extended magwell, because rapid mag changes are a PAIN. Also, it could use some fine checkering, or stippling, on the front and backstrap (though with the Hogues, the front strap doesn't much matter).

Sure, it'll end up being costing a LOT more than I paid for the gun, without honestly adding to much "value" in terms of resale price, but the utility will be there.

Now, who to send it to? Normally I'd only consider three guys: Wayne Novak, Bill Laughridge, and Ted Yost (who's my usual gun smith, considering he's 5 miles from my house, and does incredible work)... only problem is I don't feel like waiting a year or more to get my gun back. So, I'm open to suggestions.

More discussion on this gun and the project ideas later, but for now I'm zonking out for bed.

...Now if only it was in .357 sig.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

How not to have your life ruined by the ATFU, Part 3

In part one of this continuing series, I wrote about the ATF, and dealing with Sort Barreled rifles and Shotguns (SBR, SBS), and Any Other Weapons (AOW).

In part two, I addressed the issue of 922R compliance; and dealt specifically with modifcation of the SKS.

So, last night I wrote about the T/C Encore, and Contender lawsuit; wherein Thompson Center successfully sued the ATF over attempting to classify the Contender, which could be assembled as both a pistol and a rifle; as an illegal short barreled rifle.

T/C won their suit, which specifically allowed that because of the modular nature of the weapon; ONLY assembling the weapon in a specifically violating configuration (for example an 8.5" barrel and a shoulder stock) could to be considered illegal possession or manufacture of a Short Barreled Rifle (or shotgun).

This ruling also applies to the Encore, and by extension to any other modular weapon. In the case of the Encore specifically all Encore buttstocks and pistol grips, and all Encore barrels can be fitted to any Encore receiver, so long as you don't put a shoulder stock and a short barrel on simultaneously.

But wait? Doesn't the gun have to have been marked as a pistol on the 4473?

No, no it does not; providing one does not transfer the weapon as a rifle to circumvent a restriction on transferring a handgun (for example if the purchaser is under 21 years old).

You see people saying that all over the net, and even in gun stores, but it is wrong thanks to T/C and the supreme court; and further the district court in TN, and other rulings around the country.

Honestly, the "advice" you get online and in gun shops about gun laws, and dealing with the ATF overall, is generally pretty bad. Most folks, who probably really should, don't keep up, or pay attention to the details.

I don't necessarily blame them, because things get... confusing...

Ok folks, strap in because this one get's long and bumpy.

Prior to the T/C ruling, the ATF used a policy called by some "the rule of contagion" (and under some circumstances they still do); where, if a rifle was ever ever assembled on the receiver, and then a barrel shorter than 16" were ever attached to that same receiver, by contagion, the receiver was forever a rifle; and therefore the weapon in the new configuration would be an unregistered short barreled rifle, whether it had a shoulder stock attached or not.

A lot of people also seem to believe that with ANY weapon, the rule of contagion applies; and if the weapon is ever assembled into a rifle, it is forever a rifle, or if assembled as a pistol it is forever a pistol etc... This is an extension of the way the ATF treats machine guns; where if a weapon is EVER assembled into a machine gun, all of it's parts are forever machine gun parts.

Again, thanks to T/C, the rule of contagion does not apply; so long as one does not assemble a configuration illegal in and of itself.

If this were not true for example, the Mech-Tech carbine conversion unit (and other similar products) would be illegal, because you would be making a rifle out of a pistol according to the 4473. Then, by rule of contagion, when you converted back, you would be making a rifle into a short barreled rifle.

There are some exceptions however; and this protection does not necessarily apply to all guns in all configurations.

Only those weapons specifically intended to be modular in nature are 100% protected here; and "assault weapons" and "foreign weapons" subject to 922r have been interpreted as being held to a slightly different standard.

For example AR pistols still require "virgin" receivers; because by ATF ruling, each reassembly of the weapon in a different configuration is equivalent to a new assembly.

This is an arbitrary decision on their part; that has only been applied to the AR, to "assault" weapons, and to those weapons subject to 922r regulations; and is not likely to survive court challenge.

Based on this administrative ruling; to be in compliance, the AR receiver need not have been sold as a specific pistol receiver, or marked as a pistol receiver specifically (though people all over the net will falsely tell you otherwise); however you cannot take a receiver that was built and assembled in a "rifle" configuration, and re-assemble it in a "pistol" configuration.

This is what is meant as a "virgin reciever".

Even with this stricter interpretations for ARs however, the T/C ruling has implications. At one point the ATF would have attempted to prosecute you for "constructive posession", if you merely posessed the parts necessary to assemble the weapon into a non-compliant configuration.

Now, because of the T/C ruling, and because in most cases the rule of contagion is not valid, "constructive possession" is no longer an issue; except as specifically relates to machine guns (and even then, if it hits a court, it will most likely be tossed out).

Remember, these administrative procedures are not law; there is no legislatural, or jurisprudential support for them. These interpretations are frequently arbitrary, ambiguous, and inconsistent; and generally speaking such interpretations don't hold up.

It get's more complicated...

Since the end of the assault weapons ban; because there is no longer a legal federal definition for an assault weapon; the ATF cannot make any rulings based on a weapons status as an "assault weapon".

And MORE complicated...

