Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ye Olde Firearm Curiosities: The First Fast Handgun Reload

Today's YOFC is a device that I have been interested in for quite some time. To my knowledge the following device is the first, patented at least, device to aid in the rapid, simultaneous, reloading of a revolver cylinder. Created by William De Courcy Prideaux of Great Britain in the early 1890s the device was patented in the UK in 1893 and the U.S. the following year (U.S. patent #516,942).

The "Prideaux Device" as it has become known, was originally designed to aid in the rapid reloading of the ubiquitous Webley and Scott revolvers. To that purpose it did in fact serve, Prideaux devices are known to have existed (and indeed some still survive) for all calibers of Webley and Scott revolvers, from the .22 training revolvers, to the .455 British revolvers. The devices were commonly purchased by Royal British officers before and during WWI. I have not been able to discern if anyone besides Prideaux manufactured the devices, most of them are marked only with the Royal emblem of Her Majesty. After the end of WWI it would seem that the Prideaux device fell out of favor as there are not any that I have seen marked, issued, or claimed to be from WWII. Certainly a rapid reloading device like the Prideaux would have been used during WWII, had it been available in a sufficient quantity and/or still in manufacture.

What makes the Prideaux device so interesting is actually the date of its invention. Speed loaders are generally viewed to be a 20th century construct. With the common Safariland COMP series of HKS series of speed loaders (the two widely accepted standards), being developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed, most of the United States, where law enforcement carried swing out cylinder revolvers until the 1980s, did not adopt the common use of speed loaders until the mid 1970s. But in fact the Prideaux pre-dates the common adoption period by more than 80 years. In fact Prideaux and Borchardt applied for patents in the same year at nearly the same time. So, the first successful speed loader was created at roughly the same time as the first successful box magazine. To me this is quite interesting, because revolvers are generally viewed as archaic with a longer period of development than pistols, but the reality is both systems were being developed and refined simultaneously to one another.

Regardless of whether you find the simultaneous development interesting or not, the Prideaux device is still an interesting piece of history. It pre-dates all common speed loaders and was essentially the first of its kind. It was, at least in part, a commercial success, and was used successfully during at least one World War. The Prideaux device is a piece of firearm history, sometimes forgotten in the pages of the book, but certainly worth noting.

Cartridge End of PrideauxCartridge End of a surviving Prideaux Device

Top of PrideauxTop End of the same surviving Prideaux Device

Prideaux Patent 1Prideaux Patent Image 1

Prideaux Patent 2Prideaux Patent Image 2

Patent PDF available here.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

A rant on carbine/rifle use for defense

Tam had this video posted over at her place:

This is listed as a the "right" way to run a carbine. I admit there are many things right about this video, the handling of the guns, the reloads, the methods used, etc. I do have some problems with the video and the primary ones occur at 31-35 seconds into the video. Go watch it, I'll wait...

Did you see it? No? Watch it again...

Still not?

How about not advancing on the damn target while shooting it?! You are shooting at a target that you feel is a threat to your safety. WHY IN ALL THAT IS SANE, ARE YOU ADVANCING TOWARDS THAT DANGER?! Repeat after me, "If I use my gun to save my life, I will NOT ADVANCE ON THE THREAT. I WILL walk away from the threat.*"

~Deep Breath~

Okay, I just wanted to get that out of my system. I have a real problem with gun games and ~some~ "instructors" out there, who advocate moving TOWARDS a target. You should under nearly every circumstance move AWAY from the target. The only times you would move towards a target are to A) Escape (because you can't escape going backwards) B) Reach your family/loved ones (hence the reason you are shooting) C) To reach better cover D) No, that's really it for good reasons to advance. Do NOT advance on a target, do NOT confirm you've shot the threat or killed them, do NOT run to the target and kick their weapon away. STOP the threat, get a safe distance away, keeping the threat covered and call the police.

Also, another really serious point of contention here, if you are using a RIFLE to defend yourself, you have the LUXURY of engaging a target from a longer range. Use that to your advantage, get AWAY from the threat and engage him from farther away, if you must. The idea here would be that you can successfully fight from farther away with a rifle, that's one of the reasons we use them.

In the quality professional training I have had, we never advanced on a target, unless we had to. Why would we have to? We would run a training scenario, maybe you absolutely had to go into the house to save your wife and kids. A tough scenario, but one where advancing would be the wise decision. If, however you find yourself shooting a course of fire where you are told to advance on a threat and the reason is not given, stop and ask yourself and the instructor WHY you would do this. If they or you can't articulate a reason to advance on a target, then stop. Either practice getting away or pack up your gear and leave the tutelage of that instructor.

Remember folks, in defensive scenarios common to private citizens, you need to get AWAY from the threat, not advance towards it. Not only does it give you a better advantage for survival, but it gives you a better chance of surviving the inevitable legal after math.

