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?".