Even if the weapon would have been an "assault weapon", or subject to 922r; if the weapon was originally built as a pistol, you can make it into a rifle, and then back into a pistol without a problem; so long as the weapon was not ever assembled into a configuration that specifically violates NFA; and so long as the weapon is not permanently altered except for an assemblage of parts (which means if the parts bolt or are pinned or slip fit in place. Welded, permanently pinned, or hydraulic pressed in place are probably non-nos)

You can for example, take an HK93 originally manufactured with a short barrel and no buttstock (legally a pistol), and add a long barrel and buttstock to it; then switch back whenever you feel like, without having created an illegal SBR; because the rule of contagion does not apply so long as there is no permanent modification.

As an illustration of this difference, you can take a Krinkov parts kit, and wed it to any new AK reciever that will fit it, thus assembling a legal AK pistol (under current interpretation since the AWB no longer applies), so long as the receiver has never been assembled into a rifle. You cannot however take an existing AK rifle reciever, strip it down (which requires grinding off rivets, and pressing parts out) and convert it to Krinkov configuration.

The only specific limitation to this is in regards to the AR; because there have been specific rulings regarding the AR configurations in question. However, because of the status of all other weapons of a modular nature (where assembly into another configuration requires no permanent modification), the AR rulings are pretty clearly invalidated; and in the few cases where it has been tested the courts agree.

And even MORE complicated...

This administrative ruling is subject to limitation for example, because of a Tennessee case from several years ago regarding AOW configurations.

ATF administrative procedure at one time stated that if a pistol ever had a foregrip attached to it, it was instantly and forever an illegal AOW (Any Other Weapon).

Also, the ATF had ruled that if a weapon was otherwise considered a compliant pistol, but was over a certain weight limit (which changed several times), it was also an AOW (this is why Olympic Arms early AR pistols looked like swiss cheese). This ruling was later revised to only subject pistols that had a magazine outside of their pistol grip to such weight limitations.

By a ruling in the Tenessee district court, this interpretation was found to be arbitrary, capricious, and ambguous; and therefore was invalid.

Under current guidance, if a weapon was originally manufactured in an AOW configuration (for example, a pistol with a vertical fore grip), then that weapon is an AOW; however if the weapon was manufactured as a pistol or rifle, and REMOVABLE (modular) ACCESSORIES were added (for example, a vertical foregrip on an accessory rail), then the weapon was not an illegal AOW.

Additionally, the arbitrary weight limitation, and magazine configuration criteria were completely disallowed.

So, let's sum up... and get even more confused:

Basically, so long as you are not "manufacturing" a new weapon by permanently altering it's configuration; you are not manufacturing an illegal SBR or SBS by attaching a short barrel to a receiver that has at one time been assembled into a rifle, so long as the weapon is not assembled with a shoulder stock.

If a weapon is specifically modular in nature, you cannot be held to have "manufactured" the weapon by simply assembling into a configuration that does not otherwise violate NFA, no matter what the status of the receiver is, or was
  • ...unless the ATF administrative procedure (not a law, an interpretation of internal rules) which applies to the AR specifically, and to 922r weapons, is in force.
  • ...except that administrative interpretation is possibly invalid, or may only apply in specific configuration.
  • ...unless the weapon is an AOW or machine gun.
  • ...except in those cases limited by the AOW ruling.
Ok are you confused NOW?

Good, because it IS confusing.

Any time this issue has gone to court, the ATF has lost; however the ATF doesn't have to go to court to screw you up, so be careful.

At this point, there are specific weapons which are explicitly protected from any such interpretations as being non-compliant, which would include the T/C Contender and Encore.

Additionally, any weapon that is modular in nature, and was not subject to either "assault weapons" regulations, or 922r (meaning "foreign weapons" "without a sporting purpose"), would be specifically protected under the Thompson Center ruling.

Any weapon that must be "permanently modified"(which is generally interpreted to mean welding, riveting, staking, cutting, grinding, or using a hydraulic press; but does not generally mean pinning, slip fitting, bolting, clamping, or non permanent screw on attachment) to be assembled in an otherwise compliant configuration, would be subject to these administrative rulings, and would not be compliant. Therefore you cannot cut down an existing rifle into a configuration with a short barrel and a pistol grip for example.

You CAN however take any receiver that has not yet been "assembled into a final configuration" (a "virgin reciever"), and attach a short barrel and pistol grip to it; even if that receiver is marked and sold as a rifle, and even if the weapon would otherwise have been subject to the various administrative rulings covered here.

Any weapon that is "modular" in nature, and would at one time have been subject to the "assault weapons ban", any weapon subject to 922r regulations, and the AR platform specifically, are in a "grey area"; where virgin receivers are strongly recommended.

This recommendation however only applies if the weapon were "originally assembled into it's final confguration" as a rifle however. If the weapon was originally assembled as a pistol, you can add a buttstock and long barrel to it (and convert back), any time you want.

Again any time this has gone to court, the ATFs ruling has been discounted, in whole or in part; but there may be issues; and the ATF can still screw your life up without ever going to court.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE:

All of this only applies federally; you'r state may have specific limitations and regulations. I know for example that Califronia, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York at least have restrictions as to configuration that may come into play ; and it wouldn't surprise me if there were other states that did as well.

The bottom line:

To stay safe, if you have an AR, a 922r weapon, or what would once have been classified as an "assault weapon" and you want to assemble it in a pistol configuration; stick with a virgin receiver, or a pistol specific receiver (or one you can prove was assembled first as a pistol), and don't put a permanently mounted foregrip on it.

With the Encore and Contender specifically, you can feel safe doing whatever you want so long as you don't assemble a short barrel with a shoulder stock; and this should apply to all other modular guns not referred to in the paragraph above.