*There are some legitimate reasons to advance on the target as discussed above, most are bad training or methods though. I've seen a number of videos displaying this type of nonsensical movement, don't repeat the mistakes of others.

Be safe, practice, seek quality instruction.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Ye Olde Firearm Curiosities: The Haight Fist Gun of WWII

Part of my love affair with firearms is a love affair of unique and curious firearms created for a dedicated purpose either real or contrived. These guns often have unique histories and more often than not represent commercial failure. Sometimes without these guns we wouldn't have had the inclination to design improved new weapons which led to genuine firearm innovations.

Today, is the first of what I hope will become a new series, Ye Olde Firearm Curiosities. To start off this segment I present to you a firearm that is... sort of a pistol. As described in the patent (#2,432,448) it is a "Hand Firing Mechanism" or a "fist gun". The primary purpose is, "[A] firearm which is adapted to be used when in actual contact with an adversary..." The gun's patent application date is Feb. 29, 1944, by Stanley M. Haight, United States Navy.

The weapon, shown below, was a plunger activated weapon, most appropriately described as a "hand gun" attached to the back of a leather glove. Described by Mr.[sic] Haight, to be worn when other arms are not being carried by a soldier who may be distracted with another duty or asleep. The idea was that the gun would be worn loaded and that when a fist was made and an opponent was successfully punched, it would activate the weapon and fire the cartridge. According to the book, Firearms Curiosa by Lewis Winant, the Haight Fist Gun was chambered for the .38 S&W cartridge (that would be the shorter, older, cartridge from which the .38 S&W Special is derived). Note, within the original Patent Application, Mr.[sic] Haight states the weapon was to be chambered for a shot shell. By all accounts I have been able to find, no such weapon was ever produced and that all versions of the Haight Fist Gun were chambered for a centerfire pistol cartridge.

The cartridge, for those unfamiliar with it, is typically found loaded with a 150-grain lead round nose bullet, driven at an anemic 750 FPS from a 4" barrel. In the Haight Fist Gun, it would develop considerably less velocity give that there is no discernible barrel length. Of course, given the intention of the weapon, to serve as a contact only weapon, the cartridge might have provided acceptable performance.

Fist Gun Image Image of the Fist Gun, from Firearms Curiosa Page 224.

Patent 1 Patent Image Illustrating the Weapons Mounting Mechanism and Proposed Method of Function.

Patent 2 Patent Image Illustrating the Plunger Mechanism of the weapon.

Full Patent PDF can be found here.

To my knowledge, the weapon was never used during conflict, nor mass produced. The patent was originally applied for in 1944, the issue date was in 1947. I'm willing to conjecture that the weapon did not excel in terms of performance due to the weak cartridge for which it was chambered, the lack of accuracy, and the lack range, made the weapon a very specialized tool. The uses of such a weapon, being so limited, would not fit into a military state of mind, where simplicity and multi-functional use is the name of the game. Finally, the weapon would not have met with much success with the OSS/Commando type units (for whom it might also have been a marketable item), because it simply would not have been quiet enough for close in dispatch. The close up kill would have been absolutely necessary to use the weapon effectively. I can't help but think that a person might be better served a good knife, black jack, or a pair of brass knuckles over a fist gun. Particularly if one were faced with multiple opponents.

None of this however, makes the Haight Fist Gun any less interesting and it is an appropriate introduction to the Ye Olde Firearm Curiosity segment.


Making the Double Action Trigger Work for you

When I first started shooting as a kid, I voraciously devoured all of the written literature on the topic I could find. I read dozens of books, many of which I still own or have bought subsequent copies of after borrowing them from the library, and even still I read dozens upon dozens of magazine articles. It seemed to me that the monthly publications of the magazine writing elite were the best way to stay on top of all the new "techniques" and I was all about technique. I learned a lot about shooting from those magazines. Then I started to actually shoot...

What I immediately learned was that I knew less than nothing about shooting, but also that learning to shoot wasn't all that difficult. The first and most important lesson I learned is that learning to shoot takes time and practice. I wanted to become, overnight, with parental supervision of course, the greatest shot in all the world. The harsh realities began to set in when I realized I was never to be that, at least not without hundreds of thousands of hours of practice and I just didn't have that time, what with the homework and all (heck I STILL don't...stupid Graduate degree).

When I first arrived at the shooting range I immediately I was wanton to do, started yanked the trigger to the moon and back as quickly as possible to simulate the movies and televisions shows I held so dear. Once these sloppy techniques were applied to the range with bullets and targets I found that I was unable to hit anything resembling the center of the target. With a firm desire to hit the target, I heeded my father's advice, "Slow down son, those bullets don't pay for themselves." So, for the next few weeks I practiced (with appropriate supervision and following the Four Rules) slowing down with dry fire practice. I learned that the trigger felt different at different points in the trigger stroke and I learned that the double action stroke that felt best also allowed my hand to point the pistol more naturally. When we returned to the range, I was rewarded with more center hits than ever before.

And so, after that exhaustingly long personal history lesson, let me offer you a few tips and pointers for effective double action shooting:

First, ignore the magazines and books for a while. Focus on learning the weight and length of the trigger pull. Once you have felt the weight and length of the pull, you will better be able to learn it. Next, focusing on being smooth with the trigger is critical. The advice I was given by my father was some he learned in the military. I started with a quarter on the end of my barrel and stroked the double action trigger, until when the action broke the quarter did not fall. Then I moved down in denomination to the nickel and then dime. After you have mastered being smooth stroking the trigger back, you must focus on being smooth returning the trigger forward on the reset. Learning your weapons reset is critical, once you can smoothly navigate a rearward trigger stroke followed by a forward trigger reset, without moving a dime even a fraction of an inch, you have mastered the revolver trigger. You can practice these drills in dry fire (obviously putting a coin on the end of your revolver firing live ammunition is ill advised), and you should practice them a lot. On a good day, I can achieve the desired effect of no dime movement 4 out of 5 times, on a great day I can get 9 out of 10 pulls to come out effectively.

Once you've gotten the smooth stroke and reset down you can focus on advanced techniques, like staging the trigger or running the gun quickly. On the staging vs. straight stroke debate, I have no dog in the fight. I spent some time focusing on learning both skills. For those who don't know, "staging" the trigger is where the double action stroke is pulled all the way back to just before the breaking point, the stroke is then paused while the shooter makes a final sight alignment and then the stroke is finished and the shot fired. It is believed to be "more accurate" than the "straight stroke" method which involves stroking the trigger smoothly in one motion. These days, I use both methods, intuitively when I am shooting without thinking about my shooting too much (I.E. quick defensive style shooting), I use a straight stroke method, which is arguably better because it doesn't involve a reflective pause in the middle. But when I think about o focus heavily on the front sight and accuracy, I do tend to "stage" the gun. I have found that staging is slightly more accurate for me, but not so much that I focus on it. I will say the biggest negative about staging is the tendency of the shooter to then yank or push the trigger down on that final bit of stroke, as many are trying to effectively "time" a shot, it doesn't work folks, don't bother.

Finally, I want to comment on terminology of "stroke" versus "press" or "squeeze". I call the action of activating a double action trigger by a "stroke" instead of a press or squeeze for a simple reason. A stroke is a long, smooth, motion that requires more finesse than a press or squeeze. The double action trigger requires more finesse, it is a longer action, that requires you to be very smooth in the action to produce the desired results. As such, "stroking the trigger" is the most appropriate turn of phrase for working a double action trigger.

Be safe,


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Trigger Control: Double Action, Single Action, and the in betweeners...

I have long been a shooter of the double action trigger, the first pistol I fired at age 10 was a double action .22. I still remember the horrible double action pull on the Erma .22 pistol it was. None the less I grew to love and enjoy double action triggers, in either semi-autos or revolvers. These days, I carry and focus primarily on double action revolvers, with a bit of DA/SA semi-auto pistol shooting thrown in. I've shot all types of actions now, some good, some bad, some somewhere in between and I want to focus on some of the pros and cons of trigger types in your gun.

Let's start with the inbetweeners, these are your safe action Glocks, your striker fired XDs and M&Ps, basically most of your polymer framed striker fired guns. The triggers on these guns are often a bit of a mix, long and a little mushy, requiring a press that weighs somewhere between a single action and double action trigger pull (about 5-7 pounds of pressure). For the most part the triggers on these guns are serviceable, often benefit from contact point polishing, and generally can be smoothed with shooting. They best thing about striker fired guns is the trigger pulls are consistent from first to last shot. They take practice to master, but don't require you to be an IPSC master to have good control. My limited experience with striker guns tells me a few things, first none of the ones I've fired stock where "great" triggers. They often lack great feedback on the press and on the reset. Which leads me to my biggest complaint, sometimes the lack of feedback on the rest makes the gun difficult to run. My father who has arthritis in both hands and especially in his right index finger, cannot feel the positive reset on a stock Glock or M&P trigger. It is all but impossible for him to effectively "run the gun". With a Glock he must take his finger completely off the trigger to attain a positive reset, something that is not a positive for shooters. Not everyone suffers this of course, I have no trouble detecting the reset on a striker gun while shooting, but it doesn't give me the confidence that a crisp reset gives me. Another complaint from me is that because nearly all striker guns must have the striker "re-cocked" during dry practice, you have to adjust your technique and continue to hold the trigger down after squeezing, while you run the slide, and then release the trigger to feel the reset, it's a technique adaptation. You must do something similar on single action or traditional double/single action guns. The benefit of those guns though is there is usually an exposed hammer that is easily cocked with the off hand, as opposed to the slide movement required to reset a striker.

Now onto single action triggers, commonly found on your SAO (and traditional DA/SA) semi-autos and for those who are packing single action revolvers. The single action trigger is often touted as the greatest trigger known to man, I suppose that can be true. Good single action triggers are often good to great, not so good triggers are terrible. Because they often have little to no slack, a heavy single action pull can result in an unwanted jerk or an overly heavy press that moves the muzzle end of the gun unexpectedly, often during the moment of firing. It has been my experience though that many single action trigger pulls are light, some are mushy, but many of them are crisp. Generally the light, crisp, straight trigger pulls on 1911s and Browning Hi-Powers result in good shooter confidence, particularly in new shooters. They are easy triggers to master, being so simple. They also do not seem to be as affected by bad trigger control (particularly slapping), as a double action or striker gun would be. Greater trigger control is generally found in a single action trigger, because of its attributes, they also are the pistol trigger that most readily resembles the triggers on long guns of all types. My general complaints with single action triggers are that the mushy ones suffer the same problems as striker guns, they don't offer positive feedback during the press or on the reset. The benefit to single action triggers are that the resets are often very positive and tactile. My father mentioned above, does not handle a mushy trigger well, but conversely he handles a 1911 just fine. I've also found that if one is not going to practice a lot with their weapon (either dry or live fire), the single action trigger is the easiest for folks to pick back up and shoot well. It's straight forward, simple, and provides great and easy to understand feedback to the shooter.

Finally, the double action. As mentioned above the double action is my preferred trigger of choice and you may think I saved the best for last, not necessarily. The double action trigger has pros and cons as well. The primary pro of the DA trigger is that it is a very positive trigger. Because it has a long stroke action to it, it feels very positive as you start and finish your stroke. The flipside is, depending on the gun sometimes a double action revolver pull can change during the stroke. Colt revolvers are a classic example of this they exhibit a lot of "stacking", where the trigger starts off as "light" (7-10 pounds), and stacks sometimes noticeably sometimes not, to a heavier weight, before suddenly and abruptly breaking, firing the gun. A long, heavy pull, that stacks, is a very difficult trigger to master. For a the record Smith and Wessons stack slightly, but not a lot, Rugers have almost no noticeable stacking. Of course the benefit of the revolver trigger is again that it is positive and this is true on the reset as well, most revolvers have a very positive reset that is easily interpreted and understood by even novice shooters. The cons are the additional weight of double action pulls and the length, both of which can present problems for shooters with lower hand strength and shooter fingers. Most double action triggers are very positive though, I've only met a few in semi-autos that were mushy of any kind and even there, the weight was generally consistent to give you a more consistent firing stroke on the first shot. My experience has shown me that double action triggers are not the appropriate place to begin (as I learned at that tender young age), the heavy pulls often cause jerking or over exertion on the part of the shooter onto the trigger, tending towards poor accuracy and low shooter confidence. On the flipside, though DA triggers are harder to master, I have found that once mastered, the shooters tend to possess a higher degree of trigger control and manipulation techniques than his counter part with the same amount of time behind a striker or single action trigger. Once you have mastered the double action pull, you generally find that the single actions with the crisp, light, straight pulls are very easy and striker guns which fall somewhere in between are easier as well. With a double action pistol you must learn to truly control the trigger, because all mistakes you make are amplified to a higher degree than with other trigger types.

Overall, I encourage you to own guns of ALL the common types. I'm a guilty offender in not owning a striker fired "in betweener" trigger, but I am working on rectifying that situation. For the most part, I feel that the single action trigger, being the most consistent and generally easiest to use is probably the best of the bunch, but spending your time working other trigger types can be very beneficial. I recommend highly that you invest time in building double action shooting skills, particularly with double action revolvers. The skills you get learning to run a DA revolver will transfer almost immediately into better shooting with other pistols. You will find your lighter, straight pulls to be easier, less distracting to work on and focus more intently on getting your front sight onto the target and getting the press right. Also the DA trigger helps with follow through, because your follow through is the reset on a DA revolver and it helps you maintain a more consistent follow through, which also translates to other pistols.

I also want to add that most pistol shooters are often excellent rifle and shotgun shooters as well. Once you have mastered a heavy pull on a pistol, the lightweight, consistent, and constant pulls on rifles and shotguns will be that much easier. That's also really the case for the DA revolver trigger, once you've mastered the long, heavy, stroke, so that it is a consistent repeatable trigger press, you will find the shorter, lighter pulls much easier as well.

Good luck, be safe, and shoot a bunch!